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F1 hots up in Baku
Five races down and the 2021 Formula 1 plot thickens.
As a hectic summer schedule nears for F1, the paddock returns to Baku this weekend for Round 6 and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Having missed a trip to the City of Winds last year due to the pandemic, this will be the fourth trip around the city streets of one of the sport’s new glamour venues, not least its already icon castle walls.
Ahead in the Constructors’ standings by a single point, this weekend will be the first time since 2013 the Milton Keynes outfit have led the Championship going into a race.
And, as Red Bull approach a particular segment of the season that should suit the Honda engine as the top performer on the grid, the Austrian manufacturer is perfectly positioned to make things very uncomfortable for Mercedes.
Mercedes look to history
Rarely have both Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton been in this position as a collective, but as F1 hops from one city circuit in Monte Carlo to another, boss Toto Wolff will nevertheless, remain hopeful.
Not least because during the Azerbaijan GP’s short three-year stint on the calendar, there has been a different winner in each edition of the race.
We have documented on many occasions Verstappen’s inability to win successive races, and that too will provide comfort for not only Hamilton but the race’s other prior victory in Valtteri Bottas also.
Furthermore, if we look at podiums from the three races on the Caspian Sea to date, both Williams and Force India were able to gatecrash the podium in the past, but yet, Mercedes have still won on two out of the three occasions.
So predictable Baku? Not so much, and right now for Mercedes, who may not be able to shrug off their tyre problems for the weekend, that is something they will be banking on.
Red Bull give you wings?
Adding a further spicy element to proceedings in Baku, Red Bull have hinted that they may use the controversial flexi-wings set-up in Azerbaijan, which could give Red Bull in particular a significant advantage.
Though the legality of the component has been scrutinised with a fine-tooth comb – and passed all appropriate tests – teams unable to utilise the modified wing believe that in theory, it will provide a small but crucial performance boost.
Recently, a new directive meant that its use will be longer permitted, however, that does not come into effect until June 15. That means there is nothing to stop Red Bull and other teams from using them this weekend.
For the race in Baku, the the long pit straight could therefore allow the wings to be better aerodynamic in transition, and Red Bull, who continue to have the edge in speed through the corners this term, could benefit.
Mercedes boss Wolff has already stated he will readily pursue a protest, but with little in terms of a contravention of rules, Red Bull and their other rivals might have a sizeable loophole to exploit this weekend.
Ricciardo keen for Azerbaijan ‘reset’
As Daniel Ricciardo continues to rather be left in the McLaren shadow by the rampant Lando Norris, Baku will be a sight for sore eyes for the Perth driver.
Following his P12 in Monaco, the 31-year-old has fond memories of Azerbaijan as winner in its inaugural race four years ago, but also those of a more infamous incident a year later in 2018.
With both Red Bull of Ricciardo and Verstappen pursuing the Mercedes of Hamilton and Bottas hard, the Australian-Dutch duo collided as the pair went wheel-to-wheel for a number of laps, forcing a double retirement.
Though the scorn of Christian Horner may still be ringing in his ears even to this day, Ricciardo however, will be looking to Baku as a fresh platform to build on.
As he told F1.com in the lead up to race weekend and reflecting on what Norris is achieving, Ricciardo wants to refocus and go again.
“Monaco wasn’t my weekend but I’m looking to bounce back. It’s been important to take time to reset and refocus before heading to Baku.
“The team and I have been working hard in the sim to understand, analyse and pinpoint the key areas we need to improve. We know the car has good potential, we just need to put all pieces together to unlock it.”
The 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix takes place this weekend, at the Baku City Circuit.
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