Formula One: 5 things to watch for at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix | F1 | DW | 26.04.2019
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Formula One: 5 things to watch for at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Can Mercedes keep up their perfect record? Will Ferrari try more team orders, and how might the drivers react? Which scalps will Baku's concrete walls claim on race day? And can Pierre Gasly get his act together?

Round 4 of the 2019 season is also the fourth Formula 1 race around the streets of Baku in Azerbaijan. Here are a few of the key talking points to keep in mind this weekend:

Ferrari's Vettel-Leclerc team-order dilemma

Thursday's press conferences in Azerbaijan were dominated by questions on whether Ferrari would again use team orders to manage Sebastian Vettel's and Charles Leclerc's race — as the team did with very little success in China.

Sebastian Vettel in the Ferrari garage after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, 29.04.2018. (picture-alliance/ATP)

Baku was the site of the first of several key errors by Vettel last season, as he ran wide late on while fighting for the lead

It wasn't just Vettel and Leclerc getting grilled, even Lewis Hamilton was asked about the politics in a rival garage. He said that he could imagine Leclerc defying the call to move over, should it come again, recalling his 2007 rookie year experiences alongside Fernando Alonso at McLaren.

"I understand how Charles feels, because in his heart he's the best, attempting to be the best, and it's almost like having your light dimmed," Hamilton said. "As a racer, as a fierce competitor, you kind of rebel. They say to do one thing, but they are fighting you, so it pushes you the other way. I have experienced that."

Leclerc, for his part, said he had sought clarification on his status from team boss Mattia Binotto after China. He said he understood his junior status in just his second F1 season, and that he would continue to obey any team orders — provided they "make sense."

Read more:  F1: Twin 2019 terrors for Vettel in Hamilton and Leclerc

Mercedes looking to continue perfect record

So much for Ferrari looking like the favorites after preseason testing!

Mercedes have kicked off the season with three 1-2 finishes. No team has managed that since Williams in 1992, in probably the most one-sided F1 season ever. Nigel Mansell had the drivers' championship wrapped up by August.

Valtteri Bottas played down talk of a similar championship walkover, though, saying Mercedes had merely maximized their potential so far — despite possibly not boasting the quickest car in the field.

Winning at least one of the season-opening flyaway races, before F1 returns to Europe next month for the Spanish Grand Prix, is imperative for Ferrari to keep in touch with their rivals.

Unforgiving street circuit

The city streets of Baku offer an excellent mixture of overtaking opportunities and merciless walls waiting to punish any driver who runs wide. Unlike the last two races in Bahrain and China, wide circuits with generous run-off areas where you have to work pretty hard to have an accident, Baku takes no prisoners.

As well as the longest flat-out segment on the calendar, before and after the start-finish line, it also boasts the narrowest stretch of road drivers have to negotiate all year long, by the castle at Turns 9, 10 and 11.

Nico Rosberg, who went on to win, at the 2016 Grand Prix at Baku, 19.06.2016. (Getty Images/C. Coates)

Not even Monaco's city streets give drivers as little space as this section at Baku

In three visits, there have been three different pole-sitters and three different winners. The safety car was needed twice last year, and three times in 2017. Expect chaos at some point, with the slow and narrow Turn 2 an obvious candidate for trouble on the first lap.

Happy hunting ground for Perez, Leclerc

Racing Point (formerly Force India) might be quietly confident going into Sunday's race.

Mexico's Sergio Perez, known as a driver with solid race-craft who thrives in difficult Grands Prix, is the only driver to have stood on the podium in Azerbaijan twice. Given the car at his disposal, that's a remarkable record.

Another driver to thrive on these streets is Charles Leclerc. Not only did he finish sixth with Sauber in his rookie F1 season, 2017 was yet more memorable and emotional. On his way to winning the Formula 2 championship, then aged 19, Leclerc took the checkered flag in Baku from pole just days after his father's death, racing with the message "Je t'aime papa" (I love you dad) on his helmet and his car.

Can Gasly find his rhythm at Red Bull?

Red Bull have been struggling in the early races of the season, with both drivers complaining of a very unpredictable car with a lively rear end.

But of the two drivers, there's no doubt that Max Verstappen is coping better with the problems. Verstappen has 39 points to Gasly's 13, Dutch media report that Verstappen has stopped paying any attention to his teammate's setup data and the specialist press is already speculating that Gasly may not see out his first season with Red Bull's senior team.

"Looking at the data, I can see where I'm losing time," Gasly told French media outlet Auto Hebdo this week. "It's not at corner entry but rather at the exit … We are trying to find a solution with the setup, but I must also adapt my driving to better exploit the potential of the car."

The French youngster will hope for progress, and fast, given that the Red Bull empire is not famed for patience with its drivers.

Lewis Hamilton and his team celebrate victory immediately after the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, 29.04.2018. (Reuters/D. Mdzinarishvili)

Hamilton came out on top in 2018, but only thanks to an error from Vettel and a puncture for Bottas

 

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