There has been very little to separate Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel over the first seven races of the Formula One season and the pair are again likely to battle for victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix (Race: Sunday, 14:00 BST, live on Channel 4 / Sky Sports F1).
It was Hamilton who emerged victorious in Canada two weeks ago, leading home Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas to equal up with Vettel on three wins apiece for the season. The German driver finished fourth after sustaining first-corner damage, allowing Hamilton to close to within 12 points of him at the top of the Drivers’ Championship.
This weekend’s event is only the second Grand Prix to be held on the Baku City Circuit. In the inaugural event last year, Nico Rosberg drove a commanding race from pole position to take the win for Mercedes, Vettel finished second, while Hamilton had issues in qualifying and was only able to recover to fifth in the race. But that doesn’t necessarily mean things will be the same in 2017.
The layout and characteristics of the Baku City Circuit are similar to those in Canada and that suggests Mercedes may just have the jump on Ferrari this weekend. They seem to be getting on top of their tyre issues, Bottas has settled in and is proving himself to be an able backup to Hamilton and their qualifying edge should put them in a position to exert control over Sunday’s race.
Hamilton therefore looks well placed to make further inroads into Vettel’s championship lead with victory this weekend.
Daniel Ricciardo completed the podium in Canada to secure his third consecutive third-place finish, while his Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen made a strong start to the race before being forced to retire due to electrical problems just 10 laps in.
Force India continued their excellent campaign by coming home fifth and sixth, with Sergio Perez ahead of team-mate Esteban Ocon. But odds on Perez finishing in the top six, as he has done in three of the last four races, and on Force India securing a double points finish have tightened so much that they don’t really offer attractive value this weekend.
Kimi Raikkonen came home seventh in the second Ferrari, with Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault, the Williams of Lance Stroll and Romain Grosjean’s Haas rounding out the points.
Felipe Massa qualified in a strong seventh place for Williams only to see his race come to an immediate end when he was wiped out by Carlos Sainz on the opening lap. But that qualifying run again showed that on pace alone the team probably still have a slight edge over Force India for the title of the fourth quickest car.
Williams haven’t been as good as Force India on race-day strategy but have nevertheless achieved two top-six finishes with Massa. The team secured a double-points finish in Baku last year, with Bottas coming home sixth, and their car should again be well-suited to the circuit.
With Red Bull having suffered reliability problems so far this season, a top-six place has often been up for grabs, and Massa seems as well placed as anyone to take it on Sunday.
McLaren came close to securing their first point of the season in Canada, with Fernando Alonso running 10th before a power unit failure four laps from the finish. It was therefore another frustrating weekend for the team, whose own comments, alongside paddock rumours, suggest that their relationship with engine provider Honda is close to breaking point.
Alonso will most likely have to take a grid penalty for replacing power unit elements this weekend. On a circuit that otherwise isn’t particularly well-suited to the McLaren-Honda package and on which overtaking is relatively difficult, it is hard to see him enjoying Sunday’s race.
Out of 14 possible finishes for their two cars so far this season, McLaren have achieved just four outright finishes, in addition to two classified finishes due to completing over 90% of race distance. It is an appalling record and one that is unlikely to be improved upon this weekend at a circuit that will put a solid amount of strain on their power unit. Backing Alonso not to finish therefore seems a decent wager.
Our Preview’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix Betting Tips Verdict
- Back Lewis Hamilton to win the race @ evens with Betfair, Paddy Power or Stan James.
- Bet on Felipe Massa to finish in the top six @ 11/8 with Coral.
- Back Fernando Alonso not to finish the race @ best odds of evens with Bet365.
- Check the latest F1 odds from the best bookies in our betting comparison table.