F1 Raceweek: Pole-sitter Bottas wary of 'unpredictable' Baku
Claiming pole position is often half the battle when it comes to winning a Formula One race, but that has not always proven to be the case for Valtteri Bottas.
Bottas put his Mercedes at the front of the grid for Sunday's Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a dramatic qualifying session.
He edged out team-mate Lewis Hamilton by 0.059seconds, with Sebastian Vettel third and Charles Leclerc to start the race ninth after suffering a significant crash in Q2 – a shock result given the speed of the two Ferraris across the practice sessions.
Prior to this weekend, Bottas has only converted two of his seven career pole positions into victories, and the Finn is aware the challenges posed by an unpredictable Baku street circuit reduce the chances of him improving that record.
A routine race is unlikely and only one of the three F1 events in Baku has seen the pole-sitter take the chequered flag.
Last year, Bottas was on course to win from third on the grid before a heart-breaking late puncture let Hamilton in for victory.
"In some races, you feel you've done 50 per cent of the job [after getting pole], here it's nowhere near 50 per cent and anything can happen, as we've seen," said Bottas, who failed to convert pole to a win in China last time out.
"Once I was one lap behind and finished second in the race, once I was leading three laps from the end and I didn't finish. So I'm glad that as a team we're at the front and it will be fun [on Sunday]."
Bottas - who trails Hamilton by six points in the drivers' standings – continued: "It's a very unpredictable race, but we are very happy starting one-two as a team. We have a strong car for the race but here anything can happen, it's a very eventful race.
"Whose tyres are going to last the best? Who's going to have the best pace? Also, with the safety cars, how is everything going to pan out? You can get lucky or unlucky, so we'll see.
"We need to keep the focus as a team and also, for me, as a driver, focusing corner by corner."
LECLERC AND GASLY OUT OF POSITION
Max Verstappen will start fourth for a competitive Red Bull, but his team-mate Pierre Gasly – who was fastest in Q1 – is set to begin the race from the pitlane as punishment for missing the weighbridge in practice.
Leclerc, who branded himself "stupid" for his crash at turn eight, should be primed to charge through the field after looking like the quickest man throughout the weekend.
Mercedes chief Toto Wolff admitted: "Charles should have been on pole and I think if he had made it to Q3, he probably would have been, but 'would haves' don't count in Formula One."
No excuses. I've been useless. I will push to have a better tomorrow.— Charles Leclerc (@Charles_Leclerc) April 27, 2019
Sorry to all the people supporting us and even more to the whole team that deserved so much better.
Bottas added: "The Ferrari is a good, quick car - they have been really strong.
"Lewis is quick as well. I'm going to try and focus on myself and if I perform at my very best I believe that is going to be enough."
Racing Point's Sergio Perez is a man to watch after qualifying fifth. He has two Baku podiums to his name.
"We certainly have a good track position but we have to stay realistic," the Mexican said. "It's a long race. It's quite easy to make those mistakes here. First we have to finish and then see where we are."
Alfa Romeo's Antonio Giovinazzi qualified a superb eighth, but he will not start there due to a 10-place grid penalty for changing his control electronics.
1. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
3. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
4. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
5. Sergio Perez (Racing Point)
6. Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso)
7. Lando Norris (McLaren)
8. Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo)
9. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
10. Carlos Sainz (McLaren)
2018: Lewis Hamilton
2017: Daniel Ricciardo (while at Red Bull)
2016: Nico Rosberg (for Mercedes when race was the European Grand Prix)
Rain is not expected not to be a feature of the race, with cloud, some sunshine and temperatures of around 18 degrees Celsius scheduled for Baku around race time on Sunday.