Clip The Apex
What season 2018 has turned out to be! Many predictions from winter tests have been if not completely thrown out at least seriously frown upon. So far this year we've seen 0 races won by either Lewis Hamilton or Mercedes who were the pre-season clear favourites. All of this doesn't necessarily mean Mercedes won't bounce back and run away with the Trophies by the time F1 circus crosses the pond for second time this year, but what we have here is a much better product than most of what 2017 had to offer. At least they got my attention. However if you look at the top 6, you'd see the usual suspects, you have Vettel, Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Raikkonen and ... Alonso? It is a little surprising to see the Spaniard so high as many expected the McLaren to continue to stink this year. And it does but somehow Alonso finds a way to always be there. More surprisingly still not to see Verstappen, you'd need to all the way down to #8 to find him. After 3 seasons in F1 and having shown he's the top dog at Red Bull, the Dutchman was also "the chosen one" to wrestle Hamilton for the title. This has not been the case so far. Multiple errors, at least one per race, has marred his progress and has casted serious doubts about his capacity to even beat his team-mate. Ricciardo on the other hand is smiling more than usual with his surprising though deserved win (with a pinch of luck). Yes, the Aussie doesn't have the sheer speed than the young Max has but he can capitalize when an opportunity comes his way.
What to expect from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix? The very long, claustrophobic, twisty, non-forbidding narrow circuit was brought about more for political reasons than sporting enthusiasm. 2018's is going to be 2nd Azerbaijan's Grand Prix and it'll be the 3rd time F1 runs at the Baku Street Circuit. First time around it was named the "European Grand Prix" probably trying to tap in the heritage this name evoke. I guess they have forgotten what the infamous Valencia Street Circuit damaged the brand, 2012 notwithstanding. Compared to Monaco but with sections as fast as Monza, a real downtown circuit by the Caspian sea. The first race in 2016 was totally a Rosberg affair, was considered by our own panel of experts, the worst race of 2016 (CTA Race Of The Year 2016). Nevertheless 2017 dramatically steered their opinion and instead it was "unofficially" named the best race of the year (CTA Race Of The Year 2017). Really last year had it all; first lap mayhem, wheels banging, a plethora of drivers retired and overtaking! and a podium not seen anytime before or after. Even Canadian Lance Stroll, the prototype of a paid driver, somehow managed to score 3rd place, his best position since his debut. Ricciardo who had issues at the start of the race, can be seen at times overtaking 3 cars at a time and at the end winning the race in somewhat similar fashion to how he won in China last weekend.
Here's hoping that next weekend race is as exciting as 2017 and continues the trend of 2018 where so far it seems, anything can happen. Nuş olsun!
So F1 moves on to its Shanghai noon, or Shanghai ten past noon under the new regulations, for its annual trip to China. The Clip The Apex board is still reeling from a Bahrain Grand Prix it actual enjoyed and Mercedes are still reeling from the second Ferrari victory in a row. Whilst there is a good deal of punditry suggesting these results mean Ferrari have now caught up with Merc I tend to disagree. Both races feel like Mercedes have ballsed up rather than Ferrari have solidly beaten them. The Merc has never liked the heat so Bahrain was always going to see them off form (as will Singapore later this year). China though is very much a Mercedes track. It was a Mercedes track before they were the dominant force in F1. If they don't win here then they are in serious trouble.
The problem Merc have is the opposition they are facing. He really has his detractors (some on this board) but Sebastian Vettel is a force to be reckoned with. Hamilton may be the greatest when it comes to pace and overtaking but Vettel has, and always has been, the master of defensive driving and adapting to change in situation. His ability to have to suddenly switch strategy and make those tyres last in Bahrain shouldn't be underestimated. Neither should his positioning and use of battery boost to make sure Bottas couldn't get close enough to jump him. All of this means that any micro mistake Merc make is really exploited. Hamilton is brilliant, he really is, but seemed very lost in Bahrain when Ferrari did something unexpected and his radio stopped functioning, basically turning his radio man into Red Leader from Star Wars (stay on target!). Its an area both he and Merc need to work on.