F1 fans are being treated to the most exciting season in years and can look forward to each race with genuine intrigue and anticipation due to the exceptionally tight battle between Ferrari and Mercedes.
After Lewis Hamilton closed the gap on Sebastian Vettel with a composed victory in Montreal, we now look ahead to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku on June 25.
It should prove another fascinating skirmish between Hamilton and Vettel, and it marks a great opportunity for Mercedes to reassert their dominance over Ferrari.
Hamilton had a bit of a nightmare in Azerbaijan last season when he finished fifth at the European Grand Prix, as it was then known. An error in qualifying left him 10th on the grid, and he was hampered for the first 44 laps of the race by engine problems.
They were finally resolved and he fought his way up to fifth, but fell a further 15 points behind teammate Nico Rosberg in the standings. But there is plenty for Hamilton and Mercedes to be optimistic about going into the first ever Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The now-retired Rosberg won it easily last season, with a 16.6-second lead over Vettel in second, so Mercedes knows how to deliver on this circuit. What’s more, when he recovered from engine problems last season Hamilton was flying and posted the fastest lap in the race.
Kimi Raikkonen finished fourth last year, making it a decent result for Ferrari, and they have improved immensely since then.
The two teams really do seem to be neck and neck this season, which is why the pendulum keeps swinging between them.
Mercedes lead by just eight points in the standings, while in the Drivers’ Championship Vettel is 12 points ahead of Hamilton, with Valtteri Bottas in third, so it is extremely close.
The championship rivals have mirrored one another’s tyre compound choices for the Azerbaijan. All four cars will have eight sets of super-softs, four sets of softs and one set of mediums available. There is very little to choose between the cars in terms of pace, but Mercedes worked flat out to fix its lack of speed in Monaco and delivered an emphatic performance in Montreal.
Eventually one team is going to have to kick on and put together a string of consecutive wins, and it seems more likely that it will be the reigning champions.
The bookmakers certainly see it that way. Check a sportsbetting.ag review of the odds and search through the best on offer at leading sites and you will see that Mercedes are the 4/9 favourites to win the Constructors’ Championship, followed by Ferrari on 21/10.
They also have Hamilton as favourite to win the Drivers’ Championship, despite currently trailing in the standings. And they believe Hamilton will be hard to beat in Baku. Many have him as odds-on favourite but you can get 11/10 on him to win it with some bookmakers and that looks a great bet.
Vettel is out at 2/1 and Bottas is 6/1, while Raikkoen is all the way out at 14/1. Backing Hamilton outright and Bottas each-way looks to be a great option now after Mercedes secured their first one-two of the season in the Canadian Grand Prix.
In the aftermath team boss Toto Wolff said: “We have finally taken a one-two finish and done so at a track that we expected would be difficult for us, and which certainly was for us last year.
Lewis delivered a stellar performance this weekend – a pole lap that was almost scary, when you watch the on-board, then a totally dominant race, and Valtteri struggled in qualifying, but he got everything right in the race to complete a perfect day.
“This is the time to keep our feet on the ground, keep working hard and take it one race at a time. We saw some encouraging signs, but we need to work in just the same way to translate them into more success in Baku.
“Ever since Monaco, the guys and girls in the factory have been flat out. We ran the simulator 24/7 for 10 days in a row. Nobody took a weekend off in that group.”
You can expect a similar level of obsession from the German team in the buildup to Baku and it could mean the pendulum finally stays with them.