The Formula One season is onto its fourth race weekend. Time has flown by since the season-opener in Melbourne, but here we are. Heading to Baku, Sebastian Vettel remains the Championship leader thanks to a couple of race wins, though only by a mere nine points.
Lewis Hamilton, unsurprisingly, is the man closest to the German. Hamilton and teammate Valtteri Bottas are yet to win a race this season, however. This is the first time in the V6-hybrid era that Mercedes have not stood atop the podium in any of the first three races.
The Azerbaijan capital is a relatively new arrival to the glamour-filled F1 campaign. The race was held in the middle of the summer months last season, too, but has been shunted into spring this time around due to the FIA’s continuous schedule fiddling.
Weather, as a result, will be less sweltering, with temperatures in the mid-teens expected, but rain unlikely.
A 6-kilometre lap is one of the most contrasting circuits on the calendar. One of the all-time longest straights in Formula One is met with the typical twisty, tight corners of a street circuit. Setting a car up to deal with this track is a challenge.
The teams have a change in their tyre options for this weekend to deal with as well. Last year, teams had the option of medium tyres. This time around it’s the ultrasofts, supersofts and soft tyres.
More pit stops are probable as a result, which obviously throws another variable into the race. The pair of Ferraris have gone for more ultras than the other frontrunners, which could see Vettel and teammate Kimi Räikkönen have speed late in the race when others are preserving tyres.
Vettel is currently at 2/1 to win the Grand Prix and extend his lead in the Championship. Last year, this race was dominated by the Vettel and Hamilton feud, as the drivers clashed on and off the track. While that remains unlikely to happen again, the prospect of the two going wheel-to-wheel remains tantalising.
Another driver looking to avoid incident, Max Verstappen, could be good value this weekend after incidents in his last two races. The youngster is under pressure, but I like the 20/1 price on he or teammate Daniel Ricciardo to take pole.
Ricciardo is my man to watch for the weekend. The Australian was superb in China to claim an improbable race victory and was excellent in Baku in 2017. His 5/4 price to make the podium is good.
What might be more interesting, though, is the surprisingly lengthy 9/1 to win a second consecutive race.
The layout of this track makes it an even tougher race to call than usual. Hamilton remains the favourite – as he will be for most of the season – but his struggles thus far make it tricky to back the Brit.
His 11/10 price is on the short side for me, particularly with the pace that the Ferraris and Red Bulls have shown at points already this season.
Let’s hope this race is more like the 2017 trip to Azerbaijan than the 2016 one.
*Odds subject to change - correct at time of writing*