F1: Lewis Hamilton looks for luck to change amid 3-way title fight

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Lewis Hamilton needs his luck to change in Azerbaijan.

Already nine points behind Sebastian Vettel, the defending champion has yet to win a race this year.

Baku’s emphasis on straight-line speed could favor Hamilton and Mercedes this weekend, but the British driver has struggled in both previous races held at the track. In 2016, he crashed in qualifying, while last year the seemingly trivial issue of a loose headrest forced him into the pits, where he lost valuable time. He finished fifth on both occasions.

“Baku has not been a particularly great hunting ground for me,” said Hamilton, who has gone six races without a win since the U.S. Grand Prix in October.

“This year is going to be tough,” he added. “I’m hoping I’ve got a car this weekend to really battle it out with Sebastian.”

Mercedes dominated the last four seasons but is in a three-way fight with Ferrari and Red Bull this year. Hamilton’s team leads the constructors’ standings.

“The others have definitely stepped up. I think we’ve made a step forward but they’ve made a big leap,” Hamilton said, but expressed hope Mercedes could match that pace. “It’s always easier to catch up than to be a pioneer.”

Mercedes has been trying to better understand how to get the most pace out of the soft tires, especially in qualifying.

Vettel said Mercedes remained the favorite but the differences are minuscule.

“We have three cars that are a match,” Vettel said. “Whoever gets all the small issues right will be out in front.”

Vettel arrives in Azerbaijan as the championship leader with two wins, but needs to bounce back from finishing eighth in China after a collision with Max Verstappen.

Baku’s contrasting features are its long seafront straight and twisty section around the city’s Old Town. That makes it crucial to find the right degree of downforce to produce enough speed but also grip in the slower corners.

The track is also very narrow in places, making it likelier the race will be stopped if there is crash debris. Last year, there were two safety car periods before a red flag restart. Tempers flared, with Hamilton and Vettel making contact behind the safety car.

Daniel Ricciardo, who won in Baku last year and is coming off a victory in China two weeks ago, said he wasn’t yet thinking of the title and that his team needed to show it could consistently challenge Mercedes and Ferrari. That’s also a factor in Ricciardo’s musings about a possible move to Mercedes or Ferrari next year.

“It’s still early but I think we proved if we’re there we can do a lot with (the car),” Ricciardo said. “Because we’re not winning every weekend, when you have a sniff of a victory that’s all the motivation and the hunger that I need.”

Besides the tendency of Verstappen to collide with his rivals, Red Bull is also struggling to match Ferrari’s qualifying pace. Neither Red Bull has qualified higher than fourth in the three races so far this season.

“I think Saturday we’ll probably not be there, but Sunday we can turn it around,” Ricciardo said.

At the other end of the grid, misery continues for Williams.

Nearly a year after Canadian teenager Lance Stroll earned a surprise third place in a chaotic race in Baku, Williams is well off the pace.

Stroll’s three 14th-place finishes are its best results so far this year and he’s not expecting much improvement this weekend. Speed is crucial in Baku – and Williams doesn’t have the pace.

“Those long straights were our strengths last year and unfortunately a bit of a weakness this year,” Stroll said. “With a really competitive and really good race, we are P14 or P13, and last year we were comfortably in the points many times.”

Santino Ferrucci will drive No. 14 for AJ Foyt Racing full time in 2023 IndyCar season

Santino Ferrucci AJ Foyt
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Santino Ferrucci will return to full-time racing in the NTT IndyCar Series next season, joining AJ Foyt Racing.

Ferrucci had made eight IndyCar starts with three teams since his last full-time season in 2020 while also racing part time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series this year.

He will drive the storied No. 14 Dallara-Chevrolet for four-time Indy 500 winner A.J. Foyt’s team, which will field the car from its Waller, Texas headquarters.

“It’s incredibly exciting to be back in the INDYCAR Series full time,” Ferrucci said in a team release. “Being a part-time driver over the last two years has been hard for me, personally. I’m a race car driver, and I want to compete. Working with different teams has been exciting, and I’m proud that no matter which car I’ve raced, I’ve always shown speed and consistency. I couldn’t be more excited to join AJ Foyt Racing in the 14 Chevy. I can’t wait to make the best of it.”

Ferrucci, 24, had finished a career-best fourth in IndyCar four times, including the 104th Indy 500 in 2020. He was the 2019 Indy 500 rookie of the year with a sixth.

In nine Xfinity starts since 2021, Ferrucci has a career-best finish of 13th at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I am thrilled to welcome Santino to the team,” Larry Foyt said in a release. “He’s shown a knack for getting toward the front of the field, and I think he is a racer who moves forward on race day. A.J. sees the fire in him and has enjoyed their meetings together. I think Santino’s experience will help his rookie teammate as well, so he is a great addition to our roster.”

Ferrucci will be teamed at AJ Foyt Racing with Benjamin Pedersen, who finished fifth in the 2022 Indy Lights standings. The team has yet to specify the number for Pedersen’s entry, which will be fielded out of its Indianapolis race shop.

Foyt’s two full-time drivers last season were Dalton Kellett and Kyle Kirkwood, who is moving to Andretti Autosport.