F1 Azerbaijan GP Preview
The Formula One World Championship heads to Baku City Circuit for the Azerbaijan GP for Round 8 of the 2022 Season.
This weekend marks a significant race given that neither of the Championship protagonists, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, have yet to stand on the podium at this venue.
It’s Verstappen who holds the advantage in the Championship with a nine-point lead over Leclerc while Monaco GP winner Sergio Perez lies just 15 points behind his Dutch teammate.
Having won the past four races, Red Bull holds a 36 point lead over Ferrari while the Scuderia’s last win came in early April courtesy of Leclerc’s performance in Australia.
A Race that Always Produces Drama
The first F1 race to be held in Azerbaijan was in 2016 under the guise of the “European GP” – however, a year later saw the name changed to the Azerbaijan GP.
Over the years, the teams and drivers have had to work hard during the Practice sessions to fine-tune their set-ups. Teams are forced to choose between downforce for the twisty sections of track and less drag for the long straights.
Like in Monaco, the slightest of mistakes are punished severely as the track loops around the city’s narrow old town with drivers being extra cautious whilst navigating through Baku’s mediaeval city walls.
With such chaotic races unfolding as the laps tick down, the end result can be quite unpredictable. Starting at the front hasn’t always led to success – in fact, three of the five races previously saw the driver who qualified on Pole Position fail to finish on the podium.
There’s been a host of memorable moments around the Baku City Circuit including Lewis Hamilton’s “brake-check” on Sebastian Vettel in 2017 and the Red Bull driver pairing of Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo crashing out after a fierce battle in 2018.
However, no one can forget about last year’s race where two high-speed punctures for Lance Stroll and Verstappen led to their races coming to a premature end. The incidents triggered a red flag and on the restart, Hamilton, who was in a prime position to steal the lead in the championship, selected the wrong button on his steering wheel which gifted the race win to none other than Perez.
Driver on Form
With his first win of the season under his belt and a brand-new Red Bull contract, Sergio Perez finally looks to be within a shout of challenging and giving Verstappen a run for his money. The Mexican looks to continue his run of form around a circuit he favours.
The Baku City Circuit has been a happy hunting ground for the Red Bull driver as it’s where he took his first win for the team last season. Prior to last year’s race, he’d also finished on the podium in the 2016 and 2018 races for Force India.
The Mexican also looks to create history on Sunday as up until this weekend, not one driver has won this event twice. In the five races to have been held around the circuit, they’ve all been won by different drivers which include Ricciardo, Hamilton and Valterri Bottas.
Meanwhile, team-mate Verstappen, who was on course to potentially win last year’s race, finished 4th at this venue in 2019. If the Championship Leader can finish on the podium this weekend, he’ll record his 66th podium appearance for Red Bull which will see him surpass Sebastian Vettel’s tally.
What about Ferrari?
Ferrari, who have never won this event, come into this race weekend hoping to make amends for their strategy blunder which saw Charles Leclerc fall from first to fourth during the Monaco GP.
The Monegasque, who scored his first-ever points in his career by finishing sixth in 2018 driving for Alfa Romeo, took his fifth Pole Position of the season only to be shuffled down the order as miscommunication and poor timing let the victory slip from his grasp. With a best finish of fourth in 2019, Leclerc will be hoping to go a couple of steps further in order to get his title bid back on track.
On the other side of the garage, Carlos Sainz Jr has finished in the top ten four of the past five races in Baku with a best of fifth in 2018. The Spaniard has put the misery of failing to reach the chequered flag in both Australia and Emilia Romagna behind him and has finished on the podium in the last three races.
Which drivers and teams need a good weekend?
A driver under huge pressure this weekend is 2017 race winner Daniel Ricciardo. The Australian’s position at McLaren has come under scrutiny and it’s been revealed that there are clauses in his contract. Four races have passed since his last top ten result so a solid weekend would do him the world of good.
Apart from Perez, Four-Time World Champion Vettel has a remarkably consistent record with the German finishing all the five previous races inside the top 4. With three podiums and two fourth-place finishes, Vettel will be a driver to keep an eye on – given that he finished second here last year giving Aston Martin their first-ever podium.
The Azerbaijan GP will take place on Sunday.