Mercedes to ride out Baku storm

Mercedes have got away from the line very cleanly at the start of the 2019 season, winning three races out of three thus far to leave Lewis Hamilton top of the Drivers’ standings. They now face, arguably, their toughest test to date when they head for the banks of the Caspian Sea for this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.


The race around the streets of Baku has thrown up plenty of surprise in the last two years, including the ‘road rage’ incident involving Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in 2017.


The unpredictable nature of the race has led to a few unexpected outcomes, Sergio Perez finishing on the podium twice being a prime example. Mercedes will hope they can avoid any such madness as Hamilton seeks a 76th Grand Prix win.


Ferrari seek to knock Silver Arrows off target


While Ferrari have the straight line speed, it is Mercedes who continue to have the better overall package. The Italians have introduced some aerodynamic upgrades for this weekend in the hope of maintaining their speed when racing through the old town in Baku.


Charles Leclerc should carry the main threat for Ferrari, unless team orders dictate otherwise, the 21-year-old having won in Azerbaijan when claiming the Formula 2 title in 2017 and then finishing sixth for Sauber last season.


He’s 3.90 to break his duck in Formula 1, while team mate Sebastian Vettel is 3.55 to record his first win at the street venue.


However, it is tough to look beyond Mercedes, even with Ferrari’s upgrades. Hamilton was handed the win at this circuit last year after a mistake by Ferrari and a late puncture to team mate Valtteri Bottas. It would not be a surprise to see him justify his 2.70 favouritism on Sunday.


Red Bull eye redemption


Red Bull had a day to forget at this race last year as Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo wiped each other. That was the low moment for Verstappen in a difficult six month spell for the Dutchman at the start of 2018.


However, he looks a lot more focused this year, starting with one podium finish and two fourth places. The Red Bulls tend to perform well at street circuits but a lack of power on the long straights could hinder their chances, giving some of the midfield teams an opportunity, especially with a more powerful DRS effect this year.


Perez seeks Baku hat-trick


Racing Point’s Perez has been on the podium more than any other F1 driver in Baku thus far, securing third place twice from the three events Baku has staged. He might struggle to get in the top-three for a third time but is worth considering at 3.75 for a top-six finish.


His team mate Lance Stroll has also enjoyed success at this track, finishing a shock third in 2017, and should be in the mix for a points finish.


Renault will hope to challenge for the top six as well, especially with Daniel Ricciardo being a former winner of this race. The Australian is 2.95 for the top six.


His colleague Nico Hulkenberg is slight shorter at 2.90 but might be worth steering clear of this week, despite his previous consistency when it comes to scoring points. The German has crashed out of two of the three races staged in Baku, while hasn’t had much technical luck recently, recording a DNF in China.