5 Talking Points ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton will bid to extend his Formula One championship lead (Tim Goode/PA)

Lewis Hamilton will arrive in Azerbaijan with a six-point lead over Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas at the summit of Formula One’s standings.

The world champion, 34, is bidding to win the race in Baku for a second time and secure his third victory in as many grands prix this season.

Here, Press Association Sport dissects the key talking points ahead of Sunday’s race.

1. Championship leader Hamilton keen to improve

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Hamilton may be in the title box seat after establishing a commanding 31-point advantage over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, but the five-time world champion heads to Azerbaijan demanding improvement. Indeed, the Baku street circuit has not always been a happy hunting ground for the Mercedes star. He was a fortuitous victor last season, after Bottas suffered a late puncture. He crashed in qualifying in 2016, before a loose headrest derailed his chances a year later. Hamilton, who spent last weekend at the Coachella music festival, said: “It’s a great track, but one that I have struggled a little bit at. I am going there with the mindset that I have got to try and improve on my previous performances.”

2. Will Leclerc be asked to play second fiddle again?

Charles LeClerc was subject to team orders in Shanghai
Charles LeClerc was subject to team orders in Shanghai (David Davies/PA)

Hamilton’s commanding victory at the last race in China was rather overshadowed by Ferrari’s team orders. For the third successive race, Charles Leclerc was subjected to an instruction. In Australia and Bahrain, he was told not to attack Vettel. Then, in China, he was ushered aside for the German. Ferrari are throwing their support behind the four-time champion, but could they be forced to reconsider their strategy if Leclerc is faster than Vettel this weekend?

3. Could new Honda engine bring Red Bull into play?

Max Verstappen has looked handy in his Red Bull this season, without really threatening to win. But both the Dutchman and his Red Bull team will hope Honda’s brand new engine, in place for this weekend, will provide the power boost required to tackle Mercedes and Ferrari at Baku’s high-speed circuit.

4. Baku bidding for thrilling hat-trick

Eyebrows were raised when Bernie Ecclestone took Formula One to Azerbaijan in 2016. Yet, the combination of its long straights, slow corners, and narrow track, has ensured the unique street circuit has quickly become a firm favourite. Hamilton and Vettel banged wheels two years ago as Ricciardo took the chequered flag. Last year, Ricciardo and Verstappen dramatically collided at 220mph. What drama lies in store this weekend?

5. Raikkonen to spring a surprise

Could Kimi Raikkonen earn a shock podium spot?
Could Kimi Raikkonen earn a shock podium spot? (David Davies/PA)

And on that note, now could be the time to place a wager on an unlikely top-three finisher. Since 2016, Baku is the only race that a driver from outside the big three – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – has finished on the podium. Sergio Perez (Force India – now called Racing Point F1) has placed third on two occasions (2016 and 2018), while Lance Stroll secured an unlikely third for Williams in 2017. Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen is 50/1 to finish on the podium on Sunday. You heard it here first.

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