F1 2019: 5 early predictions for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

F1 Grand Prix of China
F1 Grand Prix of China
Anish Vishwakoti

The 1000th Formula One Race has come and gone. And while it wasn't a classic race, it has made the Championship battle all the more interesting as Lewis Hamilton takes the lead in the title race, with Valtteri Bottas, Max Verstappen and Sebastian Vettel close behind.

Luckily, the 1001st race in F1 history will be held in none other than Baku, Azerbaijan. Yes, the first race in 2016 wasn't a memorable one, but the last two years have seen unbelievable races featuring crashes and overtakes gone right and wrong to leave us with unexpected winners.

At this point last year, Ferrari were seemingly running away with the title and Mercedes hadn't even won a race yet. But Hamilton took advantage of Bottas's misfortune and a divebomb gone wrong from Vettel to take his first win of 2018 and get going on the road to his fifth World Title.

Will Vettel or Leclerc do the same for Ferrari and turn their fortunes around after Mercedes notched up three consecutive 1-2 finishes for the first time for any team since 1988? No matter what happens, we'll all be looking for an exciting race. But can that happen with every team looking to not repeat their mistakes from years past?

Surely we won't get two Red Bulls crash into each other again? We won't see Hulkenberg bin it in the wall one more? Will anybody have a phantom crash and blame it on Marcus Ericsson?

Who knows, but like always we won't stop guessing. Here are five early predictions for the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

#5 Verstappen gets his first pole

F1 Grand Prix of China
F1 Grand Prix of China

Max Verstappen has notched up five wins in his career so far, but he doesn't yet have any pole position.

Red Bull's car hasn't really had the ability to grab pole on many circuits, as it is aerodynamically proficient, but lacks in engine power. As we head to Baku, a very strange and unique circuit, I predict that the Austrian outfit will find some pace and that of all cars, theirs will be the most well suited to the streets of Baku - even more so than Ferrari and Mercedes, who have both been fluctuating in and out of success at every track.

Verstappen has been very quick before, but has never managed to put it all together for a pole lap. We see the Dutchman managing to do so this Saturday, leaving Ferrari and Mercedes scratching their heads as to how the Honda powered car jumped them, and making for a very interesting start to the race on Sunday.

Why Verstappen over Gasly? Well, the Frenchman hasn't really had the easiest time getting an understanding of his car. In both qualifying and in the race, he has been lacking in pace compared to his teammate.

Maybe if the car is good enough, he can snag P2 or P3, but we see the Red Bulls being split by all of the Silver and Red, with Max at the helm.

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#4 Hulkenberg and Grosjean have an exciting incident

F1 Grand Prix of Russia
F1 Grand Prix of Russia

Baku always seems to have some sort of incident in the race that sets off a huge chain of events resulting in an unpredictable podium. There have been events ranging from Daniil Kvyat's Toro Rosso parking itself on the circuit to create a safety car, to of course Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen ramming into each other to pull one out last year.

Who do we see causing the incident to change the race this year? Haas's Romain Grosjean and Renault's Nico Hulkenberg. Why these two? Last year in Baku (and also the year before for Hulkenberg,) they both found themselves putting their car into the wall at separate points in the race without a prompt from anyone else.

This year, with the midfield being so tight, we see the Haas and Renault getting packed close together in the running order. Sometime during the race, while they are each trying their best not to end up in the walls of Baku, we see one or the other trying a desperate lunge in a tight winding corner and a coming together of the black and yellow to set Baku off!

#3 We see a Red Flag

F1 Grand Prix of Brazil
F1 Grand Prix of Brazil

The last time a Formula One race was stopped by a Red Flag was at Baku in 2017 after great amounts of debris clogged the track. Even the massive crash between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen last year didn't cause an unscheduled stop, meaning that it would take more than that to warrant a Red Flag.

This time around in Baku, I believe that aside from a big crash, we will see lots of little touches and incidents between drivers to strew debris all across the track and at some point force the steward to bring everyone in and restart the race. While the Red Flag in Baku 2017 occurred rather early on in lap 22, this time I foresee a late stopper.

I also see the Red Flag having a destructive effect for some of the top drivers' race and creating a bunch of chances for midfield drivers to steal a podium.

#2 Double First Time Podium

F1 Grand Prix of Australia - Previews
F1 Grand Prix of Australia - Previews

Baku in 2017 and 2018 saw the only time in the season that a car other than Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull made it onto the podium. Lance Stroll grabbed his first and only surprise podium in 2017, and Perez sneaked in his eighth podium in a chaotic race.

This time around, I believe that we will see not one, but two unexpected drivers on the podium.

Maybe this is a far-fetched prediction, but I'll even go further to suggest that both of the surprise podiums will be first timers. So no Perez, nor the likes of Ricciardo, Stroll, Grosjean, Magnussen, Kvyat, Kimi Raikkonen and Robert Kubica.

I see a surprise podiums coming from either of the McLarens, Hulkenberg, Gasly, George Russell, Alexander Albon or Antonio Giovinazzi.

Gasly ending up there seems the most likely, with Hulkenberg and the McLaren's probably next. Under the most extreme of circumstances, it may even be George Russell in the Williams.

It may seem unlikely, but this is Baku!

#1 Bottas gets his win in Baku

F1 Grand Prix of China
F1 Grand Prix of China

Currently second in the World Title race, Valtteri Bottas had a blistering outing in Australia but didn't show the same pizzazz in Bahrain and China. With the pressure on to get ahead of his teammate, and the memory of the win that was almost his in Baku last year, we see the Finn taking the opportunity in the chaos to get ahead of the rest of the top team drivers

A win would give him the lead in the drivers title race, and Mercedes the fourth on the year.

Bottas will need to show consistency in order to put up a challenge to Lewis Hamilton this year, and will need to be opportunistic as well. Hamilton essentially took Bottas's win in Baku last year to begin his winning ways in 2018.

This year, Bottas already has one win and by getting another in Baku, we see the Finn pulling one back on his teammate both for last year and for this one.

While the Ferraris seemingly have the outright pace advantage over Mercedes, they haven't really fared well in Baku over the years. Considering the trouble Ferrari have managing their strategy at relatively simple circuits like Australia and China, I can't see them pulling off a masterstroke in the most chaotic race of the year.

For that reason, I see the Silver Arrow of Bottas beating out his teammate, the Red Bulls, Ferraris and indeed everyone else, to get his win back in Baku.

Also Read: 11 Formula 1 Records Likely to Remain Unbroken

Edited by Musab Abid
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