Azerbaijan Grand Prix: Ferrari say they need strong showing after disappointing start

By Andrew BensonChief F1 writer
Ferrari F1 driver Sebastian Vettel
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix takes place in Baku from 26-28 April

Ferrari say they need a strong performance at this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a disappointing start to the season.

Mercedes have scored one-twos in all three races and Sebastian Vettel is 31 points behind Lewis Hamilton.

There has also been controversy over use of team orders to favour Vettel.

"Off the back of three races that definitely didn't go the way we wanted, this is another important moment for us," team boss Mattia Binotto said.

"We have prepared for it very well, analysing all the data we have acquired up until now, looking at areas where we can improve and working on adapting the car's set-up and the power unit management to the characteristics of the track."

He added that Ferrari were introducing "a few updates as the first step in the development" of their car.

Ferrari were outpaced by Mercedes at the races in Australia and China but had a performance advantage at the second race in Bahrain.

The expectation is that the Baku street track may suit Ferrari's car more than China's Shanghai circuit.

Baku has characteristics more similar to Bahrain, with straights and short, slow corners, rather than the longer, sweeping bends more prevalent in China.

Ferrari have had an advantage over Mercedes on the straights so far this season and Baku has what is effectively the longest straight on the calendar - a 2.2km run from Turn 16 to the first corner, with four kinks that have corner numbers but which the cars take flat out.

In Bahrain, new Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc was on the way to a dominant maiden victory but was slowed by an engine problem in the closing laps, dropping to third.

Ferrari F1 driver Sebastian Vettel in action at the Baku City Circuit
The long straights at the Baku City Circuit could favour Ferrari

Leclerc is one point behind Vettel in the World Championship despite being ordered to stay behind his team-mate in the closing laps in Australia and to hand over third place to him in the early stages in China.

He was also told to wait behind Vettel for two laps after catching him following a poor start from pole position in Bahrain, but he ignored that order and passed a few corners later.

Leclerc has been told that Vettel will be favoured in what Binotto has called "50-50 situations". However, Binotto has also said: "They're free to fight. On the track, if there is one driver who is certainly faster, he will get the advantage. Charles, as a matter of fact, he had an opportunity to be in pole in Bahrain, he had the opportunity to fight for the win and he had position in Bahrain."

Baku was Leclerc's breakthrough race driving for Sauber last year, when he took an impressive sixth place. He also won the Formula 2 race there in 2017.

Leclerc, speaking in a team preview, said: "Azerbaijan is one of my favourite tracks of the season, I simply love it and I've always performed very well there.

"I always enjoy driving on it, especially the castle part with all those tight corners. It's a unique track, you cannot find anything like it anywhere else in the world, so it's pretty special.

"The rule is quite simple: never lose focus during the race otherwise at the first mistake you're in the wall. Baku is a demanding track, but I can't wait."

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