Bottas predicts more thrills on hard Baku track

BAKU • Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas is expecting Sunday's Azerbaijan Grand Prix to produce more drama than last year, when Nico Rosberg cruised to victory from pole position.

Last year, despite driver complaints about the safety of the Baku circuit, 18 of 22 cars finished the challenging anti-clockwise track, which runs along the shores of the Caspian Sea and around the walls of the medieval old town.

"We got kind of lucky," Bottas told a news conference yesterday.

"There was not much action. It's a track where, normally, things will happen, so my guess is that we're going to see a bit more of a mess than before."

His Mercedes team-mate, title contender Lewis Hamilton, started the race in 10th last year after clipping the barriers during qualifying, leaving his main rival Rosberg on pole, and able to cruise to victory in a subdued race.

Haas driver Romain Grosjean agreed that this year's race should be more open.

"Rosberg last year was far ahead and Lewis was at the back with various issues, so there weren't many fights around the field," he said.

During last year's Baku qualifying, Bottas, then with Williams, registered the highest speed ever recorded in a Formula One session, reaching 373kmh on what is the longest stretch of any race on the calendar.

The Finn also drove superbly to claim victory on the street-style circuit in Sochi, Russia, in April.

But, perhaps demonstrating Mercedes' inconsistencies, Hamilton all but disappeared on a similar track in Monaco last month.

"It's definitely a challenge here, it's one of those places like Monaco or Singapore where you can't afford any kind of mistake," Bottas added.

"You're going so close to the walls and it's sometimes even like touching them. That's always a challenge.

"You need to take some risks, and can't lose focus at all."

Hamilton and Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel each have three wins from seven races so far this season.

Vettel leads the driver standings on 141 points, ahead of Hamilton (129) and Bottas (93).

However, Mercedes, with their one-two finish at the Canadian Grand Prix the last time out, are at the top of the constructor standings with 222 points, a mere eight points more than Ferrari.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 23, 2017, with the headline 'Bottas predicts more thrills on hard Baku track'. Print Edition | Subscribe