Three races into the 2018 Formula One season and Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton are still searching for their first win of the year ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 8.10am ET).
Mercedes had the pace advantage in Australia but were unable to convert that into victory, as Sebastian Vettel won the race for Ferrari. That was followed by another win for Vettel in Bahrain and then a triumph for Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo in China two weeks ago.
It is the first time Mercedes have gone three races without victory since the start of the hybrid engine era in 2014. While there is obviously a degree of concern within the team, Hamilton is still solidly placed in the drivers’ championship, just nine points shy of leader Vettel, and they are confident in the strength of their package.
In China, Red Bull outsmarted Ferrari and Mercedes by quickly switching both of their drivers onto fresh rubber as the safety car came out just past the half-way point. Ricciardo took full advantage to produce some excellent overtakes and take victory, leading home the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas and the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
Hamilton finished fourth, ahead of Max Verstappen in the second Red Bull, who hampered both his and Vettel’s race by crashing into the side of the Ferrari driver into the hairpin. He apologised afterwards for an incident that saw Vettel fall down to eighth.
Renault scored a double-points finish, with Nico Hulkenberg sixth and Carlos Sainz Jnr. ninth, while Fernando Alonso came home seventh for McLaren and Kevin Magnussen completed the top 10 in his Haas.
The teams now move on to Azerbaijan, to the Baku City Circuit where Mercedes have dominated qualifying in each of its two years on the calendar. Last year, Hamilton’s pole lap was over a second quicker than that of the nearest non-Mercedes competitor.
Even if they don’t seem to have quite the same advantage in qualifying trim that they have enjoyed in previous seasons, Mercedes should still have enough of a margin to make Hamilton the favorite to secure pole position again this weekend.
The Baku City Circuit is the second-longest track in F1 and provides a varied challenge for cars and drivers alike. Its long start-finish straight provides a good overtaking opportunity and contrasts with the tight and twisty zip through the narrow city streets that precedes it. It has already produced a few surprises in its short time on the calendar.
In 2016, Sergio Perez qualified and finished in the top three for Force India, while last year, Lance Stroll came home third for Williams in a race that saw seven retirements and in which front runners such as Hamilton and Vettel suffered problems.
Ricciardo was the beneficiary on that occasion, taking advantage of some good strategy calls and misfortune elsewhere to secure victory. The Baku City Circuit is suited to his driving style and particularly his supreme brake pedal control. Even though it shouldn’t, on paper, be one of Red Bull’s strongest tracks, he was also able to qualify in the top three in 2016.
The Australian has a canny knack of getting himself into the best possible position in races where incidents elsewhere give him a chance of victory or a podium finish. His win in Azerbaijan last year came as part of a run of five consecutive top-three finishes.
It is difficult to find a great deal of value in the race-winner betting market on Sunday. There is very little pace difference between Ferrari and Mercedes, while the Baku circuit lends itself to crashes and safety cars which could disrupt the order. But backing Ricciardo to secure a podium finish seems a good wager.
Force India have had a few struggles so far this season, but Sunday’s race should provide Perez with an opportunity to score his first points of the year. The team’s 2016 pace in Azerbaijan was no fluke and they were well-positioned to secure a podium finish last year before a collision between Perez and teammate Esteban Ocon ended the former’s race and saw the latter drop down the field, from where he did well to recover to sixth.
The team have been regular points scorers in recent years and feel that they are now making progress in unlocking similar performance from this year’s car. Their Mercedes power will give them a key advantage over some of their midfield competitors this weekend and while they are unlikely to be in podium contention, Perez will have a good chance of bringing his car home in the top 10.
Our Preview’s F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Betting Picks & Predictions
If you want a wager on this F1 race with a sportsbook that accepts American residents, then these are our Azerbaijan Grand Prix predictions: