Vettel and Hamilton battle for consistency in F1 title race

Baku: Formula One championships are won through consistency and both Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes are looking for that key ingredient going into the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday.
The 6,003 kilometre street course through the Azerbaijan capital Baku provides the next chance for Hamilton — winner in Canada two weeks ago — to secure back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
Hamilton and Vettel have each won three times in seven races, with the odd one out going to Valtteri Bottas in the other Mercedes, but have also thrown in disappointing results.
Hamilton missed the podium by finishing fourth in Russia and a dismal seventh in Monaco while championship leader Vettel had to dart through the field in Montreal to rescue fourth — and keep Hamilton at a manageable 12-point distance in the standings.
“Back and forth, I hope in Baku it is forth again — or back, depending on the view,” Vettel joked.
Mercedes, who dominated the hybrid era since 2014, have struggled more than Ferrari to get the car set up optimally for both drivers over complete weekends so far.
But Hamilton, buoyed by his success in Canada, hopes a corner has now been turned.
“If we acquire the same diligence that we did in the past two weeks after every single race, even when we win, I’m pretty sure that we can continue to fight, and maybe not make the rollercoaster ride soup and down,” he said.
“The teamwork, the engineering, was so much better,” he added. ‘‘We really understood where we went wrong, we really understood where the car was wrong, why we couldn’t activate the tyres.”
In the only previous visit to the streets of Baku, Hamilton had a disastrous weekend to finish fifth while Vettel capitalised to take a credible second behind last season’s eventual world champion Nico Rosberg.
This time Vettel admits “the conditions are a bit different” and he is targeting the win even if the circuit should — with the longest full throttle stretch of the season — slightly favour Mercedes.
A lengthy 2.1 km burst with the foot to the floor is likely to give Hamilton and Bottas an edge over Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen, especially in the qualifying shoot-out to decide grid places.
That is likely to prove crucial with overtaking, through the tight corners of Baku’s old town, expected to be difficult.
But it also means that if Mercedes do not get everything right in the set up they will have few opportunities to regain lost ground.
“In terms of the car, we’ve joked about it being a bit of a diva,”motorsport chief Toto Wolff said. ‘‘But it’s a good car. Though sometimes it can be difficult.
This is something we have to accept so that we can understand and appreciate the many positive characteristics that it has. “I believe our car is the fastest on the grid and I wouldn’t want any other.”
At the other end of the grid, second-last Sauber go into the race having dismissed team principal Monisha Kaltenborn in a bid to turnaround another poor season.
Meanwhile, McLaren, the only team without a point this season, are expecting another miserable outing with grid penalties likely for fresh engine parts coming on top of a power-hungry circuit.
“I think we can expect another tough challenge for the team,” Yusuke Hasegawa, F1 head of engine supplier Honda, said. — dpa