The races are tight and fast as we kick off another double-header with a trip to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Ahead of a race that has a habit of providing late-night drama, here are some of the talking points that will make the rounds when we arrive in Baku.
1. Perez is in the track mix
After the Spanish Grand Prix, some felt that Red Bull had already put all its eggs in one basket by backing Max Verstappen in the title chase. But whether that’s the case or not, Sergio Perez made sure he couldn’t be ruled out just yet with his Monaco win.
Perez just looked the more comfortable of the two Red Bull drivers for most of the weekend, when even his crash at the end of Q3 didn’t phase him as he took full advantage of the slip-ups strategies of Ferrari to claim the third victory of his career.
TREMAYNE: Monaco was a vindication for Perez and a test of character for Leclerc
It was also Perez’s second victory for Red Bull, the first being in Baku 12 months ago, so he is heading to a place where he has fond memories. Last year Perez was hugely impressive at the Baku circuit, turning a sixth starting position into an eventual outright victory – albeit after tire problems for Verstappen and the moment of ‘brake magic’ by Lewis Hamilton took those two out of the equation.
Could Perez pick up back-to-back wins for the first time in his career and edge past Championship leader Charles Leclerc this weekend?
2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix: Sergio Pérez takes his first Red Bull victory in Baku
2. Ferrari must maximize their opportunities
Leclerc looked so comfortable in the title chase after the Australian Grand Prix, as he held a lead of more than a win over the rest of the field. That margin was helped by previous Red Bull driver retirements, while since then we’ve seen a more reliable run for Verstappen and Perez – but Ferrari didn’t take a chance either.
READ MORE: ‘We made mistakes in our judgement,’ says Binotto after Ferrari defeat in Monaco win
In Spain, Leclerc looked comfortably quickest and should have won had it not been for a power pack issue that caused him to lose his mind, then in Monaco his home racing curse struck again. The latter was the most frustrating for Leclerc and Ferrari, as he had the race under control on a track where overtaking is almost impossible, but they failed to convert a front-row lockout into victory with the one or the other of the pilots, like Carlos Sainz. finished second.
Amid what is expected to be a close championship battle with Red Bull, Ferrari cannot afford to make the same mistakes again and will be looking to bounce back in Baku.
3. Which Mercedes will we have?
It is always difficult to place Mercedes in this battle for the championship, even though George Russell currently sits fourth in the drivers’ standings. The position comes courtesy of Russell who has finished in the top five in every race so far this season – an impressive run which he managed to follow up with a pass over Lando Norris during the pit stop phase at Monaco – but only in Spain did he look like a real threat up front.
READ MORE: Wolff thinks ‘pendulum will swing’ in Hamilton’s favor after series of ‘unlucky situations’
Barcelona looked to be a game-changing race weekend for Mercedes as they were much more competitive than in previous rounds and seemed to be getting the rebounds that had hurt them so badly under control. But Monaco was once again a step backwards, with the tight, bumpy street circuit not suiting their car.
Toto Wolff was still optimistic, however, expecting the final race to be tough. The progress made in Spain has not been lost, but Mercedes could have problems on specific tracks to advance, so it will be interesting to see if the characteristics of Baku – still a street circuit but very different from Monaco – will help them or will hurt them.
4. Schumacher and Ricciardo under pressure
Monaco has also been a difficult weekend for two drivers who have had difficult seasons so far.
Mick Schumacher has still not scored his first point in Formula 1, despite several promising performances this season when he seemed close. In Jeddah he didn’t have a chance to break into the top 10 after a serious crash trying to qualify for Q3, with Haas opting to protect the car and their limited spares at the time.
The contact with Sebastian Vettel in Miami cost him his best chance of the season, but the only saving grace in his big accident in Monaco was the fact that Schumacher was not in the frame to score on this occasion. He did, however, draw a firm quote from team principal Guenther Steiner, who said: “It’s not very satisfying to have a big crash again. We have to see how we move forward from here.
READ MORE: ‘We have to see how we go forward’ – Steiner unhappy with Schumacher crash in Monaco
Heading to another street circuit is probably not what Schumacher needs right now to regain his confidence, but he has shown some very good signs at times this season and could put in a great performance in Baku.
The same can be said of Daniel Ricciardo, who saw his position at McLaren come under scrutiny after a four-race pointless streak and crash through his own fault in Friday’s free practice in Monaco. Ricciardo is a race winner in Baku and, like Perez, he has fond memories of it, but a solid run in the top 10 would do him good.
Monaco Grand Prix 2022: Schumacher unhurt after serious crash splits his car
5. Even tighter races on a spectacular track
Ricciardo’s win in Azerbaijan in 2017 was just one of many standout runs in Baku, along with last year’s dramatic two-round penalty shoot-out finale that saw Lewis Hamilton skip Perez from the line to run straight into turn 1 and not score, another one for the annals.
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The track has seen plenty of exciting racing, and while it punishes mistakes thanks to the street circuit nature, it also has the long flat section up to Turn 1 which offers plenty of overtaking opportunities.
This year’s new regulations have allowed riders to follow each other more closely and attempt to move around, which has helped on a number of sites that were previously extremely difficult to pass. But that has never been a big deal in Azerbaijan, so who knows what the combination of 2022 cars and the thrilling track layout will bring this weekend.
Race Highlights: 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix