Can Force India beat Red Bull again?
Red Bull team principle, Christian Horner, has stated that he believes that Force India can threaten his team on “certain circuits” after the pink panthers had a good showing in Montreal. With Baku’s seemingly endless pit-straight and Mercedes muscle in the back of Perez’s and Ocon’s cars, you would assume that this was one of the tracks that Horner was referring to. Indeed, Red Bull had a poor showing in Azerbaijan last year, finishing seventh and eighth in the race, while Sergio Perez stood on the podium. The tighter and slower second sector, though, will give the Austrian team hope of a respectable outing in the Caspian Sea City.
Will we see a crash at Turn 8?
Before the previous year’s Grand Prix, there was concerns raised about Baku’s Turn 8, due to its extreme tightness. Aside from Hamilton’s brush with the wall that ended his qualifying, the drivers were well behaved through the complex. But with the wider cars that 2017 has produced now being challenged to go through the narrow and uphill stretch of road, we could well see a pileup during the Grand Prix. If that were to happen it would be an instant red flag situation and would make an already unpopular track even more loathed by F1 fans.
Overtaking at this part of the track has now become an impossibility and an incident a real probability.
Make or Break for Palmer?
Lance Stroll scored his first points at his home race in Canada two weeks ago but another man under pressure, Jolyon Palmer, has yet to get off the mark this season. The Renault driver has been consistently out-performed by his teammate, Nico Hulkenberg, and still shows little sign of improvement in 2017. The French manufacturer has a much faster car for this season and expects to regularly challenge for points and they have done so far but only with car #27.
Palmer, to his credit, has acknowledged his shortcomings and has put it down to overdriving his car by trying to keep up with the Hulk. However, Baku is unlikely to provide Jolyon with much relief. In 2016 he was slowest of everybody in qualifying and had a typically lacklustre Grand Prix on the Sunday. Add that to the Kubica return rumours that have been doing the rounds and that second Renault seat is looking rather hot right now.
Hamilton or Vettel?
In my last preview for Russia I stated that I believed this year’s drivers’ championship was going to be between two drivers, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. While that wasn’t a bold prediction, it has proved to be the case so far, with the pair winning all but one Grand Prix this season so far. Hamilton’s teammate, Valtteri Bottas, is their nearest challenger but it already an increasingly-distant 36-points behind Lewis and 48 behind Seb (almost 2 wins).
Vettel achieved one of his best results of 2016 here 12 months ago with second place while for Hamilton it was damage-limitation after a poor qualifying and mechanical issues during the race. Who will come out on top on Sunday is anybody’s guess, this rivalry is reminding me more and more of Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen’s from back in the late-nineties and the early-2000’s.