By Neil Leverett
- Formula 1 moves onto Baku this weekend for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
- Red Bull eyeing fifth race win on bounce after victories at Imola, Miami, Barcelona and Monte Carlo
- Max Verstappen holds nine-point lead over Charles Leclerc; Dutchman seeks redemption for forced retirement in last season’s race
BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – As Formula 1 resumes in Baku this weekend, will Max Verstappen have his redemption or can Sergio Perez claim back-to-back wins in Azerbaijan?
Baku poised for more drama
As Formula 1 drops back into gear this weekend, Round 8 of the 2022 season rolls into Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. In what will be the fifth running of race, the City of Winds’ street circuit has quickly become an F1 fan favourite in its short history since 2016, serving up more than its fair share of memorable moments.
In 2018, teammates Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo collided when battling for a podium place, whilst last year after the former’s dramatic crash out of the race, a standing start with two laps of racing saw further theatre as a title-chasing Lewis Hamilton used his braking system incorrectly in attempting a late overtake and slid out into the escape road to finish last, as Sergio Perez took his first race win for Red Bull.
With another burst of speed to come over the next two weekends, momentum will again be all important as another hop across the Atlantic to Montreal awaits for the Canadian GP. But where will said impetus be by the time F1 arrives in Quebec?
Red Bull have wings
For the moment, it is indeed Red Bull who hold the advantage after a run of five race wins on the bounce running from the Emilia Romagna GP.
Shrugging off early season woes in regard to power and reliability issues, Max Verstappen has reeled off wins at Imola, in Miami and Catalunya, before Perez took the baton for the Milton Keynes outfit in Monaco last time out.
The Austrian manufacturer are in a dominant moment for the most part and most importantly, are a two-pronged attack.
Yet, as strong as the position they sit in, boss Christian Horner will know all too well how quickly their season again c0uld flip, with summer’s proving grounds set to test Red Bull further.
Examination of their credentials are to come and in quick succession but for now at least, they continue to live up to their marketing slogan.
Verstappen eyes redemption; Perez seeks double
The battle for supremacy then is a widening picture on two fronts for Red Bull but this weekend in particular, both Verstappen and Perez will be eyeing top spot on the podium.
Winding back the clock to 2021, Baku last season was a tale with very differing narratives for both men. For the defending champion, a race of undercuts of both Perez and Hamilton looked to have panned out to Verstappen’s advantage, before a left-tyre failure saw him spin out and crash dramatically with seven laps to go.
With the race red-flagged, Perez assumed the lead and held on to open his win tally for his new team as Verstappen sat in the garage watching his Mexican teammate take the chequered flag – the only other driver than Verstappen to secure victory as a Red Bull driver in three years.
Returning to Baku this weekend, Verstappen will be keen for his shot at redemption.
However, with Perez looking for successive wins to follow Monaco a fortnight ago, the 32-year-old can break new ground here as the first driver to win twice in Azerbaijan and also in back-t0-back seasons.
Victory for Perez in Baku would also break a personal duck with successive career race wins for the first time. As documented, Red Bull have a storied history in Azerbaijan particularly when their two drivers are battling each other and as Perez stands to propel himself into the title picture, things could get spicy again this weekend.
Leclerc desperate for fortune reversal
Over at Ferrari, the picture looks rather different to how it did a few short months ago. Having asserted their newly-inherited authority over the paddock at the start of the campaign, Scuderia were sitting pretty in both World Drivers’ and Constructors’ Championships after three races.
Fast forward from April to June however, and it is now five races without a win. Mattia Binotto will again be getting that same – albeit relative – sinking feeling. It is Charles Leclerc meanwhile, left chewing the fat with most vigour.
After winning two of the opening three races this term, the Monegasque would have been grinning from ear to ear but since departing Melbourne however, Leclerc has mustered only a best finish as runner-up in Miami, also enduring a first retirement for Ferrari in Spain.
That is not to say Leclerc has been off his game, far from it but three pole positions have now all been converted to Red Bull’s favour.
Having held the front spot on the grid for his second home GP running two weeks ago, again Leclerc’s continuing run of misfortune in Monaco refused to move to one side in the rather damp conditions in Monte Carlo. It is rather how the last two months have evolved.
Ferrari are in need of a shot in the arm. Could Baku supply the antidote?
The Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2022 takes place at Baku City Circuit this weekend.
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