Lewis Hamilton Unimpressed by Baku as Mercedes Fear Ferrari Pace
File image of Lewis Hamilton. (Getty Images)
Lewis Hamilton heads to Baku for this weekend’s European Grand Prix, the first to be held in Azerbaijan frustrated at the stereotypical nature of the new street circuit.
The 31-year-old Briton, who is looking to complete a hat-trick of wins that could put him back above Mercedes team-mate Nico Rosberg on top of the drivers’ championship standings, said he had tried the track in his team's simulator.
"It’s just another new track," said the defending three-time world champion of the controversial addition to the F1 calendar under attack from human rights protesters.
Hamilton added: "There’s one very tight spot on it. It's got a very long straight I don’t have a lot to say about it. I don’t know what I can say
“Monaco is the street circuit and they don't make them like that. I don't why they don't, but why don't they just make street circuits like they used to?
"I don't understand. It's super wide in some places -- as wide as a motorway almost, but, hopefully, it will be fun.
"I’ve heard the weather will be good and hopefully they'll have a good turn out."
Just days after his second win of the season at the Canadian Grand Prix had trimmed German Rosberg's lead to nine points, Hamilton has the incentive he wants and the momentum to deliver a result.
But, as his team chief Toto Wolff has warned, Mercedes no longer can rely on outright performance superiority and recognized that Ferrari may, in some conditions, have the power to out-pace them.
Four-time champion Sebastian Vettel demonstrated that in Montreal where he took the lead at the start and might have triumphed if Ferrari had not switched him, errantly, from a one-stop to a two-stop strategy.
Like Hamilton, however, Vettel has found early sightings of the Baku street track an elusive one to evaluate.
"It was a bit difficult to find my way round to be honest," he said after testing the track in the Ferrari simulator.
"So, I don’t think it's fair to judge yet. We have to wait till we get there.
"It looks exciting in some parts and others a bit more straightforward ."
In a revelation that will boost his hopes and those of Red Bull, Wolff said that Mercedes were no longer clearly the team with the fastest top speed.
"You could see the top speed of Red Bull and Ferrari is pretty much where we are," he said after the Canadian race.
"It is what we have been saying all these years – just leave the rules alone and performance is going to merge.
"It is happening right now. So, it's good we are changing the rules for next year! I think it would have been difficult (for Hamilton to pass Vettel). He drove really well and the gap between the cars was too little to make a difference.'
He added that Mercedes were not standing still, but had upgrades of their own – to match the updated engines now in use by Ferrari and Red Bull – on the way.
"We will have an aero upgrade for the British Grand Prix and engine-wise, everybody is really working hard in order to bring performance that is necessary.”
Like most drivers, of course, Wolff will concentrate on his team's track performance and results while, doubtless, remaining happy to avoid the rising volume of those who have been drawing attention to Azerbaijan’s poor record on human rights.
In their 2015 report, Human Rights Watch claimed that the former Soviet republic had delivered a "dramatic deterioration in its already poor human rights record".
This was raised by the 'Sport for Rights' campaign group in London this month when they discussed the issue with one of F1 commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone's leading advisers and lawyers, Sacha Woodward-Hill, at a meeting in London.
In May, the same group said that F1 should urge the Azerbaijani government to release unjustly imprisoned activists and journalists before the race is held.
"If it remains silent, Formula One risks condoning the government’s efforts to benefit from the prestige of international events while silencing domestic critics, without consequences," said Jane Buchanan of Human Rights Watch.
Many of F1’s top teams and major sponsors, including Mercedes, have to work within a framework of corporate responsibility that includes upholding acceptable levels of human rights.
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