Running of the (Red) Bulls

Lewis Hamilton negotiating a turn during yesterday's first practice session for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Baku circuit remains the only current race he has not won.
Lewis Hamilton negotiating a turn during yesterday's first practice session for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The Baku circuit remains the only current race he has not won.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Verstappen dominates opening day in Baku despite crash; Hamilton lacking in early pace

BAKU (Azerbaijan) • While Red Bull dominated the first two practice sessions yesterday, Lewis Hamilton has said he and his Mercedes team need to be more consistent to challenge Ferrari for the Formula One world championship.

The British driver goes into the Azerbaijan Grand Prix tomorrow after a win, from pole to flag, at the last round in Canada but warned that despite that flawless performance, he still believes Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari remain the front runners in a tight battle.

Yesterday, Vettel was third fastest in the opening free practice session with Hamilton fifth as Red Bull's Max Verstappen topped the day's times ahead of team-mate Daniel Ricciardo, despite crashing at the end of the second session.

"Consistency is the key to winning the championship," Hamilton, 32, said on Thursday. "Up until now, Sebastian has had the consistency... so we have to improve if we are going to have a shot at winning this title."

Hamilton (129 points) trails Vettel (141) by 12 points in the drivers' championship, although both have three wins apiece.

He had struggled in Monaco, unable to find the correct set-up and balance for his car, while having difficulty putting his tyres in the right temperature-operating window.

The Mercedes team addressed the problems with intent before Canada and the work paid off.

Hamilton was hooked up from the off and went on to take a fourth career Grand Slam from pole, leading for every lap of the race and setting the fastest lap in Montreal.

It was the second time he had done so this season, proving that when the Mercedes, described by the team as a bit of "diva", is on form, it is as formidable as it has been in the previous three seasons of dominance.

Mercedes are optimistic that they can succeed in Baku but Hamilton was taking nothing for granted.

In reference to Ferrari he said: "They have had a more consistent season so far. We've had more of an up-and-down season. I think they still are favourites in terms of the fact their car seems to work everywhere. But I think there's more unlocked potential in our car."

With new regulations this season, the teams are still working on their vehicles to better understand and develop them, and Hamilton believes there is more to come.

"I'm hoping by August, coming into September, by then we are the favourites."

There is also unfinished business in Baku for Hamilton. This is the only track on the current calendar at which he has not won.

Last year, on F1's first visit to the street circuit, he had a troublesome weekend.

He was quick in qualifying but hit the wall at turn 11 in Q3 and had to start from 10th, from where he could only recover to fifth after also struggling with an engine mode issue.

His former team-mate, Nico Rosberg, went on to win untroubled from pole.

"I looked through what I went through last year here and know all (about) the pitfalls and the issues I had then, and don't plan on having the same issues this weekend," he said.

"But it's a new year, a new day, I am sure there will be other scenarios this weekend.

"I feel 12 months later we are better prepared than we were then."

THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

F1 AZERBAIJAN GP

Practice 3 & qualifying
Singtel TV Ch114 & StarHub Ch208,
5.45pm & 8.30pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Running of the (Red) Bulls'. Print Edition | Subscribe