2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – What Lies Ahead In The Race?

by Sudha Sundararaj

Valtteri Bottas is on pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Team-mate Lewis Hamilton joins him on the front row, with Sebastian Vettel and Max Verstappen on the second row.

Sergio Pérez, who has become a Baku specialist starts in fifth position, with Daniil Kvyat joining him on the third row. Lando Norris and Kimi Räikkönen are on the fourth row. Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz are on the fifth row.

All the top 10 drivers except for Leclerc are on the soft compound tyres. Leclerc will start on the medium compound tyres for the race.

How Far Can Leclerc Progress?

The Baku City Circuit offers good overtaking opportunities. Daniel Ricciardo won after starting from tenth position on the grid in the race in 2017.

Leclerc has been the fastest driver all weekend and was the favourite to take pole position. On a track on which the temperature was dropping as dusk fell, Scuderia Ferrari’s gambit to make it through the second qualifying session (Q2) on medium compound tyres failed spectacularly.

Ferrari wanted to start the race on the medium tyres which is the better race tyre. But with the cooler temperatures in Q2, the medium tyres lacked grip and led to Leclerc crashing into the barriers at Turn 8.

But Leclerc can take heart from the chaotic and frantic races of the last two years. The Safety Car periods will certainly play a role in the pit stop strategies of the various drivers.

As the drivers around Leclerc starting on the soft tyres pit early, Leclerc could have an extended first stint. In what is likely to be a one pit stop race in normal conditions, the Monégasque driver could benefit from the faster soft compound tyres at the end of the race. He is the only driver along with Sainz among the top 10 drivers to have a new set of soft tyres.

Leclerc should have been on pole position. But not all is lost on this track and could earn himself a podium or even the first win of his career from ninth position.

Credit: Pirelli Media

Drivers Out Of Position

Pierre Gasly is another driver who should have been at the sharp end of the grid but will be starting the race from the pit lane. Gasly was first penalized for not stopping at the weigh bridge in the second free practice session.

For good measure, he was also excluded from qualifying after it was discovered that his car exceeded the permitted fuel flow rate. The Frenchman will start from the pit lane in a car that works well around this Baku street sircuit.

As the race starts in the evening and the temperatures fall, the drivers struggle to warm up their tyres. The RB15 Red Bull Racing challenger seems to have an edge in this area and could help Gasly progress through the field and definitely get in the points.

Antonio Giovinazzi had his best qualifying session this season when he finished in eighth position, ahead of his team-mate Räikkönen. But a ten-place grid penalty has the Italian driver starting from eighteenth position.

The Alfa Romeo Racing challenger had good race pace and was “the best of the rest” in race simulations. So Giovinazzi also has an opportunity to score his first points of the season, if the usual frantic Baku race unfolds.

The Start

Bottas will hope to maximize his pole position by making a clean start, even as rivals jostle for position behind him. But at the Chinese Grand Prix, Hamilton nosed ahead of him into Turn 1. Even as both the Mercedes-AMG Motorsport drivers battle each other, the drivers behind them can take advantage.

The long run down to Turn 1 offers good slipstreaming opportunities. Vettel in the fast starting Ferrari could well take advantage of this and lead into Turn 1. Verstappen also can be expected to take no prisoners and go for it at the start.

It will be an exciting start with a mixed grid. Last year, on the first lap there were two incidents that brought out the Safety Car. The restarts after the Safety Car are tricky and exciting on this circuit where the long straight into Turn 1 allows the drivers behind to slipstream.

Valtteri Bottas - Mercedes AMG Petronas Motorsport - Baku City Circuit

Valtteri Bottas has the advantage at the start, but will he convert it into victory? Credit: Steve Etherington

The Winner

Bottas was robbed of a sure win when he ran over debris in the final laps and Hamilton inherited the win in 2018. The Finn will try to make amends this year and win from pole position.

Vettel starting from third position will also be a contender for the win in a car that has been fast all weekend. Verstappen from fourth position can use a mix of strategy and his overtaking skills to challenge for a win. The Dutchman has a best finish of only eighth in 2016 at this circuit.

But Hamilton has been the expert in putting himself in the right place at the right time to clinch unexpected wins the last few seasons. So any driver from the top four starters can win the race. But Mercedes with two of their drivers on the front row have an advantage over the other teams.

In every race at Baku, a driver outside the top 3 teams has finished on the podium. Pérez on two occasions (2016, 2018) and Lance Stroll in 2017 were on the podium. Pérez is lurking in fifth position this time and could well find himself on the podium again.

Räikkönen will also fancy his chances starting in eighth position. In 2018, after he was forced into a pitstop on the first lap, he came back to finish in second position. Leclerc behind him will also be on a mission to make it to the podium.

Exciting Race in Prospect

The top three teams are closely matched on pace. This is a track where overtaking is possible. The possibility of a Safety Car producing an unexpected winner always exists on this track. The track temperature affects tyre performance which is another variable.

It all points to a very close and exciting race. Bottas has the advantage of pole position, but will he be able to hold on for a win?

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