F1 Raceweek: Title race to heat up at venue of Vettel-Hamilton flashpoint
Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton clashed in Baku last year and the Azerbaijani capital looks set for more drama.
The 2018 Formula One season has enjoyed its fair share of drama already, but the season arrives in Azerbaijan to memories of one of the major flashpoints of the 2017 campaign.
Baku was the eighth stop on last year's world tour and Vettel had finished in the top two of six of the preceding seven races.
However, in a moment of madness under the safety car, the German drove his Ferrari into the side of title rival Lewis Hamilton, who went on to claim the drivers' crown as Vettel topped the podium in just two more races.
Another shunt to the side injected more life into the 2018 season in China last time out - this time Vettel struck by an overly ambitious Max Verstappen at the hairpin.
The incident saw Vettel finish eighth, reducing his lead over Hamilton to nine points, with Valtteri Bottas a further five points back.
Whether that will be a turning point in this season remains to be seen. Vettel had won both races up to that point and Ferrari looked imperious in Shanghai qualifying, ahead of a race eventually won by Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo.
But the streets of the Azerbaijani capital have witnessed an eventful race before and, if the opening three rounds of this season are anything to go by, they might just do again.
The #AzerbaijanGP circuit is one of just five to run counter-clockwise
Can you name the other four? #F1FastFact pic.twitter.com/3l1s1K7rwS
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 24, 2018
TALK OF THE PADDOCK
Much of the talk since China has been around whether Verstappen should tone down his boisterous driving style or continue to be an unpredictable force on the grid.
His foolhardy move on Vettel a fortnight ago undoubtedly cost him valuable championship points - and likely the victory - so it will be interesting to see whether there is a change in approach from the Dutchman this week.
Red Bull showed in China that they are credible challengers at the front end of the grid and will be keen to prove that their win was not a one off.
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff, for one, is relishing a three-way battle with Red Bull and Ferrari for the constructors' title, while the teams' drivers fight for individual honours.
"So far, this year has all the ingredients for one of those legendary F1 seasons - a season that fans will look back on with smiles on their faces in years to come," he said.
"And it's not just the fans at home or at the race track who are excited - we feel the same. And we know that we have a massive challenge on our hands."
1. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 54
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 45
3. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 40
4. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 37
5. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) 30
1. Mercedes 85
2. Ferrari 84
3. Red Bull 55
4. McLaren 28
5. Renault 25
RACEWEEK SCHEDULE (all times local)
No driver has been on the podium twice across the last two races in Baku, Nico Rosberg, Vettel, Sergio Perez, Ricciardo, Bottas and Lance Stroll all managing it once.
2017: Daniel Ricciardo
2016 (as European Grand Prix): Nico Rosberg