Following the drama of the Chinese Grand Prix, the Formula One circus heads to Baku for the fourth round of the season.
Defending champion Lewis Hamilton will be bidding to get his stuttering title charge back on track after three winless races.
Here, Press Association Sport takes a look at the big talking points ahead of Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
1. Will Hamilton and Mercedes bounce back?
The pre-season script was one of Hamilton domination, but the champion will arrive in Baku bidding for his first victory of the new campaign. Hamilton spent last Thursday at Mercedes’ Northamptonshire base in Brackley searching for answers as to why both he and his world championship-winning team have been off the pace before jetting off to California for the Coachella music festival. Hamilton stormed to pole position in Baku last year, and, despite his barmy collision with Sebastian Vettel, should have gone on to take the victory only for a loose headrest to derail his chances. Hamilton may be just nine points behind Vettel with 18 races still to go, but another winless rubber this weekend will leave the Briton fearing a fifth championship may already be beyond him this term.
2. Ricciardo’s the talk of the town
Daniel Ricciardo’s impressive victory in Shanghai leaves him in a dazzling position to determine his position for next year. The Australian is out of contract with Red Bull at the end of the season, but holds all the cards for 2019. Red Bull want him to stay while both Mercedes and Ferrari are interested in recruiting his services. If Red Bull can prove to Ricciardo that his win in China was not a one-off, then you fancy he will extend his deal. Ferrari will be of huge appeal, but Ricciardo will not want to play second fiddle to Vettel. Mercedes’ philosophy of equal status for both their drivers, coupled with Ricciardo’s desire to team up with Hamilton, may make a move to the Silver Arrows a more suitable fit.
3. Pressure is on hot-headed Max
Max Verstappen has long been billed as the heir to Hamilton’s throne, but the 20-year-old Dutchman will need to deliver an error-free performance this weekend after his troubled start to the campaign. Verstappen has already collided with both Hamilton and Vettel this year, with Niki Lauda, the three-time world champion and non-executive chairman of Mercedes, calling on Verstappen to address his gung-ho style. Verstappen’s edge-of-the-seat driving has been a huge success story for the sport in recent seasons – helping to draw in a new generation of fans – but his mistakes have cost both him and Red Bull dearly. Team principal Christian Horner – on the surface, at least, unperturbed by his driver’s actions in China – will not want a repeat on Sunday.
4. Times are changing
The third edition of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix has been brought forward from June to April, but, despite the change in schedule, race organisers will desperately be hoping for a repeat of last year’s fireworks. The opening race on the streets of Azerbaijan’s capital city in 2016 was something of a dud, but the ensuing instalment will live long in the memory following a race notable for Vettel deliberately ramming into Hamilton, a series of other crashes, and Ricciardo claiming the most unlikely of wins. More of the same this year please, gents.
5. McLaren expecting no improvement
McLaren may be fourth in the constructors’ championship, with Fernando Alonso already having scored more points this season than throughout the entirety of last year, but Britain’s most successful F1 team are unlikely to have been enthused by what they have seen so far this season. Their recent qualifying displays suggest they possess only the seventh best package on the grid, and, while the brilliance of Alonso continues to extract the very best from his under-performing car – indeed he fought his way past Vettel on the penultimate lap to finish seventh in Shanghai – the double world champion insists he is not expecting any improvement in Baku this weekend. “We know our limitations and where we need to improve our package, and, although we bring parts to test to every race weekend, we aren’t anticipating a radical change in our performance in Baku,” Alonso, 36, said.