BAKU (Reuters) - Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas is expecting Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to produce more drama than last year, when Nico Rosberg cruised to victory from pole position, and says drivers will not be put off by the track’s reputation.
Last year, despite driver complaints about the safety of the Baku circuit, 18 of 22 cars finished the challenging anti-clockwise track, which runs along the shores of the Caspian Sea and around the walls of the medieval old town.
“We got kind of lucky,” Bottas told a news conference on Thursday. “There was not much action.
“It’s a track where, normally, things will happen, so my guess is that we’re going to see a bit more of a mess than before.”
In 2016, Bottas’s Mercedes teammate, title contender Lewis Hamilton, started the race in 10th after clipping the barriers during qualifying, leaving his main rival Nico Rosberg on pole, and able to cruise to victory in a subdued race.
Haas driver Romain Grosjean agreed that this year’s race should be more open.
“Rosberg last year was far ahead and Lewis was at the back with various issues, so there weren’t many fights around the field.”
During last year’s Baku qualifying, Bottas, then with Williams, registered the highest speed ever recorded in a Formula One session, reaching 373 km/h (234 mph) on what is the longest stretch of any race on the calendar.
The Finn drove superbly to claim victory on the street-style circuit in Sochi, Russia, in April, but, perhaps demonstrating Mercedes’ inconsistencies, last month his teammate Hamilton all but disappeared on a similar track, in Monaco.
“It’s definitely a challenge here, it’s one of those places like Monaco or Singapore that there’s places where you can’t afford any kind of mistakes,” Bottas said.
“You’re going so close to the walls and it’s sometimes even like touching them. That’s always a challenge ... You need to take some risks, and can’t lose focus at all.”
Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel each have three wins from seven races so far this season.
Reporting by Ed Dove in Oxford; Editing by Kevin Liffey