Round four of the 2018 Formula 1 World Championship is the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which takes place this weekend in the Azerbaijani capital Baku.
The race is held on the Baku City Circuit, a Hermann Tilke-designed street circuit that stretches 3.73 miles and features the key characteristics of a long 1.3-mile straight and a long pit lining the edge of the Caspian Sea.
Downforce levels are the second-lowest of the year, after the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, but Baku has no high-speed corners to put energy through the tires. The challenge for teams is to shave off as much downforce as possible, while ensuring the tires are worked hard enough to remain at optimal temperatures.
One issue this year is that the race is being held two months earlier than in previous years, meaning temperatures will be much cooler than in the past. One of the biggest challenges for drivers last year was warming up the front and rear tires at the same rate. With cooler conditions, this problem is likely to be accentuated. Pirelli has nominated its soft, supersoft and ultrasoft tires for the weekend.
After some practice on Friday, Red Bull Racing’s Daniel Ricciardo proved fastest, followed by Ferrari's Kimi Räikkönen and fellow Red Bull man Max Verstappen, who recovered from a crash earlier in the day. Just tenths of a second separated their pace.
Things should be interesting this weekend as we have three teams fiercely fighting at the top—Ferrari, Mercedes-AMG and Red Bull—as opposed to the past few seasons where Mercedes was the dominant team.
Going into Saturday's qualifying session and Sunday's race, Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel leads the 2018 Drivers' Championship with 54 points. Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton is close behind on 45 points and his teammate Valtteri Bottas is close too on 40 points. In the Constructors' Championship, Mercedes leads with 85 points followed by Ferrari on 84 points and Red Bull on 55 points. Last year's winner of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was Ricciardo.