Azerbaijan Grand Prix Preview- Can Ferrari Take the Fight to Mercedes?

The fourth race of the Formula 1 2019 season will take us to Baku, Azerbaijan in what should be a pivotal race in determining the state of the drivers and constructors. The last few races at Baku have proven to be quite entertaining and if the second practice session is anything to go by, then Sunday’s race should be quite a show. Among the bevy of differing storylines heading into the weekend, here are just a few topics that deserve attention.

Ferrari in the Driver’s Seat?

Ferrari have consistently struggled to match the overall pace of Mercedes throughout the first three races. In Shanghai, Ferrari’s pace on the straights were unable to make up their weakness in the corners, where Mercedes were at their strongest. This weekend the Italian outfit have the pleasure of utilizing their superior power unit. While Mercedes and other teams will need to adjust their downforce to increase their pace on the straights, Ferrari are able to run a higher downforce package to focus on cornering speed without compromising their speed in a straight line.

Sebastian Vettel and Charles Leclerc were the fastest in FP2 with lap times well over 0.500s faster than what Lewis Hamilton or Valtteri Bottas could muster. There is still plenty of time for Mercedes to put the fight to Ferrari come Sunday. The track was still being worked in by the drivers with dust constantly being lifted up from the track. Hamilton and Bottas also struggled to keep grip entering the sharp 90 degree corners forcing both to submit to the run off area on multiple occasions. Ferrari also experienced these issues as well as the other nineteen drivers that put in lap times on Friday, but the frequency of such occurrences for Leclerc and Vettel were fewer.

Mattia Binotto needs Ferrari to secure a 1-2 finish this weekend in order to bolster what must be a battered confidence level thus far in 2019. It is easily the best chance for the team to get back to winning ways. There really is no excuse for a anything less than a podium finish for both drivers. Should Hamilton and Bottas find a way to get their fourth straight 1-2 finish, the Constructors Championship could already be over. This weekend presents the last opportunity for Ferrari to prove they are faster than Mercedes. Otherwise, there is little reason to believe that men and women back at Maranello, Italy will be able to develop upgrades that could give them an advantage over Mercedes over the remainder of the season.

Haas F1 Just Trying to get Through the Weekend

Guenther Steiner knew heading into the fourth race weekend that Haas will be on the back foot. Steiner told the media,

“We will learn something[from the new parts] but I wouldn’t say we’ve solved the problem with what we’ve brought along. I’m not too optimistic for the race…”

The team principal’s downtrodden pessimism does not reflect well on a group that had aspirations for fourth in the Constructor’s Championship.

Baku exacerbates all of the weaknesses in the Haas car and the fight to get in the points will be arduous at best. Haas, another Ferrari powered engine, has been underperforming compared to the expectations set out in preseason. The team has struggled to adapt to the Pirelli tires and have failed to threaten for top eight finish, with Magnussen the only driver to finish in the points back in Australia.

According to Autosport.com, Haas has blamed a majority of its issues on the thinner tread of the Pirelli tires. Romain Grosjean was quoted as saying,

“That’s the only explanation we have[for lack of race pace], but some other teams have done a much better job in getting them to work.”

Haas, however, are not the only team finding difficulties with the tires as others ,including Mercedes, have had to adjust to the change. Regardless, Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen have been able to make it to Q3 all season, but come the first few laps in the race, the cars quickly come under pressure from their competitors.

Other Notes

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend did not get off to a good start when George Russell ran right over a lose man hole in the middle of the track. The incident ultimately ruined the Williams’ floor board as well as the chassis leaving Russell to drive a spare car. It was quite an embarrassing occurrence for those in charge as it brought into question the remaining 300 covers scattered around the street circuit. Thankfully the issue was resolved prior to the race since it could have caused a serious crash resulting in a multitude of retirements.

Daniil Kvyat had a roller coaster start to the race weekend in the Torro Rosso after posting the sixth fastest lap. However, he ended up crashing into the wall coming out of turn 7. His teammate, Alex Albon, will be hoping to keep his impressive 2019 season going. The Thai-British driver finished eighth in FP2 logging in 33 laps, which was the most out of the entire field. This weekend presents an opportunity for Torro Rosso to get both drivers in the points for the first time this season.

After a shortened Friday practice, the racing intensity come Sunday should be elevated. The sacrifice to the handling of the cars for the benefit of straight-line speed will require the best of every driver. This is the last race before teams traditionally bring their first major upgrade of the season to Barcelona in two weeks time. As a result, everyone will be striving to get as many points as possible in a competitive F1 field.

Photo Credit-Unsplash: Puk Patrick

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