Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 7 December 2019

Sebastian Vettel seeks end to win drought as pressure cranks up on Pierre Gasly: Azerbaijan Grand Prix talking points

The fourth round of the 2019 Formula One season takes place in Azerbaijan this weekend, and here are some talking points to watch out for.

Sebastian Vettel has not won a race for eight months and came close in Baku the past two years. Getty Images
Sebastian Vettel has not won a race for eight months and came close in Baku the past two years. Getty Images

Vettel’s win drought

Sebastian Vettel will be hoping for third time lucky in Baku on Sunday.

There is an argument that the German should have won this race the past two years and he desperately needs to triumph this weekend to kickstart his flagging drivers’ title hopes.

It has been eight months, at the Belgian Grand Prix, since the the four-time world champion last stood on the top step of the podium - 11 races in total.

Vettel's reputation has been hurt after being involved in a number of spins and collisions, most recently in Bahrain in March when he lost control while dicing with Lewis Hamilton.

Vettel, 31, has not become a bad driver overnight. He has been more consistent than his younger Ferrari teammate, Charles Leclerc, so far in 2019. Granted, Leclerc was sensational in Bahrain, but Vettel had the edge in Australia and China.

A penalty for driving into Hamilton behind the safety car in 2017 cost Vettel victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and then 12 months ago an ill-timed full caution period lost him track position after he had been dominating the race.

Baku should suit Ferrari and it is vital for Vettel that he capitalises. He is already 31 points behind Hamilton in the standings and he cannot afford to allow that gap to get much bigger.

Gasly under pressure

Pierre Gasly has struggled to keep pace with Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen. Getty Images
Pierre Gasly has struggled to keep pace with Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen. Getty Images

Pierre Gasly arrived at Red Bull Racing with a promising reputation after an impressive first full season in F1 with Toro Rosso lat year. But three races later there are already rumours the Austrian team are looking to drop him.

To say Gasly has struggled would be an understatement. He has been unable to get anywhere near the pace of teammate Max Verstappen.

While Verstappen has been dicing with the Mercedes-GP and Ferrari cars at the front, Gasly has been largely in the midfield.

He had an uneventful run to sixth in China, which is the minimum he should be achieving, but the Frenchman was again much slower then Verstappen.

Do not be fooled by him producing the fastest lap of the race, earning an extra championship point in the process, on the final circuit of the event in Shanghai.

That was an attempt by the team to build his confidence and it was only done because he was so far behind the top five, while having a gap to the cars behind, that he had nothing to lose.

Gasly needs to be closer to Verstappen on raw speed in Baku. He does not have to beat him but he must be within range, not nearly a second slower as was the case at times in Shanghai.

Red Bull do have previous for ditching drivers failing to perform - just ask Daniil Kvyat in 2016 - so Gasly knows the clocking is ticking.

Safety car scenarios

Valtteri Bottas steers through the streets of Baku during the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. AFP
Valtteri Bottas steers through the streets of Baku during the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. AFP

Normally F1 teams have their drivers mirror strategy, pitting one lap after each other, in an attempt to be fair and avoid giving one of them an advantage,

But Baku is an event where mixing things up can be a benefit and we should expect more of it on Sunday.

Both the 2017 and 2018 races had multiple safety car periods, which shook up the order and rewarded teams who tried something different.

Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas ran third for most of last year’s race, but stayed out when Vettel and Hamilton pitted.

This appeared an odd move, with the other two on fresher rubber, but Mercedes were waiting to see if there would be a safety car, which there was after the two Red Bulls of Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo collided.

Due to less time being lost in a pit stop when the safety car is on track, and with everyone driving at reduced speed, Bottas ended up staying ahead and he would be cruelly denied victory by a late puncture.

But it showed what can be done. Expect more split strategies on Sunday as the Bottas tactics look to be replicated.

Updated: April 25, 2019 02:29 AM

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