Sat, Jun 18, 11:19am by Staff Writer
Despite a series of mishaps depriving him of wins at Barcelona and Monaco, Daniel Ricciardo looks to have committed to another two and a half years with Red Bull ahead of this week’s Formula One Grand Prix of Europe.
The Australian blamed his pit strategy for losing the lead in the Spanish Grand Prix and a lengthy pit stop cost him dearly in Monaco, but he says he is confident in his improved Renault engine as F1 heads to the Azerbaijani capital Baku for the first time.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton, who won in Monaco before Montreal last week, is fast gaining on teammate and championship leader Nico Rosberg, and is rightly the oddsmakers’ favourite to win Sunday’s race.
William Hill is paying just $2 for a Hamilton win, ahead of Rosberg at $3.20 and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel at $6.
Ricciardo, fourth favourite at $11, will be an attractive option for local fans who feel the Aussie is due a win. William Hill is confident he can push to make the top-three, putting him at $2.50 for a podium finish.
First, he must negotiate the unfamiliar and challenging Baku City Circuit. The six- kilometre Azerbaijan track is promising to be extremely fast with drivers able to apply full throttle for 56 percent of the race.
“I'm excited to go there because it's a new track so it's going to be a challenge for everyone, but the fact that it's a street circuit is really cool,” Ricciardo said. “I'm pretty optimistic that the city itself will be quite good fun.”
Fellow Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, who beat Ricciardo to the checkered flag in Barcelona, is fifth favourite with William Hill paying $13 for a second victory at Baku.
If Hamilton wins his third straight title at Baku, Rosberg must finish second to avoid falling behind his teammate, who has beaten him to the drivers’ championship for the last two years.
The pair have enjoyed a fierce rivalry since Rosberg won the first four races of the season, touching cars on the opening lap twice in the last three races.
Like Red Bull, Ferrari has also been making improvements to its car and four-time world champion Vettel cannot be discounted at Baku.
"I'm really happy with the progress. The team is on a great path, things are improving and I think we're seeing results quicker than anyone else so far in the history of F1,” Vettel told reporters after the Canadian GP, where he finished second. “So, I think we're on the right track."
Vettel’s teammate Kimi Raikkonen is sixth favourite paying $21 for the win on the William Hill board.
Also showing improvement heading into the eighth race of the season is the McLaren team after Fernando Alonso qualified third at Montreal.
Alonso and teammate Jenson Button, both former world champions, are paying a tantalising $251 on the William Hill board, which is a bold assessment on an unknown track.
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