Our Formula 1 expert James Punt leaves no stones unturned when he is searching for the best value bets. He has endured a tough start to the season, but hopefully he strikes gold with his Azerbaijan Grand Prix Tips. You can check out his free, in depth preview of this weekend’s big Formula 1 race below…
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Tips And Preview
Three races into the season and we are a hefty -22.26 points down. The fluctuating form and operational incompetence of Ferrari is the main problem and Kvyats misfortune in China didn’t help either. It seems that this year’s cars combined with slightly different Pirelli tyres are making finding the best operating window very difficult for some teams.
This weekend’s race comes from Baku and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. There have only been three races held here and it has already established itself as the must watch race of the season. On paper it looks stupid. A high speed street circuit with some very long straights racing around some wide city boulevards and through some ancient city walls. However it has produced highly entertaining races full of chaos, controversy and crashes. It has also seen ‘midfielder’ teams getting a podium in both races. Lance Stroll for Williams in 2017 and Perez for Force India last year and 2016. The only two podiums for teams outside of Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull for the last two years came here.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Tips: Expect The Unexpected In Baku
With this year’s cars being so sensitive to small changes in track conditions calling the outcome of this race will be particularly difficult. It is usually a race were the unexpected has to be expected. Multiple safety car deployments are very likely which brings in a big random factor. The attrition rate is usually quite high with 6 cars not classified in 2017 and 2018. The nature of street tracks means that mistakes can be heavily punished. To get a good result here you need to be patient and circumspect.
No one driver has really dominated here in the past. It is a race that tends to happen to drivers rather than them being able to control it. You can be cruising to an easy victory when a crash at the back of the field brings out a safety car. Race strategy can suddenly be turned on its head and that can happen on multiple occasions.
Qualifying in Baku has produced ‘Noah’s Ark’ grids for the last two years. Two Mercedes followed by two Ferrari’s, two red Bulls and so on all the way down the grid. That suggests it is a car circuit rather than a drivers circuit which is unusual for a street circuit.
Ferrari Looking For Answers
After three races in 2019 the pecking order still isn’t clear. It has varied from track to track and the teams themselves are just not sure how their cars might perform.
Mercedes have got a very strong grip on both Championships already and they have done it by having the most consistent car. It may not be the fastest at every circuit but neither will it bomb out on any circuit. Mercedes is an accomplished winning machine. They function very professionally and make very few errors. Ferrari has built a quick car but they are not sure how to make it work. They are also stumbling around trying to employ team orders to make Vettel look better than he is and costing themselves points. Operationally they are the Keystone Cops compared to the surefooted Mercedes. Even with a faster car Ferrari would struggle to win.
The 2017 race saw Ricciardo win from 10th on the grid in an underpowered car which shouldn’t have been in contention on a track that rewards power. The old maxim of the finish first, first you have to finish is very much the case here. A reliable car is essential as is the ability to avoid the walls and keep out of trouble which is easier said than done. It is all a bit of a lottery which isn’t great from a punting point of view but if you get lucky the rewards can be considerable.
Hamilton Is The Market Leader
Lewis Hamilton is the 2.88 favourite and his team mate a 5.50 shot. Bottas should have won here last year but he suffered an explosive puncture in the dying laps after he drove over some debris on the track. The debris was a result of the two Red Bulls crashing into each other and that sort of sums up this race in a nutshell. Strange things can happen and they can have repercussions beyond those directly involved in an incident.
Bottas was 2nd here in 2017 and was so close to winning last year. He likes these modern street circuits (his best circuit in Sochi in Russia, another street race). He has been out qualified by Hamilton here twice in the Mercedes but not by much and he looks the better value of the two Mercedes drivers.
Hamilton was 5th in’16 and ’17 and won, rather luckily, last year. Bottas was 2nd in ’17 and Mercedes have had two poles, two 2nds and a 3rd in qualifying. Vettel has finished 2nd in 2016 and 4th for the last two years. He qualified on pole position last year. So far the pole position driver has only won once back in 2016
Leclerc Has Course Form
Charles Leclerc won the feature race here in 2017 in Formula 2 and was runner up in the sprint race. He drove a great race here last year, just his 4th Formula 1 race, and finished 6th, his best finish of the season and the race that put him very much on the map. He has looked better than Vettel so far, a little rough round the edges in qualifying perhaps, but Ferrari has been clear in telling him to stay behind Vettel or to let him past.
Vettel isn’t any quicker and he has not been great here. One podium finish and he had the famous red mist moment when he deliberately drove into Hamilton’s car in a stroppy moment. He is under pressure from his young team mate, make no mistake. Ferrari are protecting their investment in Vettel but they will have to let him race at some point as he is their best chance to win a race and they desperately need to win sooner rather than later.
Verstappen Not Suited By Street Circuits
Max Verstappen’s hate/hate relationship with street tracks is strong here as he has not finished a race here since his 8th place in 2016. His temperament has improved but perhaps he is just too naturally impulsive to thrive on tracks were aggression and mistakes are so heavily punished.
Hulkenberg is another to have back to back DNF’s in Baku. Perhaps the driver who has performed with the most consistency here is Carlos Sainz. He qualified 12th and 10th and finished 8th and 5th in the last two seasons. Lance Stroll has also had two good results here for Williams, a 3rd place in ’17 and 8th last year. Good going in a poor car but if you are still running at the end of the race you will have a good chance of scoring points.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Tips: Leclerc Looks The Value
So who, if anyone, looks the value bet to win the race. Mercedes have won all three of this years races, not only that but they have finished 1-2 in all three. Yes they were lucky in Bahrain but in Australia and China they were the best team. Ferrari’s biggest strength is straight line performance and that will be a great asset here. Corners are a weakness and team orders are not helping them.
Let Leclerc race Vettel and Ferrari could well get their first win. He has proven himself to be very strong here and we might just get the right set of circumstances for him to win. If Vettel isn’t directly behind him he won’t be asked to slow down. The chaotic nature of the race could put him in a position where he cannot help Vettel without hurting the team.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Tips: 1 point Charles Leclerc to win @ 4.50 with Ladbrokes, Coral, Betfred
Mercedes have scored the most points here with 88, Ferrari 72, Red Bull 35, Racing Point 40, Williams 28, Renault and McLaren 10, Sauber 9, Haas 6 and Toro Rosso 3. The interesting one there is Williams, the 5th most successful team here despite having a rubbish car for the last two years. What they did have was a powerful engine and a driver who manged to avoid trouble.
Clearly power is an asset here. There is one very long straight and another lengthy one which means that half of the lap is spent with the foot to the floor driving straight. That is good news for Ferrari but there was a very long straight in China and how did that go for them?
Toro Rosso Surprisingly Quick
The fastest car through the speed trap in China was not a Mercedes or Ferrari but a Toro Rosso who had the fastest and 4th fastest cars through the trap. Magunssen was 2nd, Hulkenberg 3rd. In terms of sector times, the 3rd sector which is largely made up of the long straight, a hairpin bend and a slow twisty start to it, saw Gasly fastest followed by Vettel, Bottas Hamilton and Leclerc. Clearly some teams went for a low drag set up to maximise straight line speed but they lost out on cornering performance which is more important in China than it is in Baku.
Many of the corners here are 90 degree corners with none of the slow, long duration corners seen in Shanghai. There is still a degree of compromise between downforce for corners and straight line speed but top end speed is arguably the most important asset in Baku.
The long straights are a problem for the tyres however. These thin gauge Pirelli tyres are hard to heat and they lose heat going in a straight line and with very little in the way of fast corners to help build up heat expect to hear drivers complaining about a lack of grip.
Hot weather would help of course but it will be an issue and it makes it hard to keep the cars out of the walls. The weather forecast is for fine, dry weather but as usual it will be quite windy, just another factor which makes driving here so tricky. Plastic bags blowing around the circuit can also block cooling intakes and over heat the brakes and engines.
Some cars are struggling with tyre temperature more than others. Haas is really struggling. The car is good and quick over a single lap but if the tyres start to cool over a race distance they just drop back through the field. They will be better on circuits with more fast corners but this looks a bad venue for them.
Power And Poise Required
So we have a track that tends towards chaotic races, crashes and safety cars to mix up the running of the race. Power is important and a wise head is another asset. Luck is possibly the most important aspect of this race. However, so is reliability in terms of the car and driver performance. Hot heads will struggle while a patient driver can maximise his chances by keeping out of trouble.
Being at the front of the grid has to be an advantage. There is no one ahead of you to trip over but drivers in the middle of the pack are simply in a lottery in the opening corners.
Who might win the midfield lottery this year, get through the first lap unscathed and have the potential to take advantage of a chaotic race? A powerful engine is a must which puts a damper on the Renault powered cars and Honda powered cars. Not to the same degree as in past years but they are still behind a little.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Tips: Raikkonen Could Go Well For Alfa Romeo
Getting as far up the grid as possible is another plus so the Haas should be considered for a fleeting second before ruling them out on race pace. Sainz and Norris in the McLaren should be looking at Q3 on this track despite having Renault power.
Kimi Raikkonen has been very consistent in the Alfa Romeo. He has Ferrari power at his disposal, has finished in the points in all three races so far and he should be able to make Q3 once again. He has bags of experience and generally doesn’t make stupid mistakes or over extend himself.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Tips: 1 point Kimi Raikkonen to finish in the top 6 @ 4.00 with Skybet
Perez was 3rd last year and in 2016 (the only driver to have two podium finishes in Baku) and he is a driver who can take advantage of other people’s mistakes. He has Mercedes power and that should count for more here than in the first three races. His car has been poor in qualifying however and it’s hard to see him starting top 10. Team mate Lance Stroll is something of a track specialist but he is yet to start higher than 16th so far. Racing Point is due to bring plenty of upgrades for this weekend as they start to ramp up development of the car. They might perform better than expected but it is a shot in dark.
Albon An Interesting Contender
Kvyat seems to attract trouble. However, the Toro Rosso is a decent looking car that hasn’t had the results it deserves so far. He is either due a break or more trouble lies ahead here. Team mate Albon is slowly getting used to F1 and drove a good race in China to finish 10th despite starting from the pit lane.
He has won a race here before in the junior categories so he has good memories of the track. It will also be the first track of the season on which he has raced on before. There could be a bit of value in him this weekend. Toro Rosso has only scored three points here in the past. However, they have had a car in the points in both the previous two races here.
Honda will supply Toro Rosso and Red Bull with ‘spec2’ power units as they have identified a quality control problem with the current spec. No great improvement in performance is expected but more reliability and durability is. It also means that the Toro Rosso drivers are on the cusp of grid penalties if they have to change any components from here onwards.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Tips: 2 points Albon to finish in the points @ 2.75 with William Hill
Williams have been the 5th best team here. This will likely be their best (only?) chance of a lucky point or two. They don’t have the performance to compete for points on normal tracks but this is a venue which isn’t normal. The time spent on the straights will flatter a poor car with a powerful engine and Williams still have that. They also have very good reliability. Williams will most likely start at or near the back of the grid again. However, that may not be such a bad thing.
They, just like the cars at the front, shouldn’t be involved in the midfield brawl on the first lap. They can pick their way through the causalities and just plod along taking advantage of others misfortunes. A bit like the Tortoise and the Hare they may well just luck into a point. Russell has been the better of their two drivers
The attrition rates in the first three races have been low with 3, 1 and 2 cars not classified in the opening events. Russell has finished 16th twice and 15th once. With the attrition rate very likely to be higher this weekend Russell could find himself on the cusp of the top 10.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Tips: 1 point Russell to finish in the points @ 21.00 with William Hill