Valtteri Bottas gets a champagne soaking after winning in Baku

Motorsport Tech Monday – five things we learned from Azerbaijan

The morning after the night before and Mercedes are yet again left celebrating a historic fourth successive 1-2 finish. It leaves Ferrari again scratching their heads after starting well on a circuit that, like Bahrain, appeared to suit them. For other teams, there was also cause for celebration and for some, wounds will be being licked after another difficult weekend.

Here are the five key talking points from another incident-packed weekend of Formula One racing.

Lewis Hamilton has a fight on his hands

Before a wheel turned in anger on the racetrack, most ‘experts’ predicted another close battle between Lewis Hamilton and rival Sebastian Vettel for the right to be crowned champion, certainly after the pace shown by Ferrari in pre-season testing. However, due to a combination of misfortune and questionable race tactics from the Scuderia, Mercedes has managed a record four consecutive 1-2 finishes to put their rivals on the back foot. And it is Valtteri Bottas, who won in Australia and now Azerbaijan, who has emerged as Hamilton’s chief rival. Having endured a difficult 2018, the Finn now seems a different driver and is determined to make a close fight of it. Watch out Lewis!

Lewis Hamilton congratulates Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas
2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Sunday – Steve Etherington

What is going wrong at Ferrari?

Once again, as in Bahrain, it initially looked like this would be a circuit that suited Ferrari better and Charles Leclerc looked set for pole position before he hit the barriers at Turn 8 during a quick run on Saturday. The Monegasque then had no option but to start on the medium compound tyre and had the pace on the field when the leaders’ soft compound rubber quickly deteriorated. Indeed, had there been the usual expected safety car, he could have stopped for more medium rubber and run until the end but instead had to stop twice for soft tyres but perhaps Ferrari left him out too long on his first set. Vettel’s race was more perplexing. Racing the same strategy as Mercedes, he was at a loss to describe his lack of pace.

“The first sting was really poor,” said Vettel after the race. “The first stint I really struggled to initially get the tyres to work and I think they were too cold and then I damaged them and by the time they were hot they were damaged, so they were never really working. “I was really uncomfortable and inconsistent, and I just couldn’t get a feel and confidence for the car, so that’s usually not so good around here.”

There was some crumb of comfort as Leclerc bagged what could be a valuable bonus point for fastest lap of the day, breaking the lap record in the process. But the alarm bells must already be ringing at Maranello.

Racing Point has truly joined the midfield battle

When the newly-brand SportPesa Racing Point team arrived in Australia, they openly confessed it had been a rush to get the cars ready on time and were still flying in parts on the Thursday. A tough few months were predicted but the team has now scored points in every race this season and thanks to Sergio Perez’s brilliant sixth place in Baku, Racing Point now sits fifth in the constructors’ standings and only a point behind McLaren. Can they keep up this impressive run? Only time will tell.

Is Daniel Ricciardo already regretting joining Renault?

Poor Danny Ric. It was all jokes and smiles, as ever, at the start of the season as the fan favourite began a new adventure for his Renault team in front of his home fans. But 2019 has so far proved a horror show for the Australian, his latest embarrassment coming as he reversed back into Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso after he carried too much speed into Turn 3, blocking the Russian and leaving him with nowhere to turn down the escape road. The pace of the Renault just hasn’t been there this season and he will again have his work cut out in Spain after being slapped with a three-place grid penalty. Can he grab a crumb of comfort from the trials and tribulations of Red Bull replacement Pierre Gasly? Perhaps. Perhaps not, when he sees how well Max Verstappen is performing and how current teammate Nico Hulkenberg is also struggling to get anything from the car.

Williams suffers toughest of race weekends

Things seem to be going from bad to worse for the historic Williams team. The mechanics certainly did a brilliant job to repair first George Russell’s car after he ran over a manhole cover during free practice, then that of Robert Kubica after the Pole crashed heavily during qualifying on Saturday. Having to start from the pit lane as a result, the team sent him out a full nine minutes too early, resulting in a drive-through penalty. It wouldn’t have affected his chances, but this much-loved team certainly has a mountain to climb already in 2019.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.