After a dramatic wet Sunday afternoon at the Monaco Grand Prix, Formula 1 heads to a very different kind of street track for the 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Will Perez emerge as a title contender? Can Verstappen finally score his first Baku podium? And will Vettel maintain his points-scoring record? Nicky Haldenby looks at the main talking points.
The craziest race of the season
When Formula 1 first raced in Azerbaijan for the 2016 European Grand Prix, the all-new Baku City Circuit was hyped in a way that few races had been before. High speeds, wheel-to-wheel racing and lots of overtaking were promised. While the speeds certainly were high, the race was a dull affair. Passing with little in the way of action, Nico Rosberg took victory having led from start to finish.
Since then, however, almost every race in Baku has been a show-stopper. Daniel Ricciardo won from tenth on the grid in 2017 as Sebastian Vettel attracted headlines for purposefully ramming into the side of Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes under Safety Car conditions. In 2018, the Red Bull teammates collided and Valtteri Bottas looked set for victory until picking up a puncture only three laps from the chequered flag. Last year, Max Verstappen led until five laps from the end, when a tyre failure saw him crash out on the main straight – leading to a dramatic race restart.
Such is the unpredictable nature of Baku’s race weekends, there is yet to be a repeat polesitter or a repeat winner at the track. And the statistics proving Azerbaijan’s unpredictability keep coming: Rosberg remains the driver to have led the most laps here. In three of the five Baku races, the winner has led less than 20 laps. As many podium finishes have come from outside the top six on the grid as there have been from the top three grid positions. Whichever way you look at it, Sunday afternoons in Azerbaijan can be difficult to foresee!
Sergio Perez: a genuine title contender?
Who is most likely to become Baku’s first repeat winner? Sergio Perez appears to be in the form of his life at the moment. In Monaco, he secured the third Grand Prix victory of his career and outpaced team-mate Max Verstappen throughout the weekend. Perez now sits within 15 points of Verstappen in the championship standings and is fast emerging as a genuine contender for the 2022 title.
Perez’s efforts in Monaco were rewarded with a two-year contract extension with the Red Bull team, likely to put a spring in his step as he heads to Azerbaijan. Baku City Circuit has been a very good track for Perez since joining the calendar in 2016. He’s taken a record three podium finishes here, including victory in last year’s race.
Given his current capabilities and his previous form at the venue, Perez could be set to close down his team-mate’s championship advantage once again this weekend. The Mexican currently sits at 25/1 to win the championship in 2022 – you can expect the odds to tumble if he secures a second victory in a row.
No podiums here yet for Verstappen
Max Verstappen is yet to finish on the podium in Azerbaijan. From the five races here, he has crossed the finish line only twice: with eighth place in 2016 and fourth in 2019. He shares the record for most DNFs at the circuit – and will be keen to avoid making this the fifth consecutive Azerbaijan race in which a Red Bull driver has recorded a retirement.
Mechanical issues eliminated him from the race when running in the top four in 2017, a collision with then team-mate Daniel Ricciardo ended Red Bull’s race when Verstappen was running fourth in 2018 and last year the Dutchman was a handful of laps from victory when a tyre failure forced him out of proceedings.
Verstappen proved last year that he has what it takes to win here, but is yet to have the luck to convert it into a big result. He’s also yet to qualify on the front row in Baku, but Red Bull’s pace so far this year means he has a good opportunity to do so in 2022.
Can Vettel continue his Azerbaijan record?
Perez shares the record for most podiums in Baku with Sebastian Vettel. The German four-time World Champion is yet to finish outside of the top four in any of the five races held so far at the track. He’s the only driver to have scored in all five Azerbaijan races and is one of only two to contest every racing lap held here so far (the other being Lewis Hamilton).
Vettel even led four laps of last year’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, in which he scored Aston Martin’s first-ever podium result in Formula 1. It remains the team’s only podium to date. The AMR22 may not be a competitive enough package to give Vettel another podium shot this weekend, but Baku’s unpredictability could still give him a chance to shine. Vettel is 40/1 to take home a top-three trophy in Azerbaijan.