(Photo credit: REUTERS/DAVID MDZINARISHVILI)
Mercedes drop it -again.
After Melbourne qualifying, I wrote that Lewis Hamilton's crazy pole lap showed that things weren't as close as we thought and that maybe we were in for another Mercedes runaway season. Since then, that's been the only triumph for the Silver Arrows, in qualifying or races.
While the race results can be explained away by other teams taking their opportunities - virtual safety car/safety car in Australia and China, track position in Bahrain - qualifying is a trickier one to figure out. Hamilton is the undisputed king of Saturdays, with 73 pole positions (an all-time record), yet Ferrari (with Vettel) have headed the grid each time since Australia. The Brackley-based team need to work out why, and fast, or they risk losing one or even both championships this year, and missing out on a record-equalling quintuple-double.
Ferrari are serious, but Raikkonen misses out.
A third consecutive pole for the Scuderia is a dream come true for the team that had a dismal season at the start of the V6-era in 2014. Sebastian Vettel appears to be back on top form, having secured all three poles, and won two races so far this season. If anyone is hungrier than Vettel to prove that 2017 wasn't just a one-off, I'll be shocked.
But that's not the whole story. Teammate (and fellow World Champion) Kimi Raikkonen out-qualified Vettel in Melbourne and was looking great for pole in China before Vettel pipped him at the last moment. The Finnish driver looks to be more confident than in previous years, but has had the lion's share of bad luck (missing out on strategy calls in the races, leading some to think Ferrari have already selected Vettel as their championship contender). He could have had pole today, but a mistake in the final sector meant he lost a lot of time throughout the 2.1km flat-out section and will start tomorrow's race in sixth place, the first time off the front row in 2018. Again, just like Mercedes, Raikkonen's speed and talent is obvious, but he needs a little refining to turn his season around.
Williams: The fightback starts now
The sport's most successful privateer team has had a tough start to the season. The finished fifth place in 2017 and have no points so far in 2018. The car lacks the straight-line speed its predecessors had, but hasn't recovered that loss in the corners, resulting in a car that's just slow. Inexperienced drivers, Stroll and rookie Sirotkin, are working with a struggling car as they adapt to life in the world's fastest sport. The team have identified several problems which they are working to resolve as they seek a return to the top ten.
Those fixes appear to be working. Both cars escaped Q1 today (helped slightly by Romain Grosjean's issues) and looked racy in Q2. Their drivers will start the race from 10th and 11th once Nico Hulkenburg takes his penalty. This will give them a huge confidence boost, and have them looking forward to their first points of 2018, which must come soon,
We're three races in to the 2018 season, and the picture at the front of the championship looks very different to last year. Can Vettel and Ferrari make it three wins from four? Will Mercedes finally break their run of bad luck to take their first win of the campaign? Can Red Bull continue their winning ways? Everything is set up for another exciting race. You won't want to miss this one!
Who will triumph in Baku? Share your thoughts in the comments below.