By Neil Leverett
- Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo looking to back up victory from China a fortnight ago in Baku
- Sebastian Vettel leads Formula World Drivers’ Championship by nine points from Lewis Hamilton
- Briton yet to win race this season coming into Round four
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – Can Daniel Ricciardo prove Red Bull are a force to be reckoned with this season in the Far East, or will Sebastian Vettel bounce back from collision in Shanghai as Lewis Hamilton hunts his first win of the F1 calendar?
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Can Red Bull lay down marker in Baku?
Fresh off victory in China a fortnight ago, Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo seeks successive wins as the Formula 1 circuit arrives in Azerbaijan for Round four of the season in Baku this weekend.
After an explosive race in Shanghai, World Drivers’ Championship leader Sebastian Vettel finished in eighth place down the grid after a collision with Max Verstappen which saw the Dutchman penalised, finishing fifth.
Ricciardo’s first win of the campaign still sees the Australian a full 17 points off Vettel at the top of the standings, a gap which the 28-year-old is increasingly aware of being unable to bridge consistently, which as he told BBC Sport is not good enough to merit him signing a new deal with Red Bull.
“I want to be with the best car; I think the weekend proved if I got the opportunity I can pull it off. If we can win a few more now with Red Bull, that looks very attractive. If not, there’s probably other options.”
As Ricciardo continues to be linked with Ferrari as the number two to Vettel next season, team boss Christian Horner has reportedly set a deadline of August for the Perth driver to re-sign.
That makes this weekend all the more important from both ends of the deal. Whilst talk of Verstappen being the next name to claim a world title, Ricciardo has quietly gone about his work as a more mature driver and personality off the track.
Ricciardo won 12 months ago in Baku, after Vettel and Hamilton’s well-documented race incident finishing ahead of Valtteri Bottas and Canadian Lance Stroll who earned a first podium finish. If Ricciardo ends the weekend on top of the podium, the door to the 2018 World Championship will be flung open ever wider.
Will Azerbaijan see further fireworks?
In its’ inaugural F1 bow last season, the Baku City Circuit played host to one of 2017 most incident-packed races of last season, not least as the two leading drivers went wheel-to-wheel, nose-to-nose – literally – in Baku.
As the incident which lit the blue touch paper on the at times heated rivalry between Lewis Hamilton and Vettel, could we see more of the same this weekend?
The race last year was punctuated by the German-British set-to where under safety protocols, Hamilton was accused of ‘break testing’ on a corner – claims which were proven false, which the German retaliated by passing the Brit and bashing into the side of his car.
That incident set up the rest of the Formula one calendar, but it also saw a hugely unpredicted podium that day, signified by Stroll’s third-placed finish. It would be difficult to replicate the fireworks of last year, but could we see another thriller in Baku this time around? Could Azerbaijan be beneficial for Team Haas?
Hamilton seeks Far East springboard
For Hamilton, whilst his chances for a fifth world title are far from terminal at this stage, this weekend could yet represent an important milestone come Dubai in November.
The Briton had already notched a win in China by this stage last season and should the 33-year-old leave Baku without a first race win of 2018, questions might begin to asked in the Brit has what it takes to win a fourth championship in five years.
The first part of his season has historically never been a strong suit for Hamilton, and whilst a nine-point lead for Vettel at this stage, the competition for points appears to be stronger this season.
That is, there are more individuals waiting to take points from other driver notably the two, three or even four who will be vying for glory throughout this year. For Hamilton to be one of those drivers, a win in Azerbaijan would be the perfect fillip as the drivers head to Europe in a fortnight.
The Azerbaijan GP takes place this weekend, with the race on Sunday at 1.10pm UK time
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