F1 returns to Baku this weekend for the seventh Azerbaijan GP. The street circuit has produced some thrilling racing in the past. This is the first time that a new generation of cars will debut on the track. These new cars are faster in the fast-speed sections and slower in the slow-speed sections as compared to last season.
Red Bull arrived in Baku on a four-race winning streak, with Max Verstappen leading the championship by 9 points from Charles Leclerc. Sergio Perez is close on their heels, with only a 15 point deficit against his teammate. The Mexican has been the talk of the town in the last week and a half, what with his Monaco GP victory and a new two-year contract extension with the Austrian team.
Everyone will be keeping an eye on the dynamic between the two Red Bull drivers, since even though the reigning world champion came into the season as the favorite Red Bull title contender, Perez's strong form means that it could go either way.
Having said that, let's jump straight to the preview and predictions for the 2022 Azerbaijan GP.
Preview and Predictions for 2022 F1 Azerbaijan GP
#1 Ferrari hoping to return to its winning ways
Charles Leclerc has scored pole position in three of the last four races, yet Red Bull managed to win all four of these races. Ever since the Australian GP disaster, where the Austrian team was exposed by the Italian squad, its comeback has been remarkable.
Red Bull's performance at Imola was flawless. In Miami, Max Verstappen made the most of Red Bull's superior race pace. Barcelona and Monaco were somewhat unfortunate for Ferrari's Charles Leclerc as misfortune and the team's poor strategy made him miss out on two wins.
Hence, at the Azerbaijan GP, the Maranello-based team will be desperate to outscore Red Bull and close the gap in the championship. We'll have to wait and see whether the team will be able to achieve this.
#2 The McLaren-Ricciardo saga
By the time the Monaco GP was over, the sentiment around the McLaren and Daniel Ricciardo partnership was that it was close to a split. The race was another disaster for the Australian as he finished outside of points yet again and his teammate Lando Norris scored P6 in the same race.
What made things worse was an interview a few days before the race weekend, wherein McLaren team boss Zak Brown openly admitted that the 32-year-old driver had not met the expectations that were set for him during his stay in the team.
Despite looking deflated after the Monaco GP, Ricciardo is ready to extract the most out of this weekend in Baku as he has always gone well over here.
With the pressure mounting on Ricciardo, will we see the first few cracks appear in the relationship? This will be worth keeping an eye on.
#3 The 2023 Driver Market is starting to sort itself out
Sergio Perez's contract extension will, slowly but steadily, have a domino effect on the rest of the driver market for next season. With the Red Bull seat sorted for the next two years, it means that drivers that are out of a contract at the end of the season will have fewer options to choose from.
Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel will both be out of contracts at the end of the season. Daniel Ricciardo, too, might be looking at a split with McLaren, while Pierre Gasly will be desperate to make a move further up the field. There are multiple seats on the grid that lack resolution at the moment, but after Perez's announcement, talks might intensify as drivers rush to secure their future.
Right now, if we look at the form guide, it's hard to look beyond Red Bull as the top team on the grid. The Austrian team has stormed back into contention this season after a disaster at the Australian GP.
As mentioned earlier as well, the team is on a four-race winning streak at the moment and at the Azerbaijan GP, Red Bull will be looking to keep the momentum rolling!
Out of Form
Ferrari is at an all-time low in the championship right now. The last four races have been brutal for the Italian squad; the team should have won the Spanish GP as well as the Monaco GP but could not because of its own mistakes.
It will certainly be hoping to regain its early-season form at the Azerbaijan GP.
Predictions for the Azerbaijan GP
The long straight and fast-speed sections in the first and third sectors point towards a track layout that favors Red Bull. Hence, if we have to pick a driver from the team that would be the prime candidate for the win, it has to be Max Verstappen!
Surprise of the Azerbaijan GP weekend
Mercedes made strides at the Spanish GP. Lewis Hamilton's race pace was fantastic and even the porpoising issue seemed to have been resolved. Although Monaco was a step back from the competitive standards that Mercedes enjoyed at Barcelona, the Azerbaijan GP should help bring the team back into contention. While the middle sector might cost Mercedes, especially in qualifying, S1 and S3 should help the team.
We expect the German team to surprise this weekend with a possible podium challenge.
Mick Schumacher is in trouble at the moment. Despite cutting down on the speed advantage that Kevin Magnussen enjoyed earlier in the season, his crashes have been a bit too much.
Haas' team principal Guenther Steiner sounded frustrated while speaking about Mick Schumacher's clashes this season. However, the young German has shown signs of putting things together in the last few races, hence, we're backing Mick Schumacher to surprise everyone at the Azerbaijan GP this weekend and score his first points for Haas.
Disappointment of the weekend
Aston Martin looks like an entirely different car in the hands of Sebastian Vettel compared to Lance Stroll. Even though Vettel dragged the car to a point-scoring position in Monaco, it appears as though Aston Martin's upgrades have not really worked.
Aston Martin was the ninth fastest car on the grid in Monaco and we predict that it will stay that way at the Azerbaijan GP as well.
Daniel Ricciardo will be desperate for a strong result at the Azerbaijan GP and while he normally goes well in Baku, we predict him to have a disappointing race once again. Even in the 2021 season, Ricciardo did not have the best of times in Baku either. For the Azerbaijan GP this weekend, expect even more misery for the Australian who might just be counting his days as a McLaren driver.
Catch the teams and drivers at the Azerbaijan GP on Sunday, June 12, 2022.