Formula 1 travels to the city of Baku this weekend for the 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix as Max Verstappen looks to build on his lead in the Driver's Championship standings.
The Baku City Circuit has provided a number of memorable races throughout the years and arrives at a pivotal point in the 2022 Formula 1 season with the championship pendulum swinging away from Ferrari and in favour of Red Bull.
With the race weekend fast approaching, RealSport101 provides a comprehensive preview for the 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Last Time Out: Monaco Grand Prix
Max Verstappen built on his championship lead, but it was his Red Bull teammate, Sergio Perez, who grabbed the headlines as the Mexican jumped both Ferraris with an aggressive undercut to take victory on the streets of Monte Carlo.
Charles Leclerc had snatched pole on Saturday, but the Monegasque driver's home soil curse struck again with a Ferrari pit-stop blunder dropping him down to fourth in the running. The top four were separated by just a couple of seconds in the closing laps but there was no change in the order as Perez led Sainz and Verstappen over the line to take his third career victory and his first in the principality.
Further down the order, George Russell kept up his record of finishing in the top five of every Grand Prix this season, crossing the line in fifth after starting 6th on the grid. Fernando Alonso and Sebastian Vettel both claimed valuable points for Alpine and Aston Martin respectively, while under the weather Lando Norris challenged Russell for P5 in the closing laps.
Track Focus: Baku City Circuit
The Baku City Circuit debuted on the F1 calendar in 2016 and has been a staple ever since. The track is considered one of the most popular street circuits on the schedule and for good reason.
Often described as part-Monza, part-Monaco, Sector 1 contains three 90 degree left-handers before heading into the tight and twisty Sector 2. Sector 2 is also the home of the infamous castle section that has caught out many drivers over the years, most notably Charles Leclerc in 2019.
Sector 3 is the circuit's biggest gift though with the jinking turns 18 and 19 taken flat out and opening up into one of the longest straights in Formula 1. The track contains two DRS zones, with the first coming on the pit-straight and the second coming off the exit of turn 1.
The pit-straight into turn one double-DRS configuration allows for plenty of overtakes into turn one given the massive opportunity for slipstreams down the start-finish straight. Cars can then fight to regain the position or launch another attack into turn two thanks to the second DRS detection zone.
This is a similar dynamic to the turn two/three sequence seen at the Red Bull Ring in Austria. Turn three also represents an overtaking opportunity for those who are brave on the breaks, but the rest of the circuit is littered with tight, slow corners and offers little opportunity for offensive moves.
Classic Race: 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Just one year on from its addition to the calendar, the Baku City Circuit produced one of the most dramatic races of the last decade. Lewis Hamilton secured pole position in Saturday's qualifying and got off the line well, but contact between Valtteri Bottas and Ferrari's Kimi Raikkonen in the scrap for P2 mixed up the order at the end of lap one.
Bottas was sent tumbling to the bottom of the field, while Raikkonen sustained damage, promoting Ferrari teammate Sebastian Vettel into P2. Lap 12 brought a retirement and a safety car as Max Verstappen was forced to retire with a mechanical issue.
After an extended period under yellow flag conditions, chaos ensued as Vettel ran into the back of Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes behind the safety car, before pulling alongside and bumping wheels with the now seven-time world champion in frustration. The safety car came in on lap 19 but the green flags weren't out for long as the two Force Indias of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon came together at the exit of turn two.
The race was red-flagged on lap 23 and restarted under the safety car with Hamilton leading from Vettel and rookie Lance Stroll. Daniel Ricciardo was promptly promoted into P3 at the restart after completing a jaw-dropping triple overtake into turn one.
A loose headrest saw the race leader forced to pit following a technical flag, while Vettel was given a ten-second stop-go penalty for the prior incident with Hamilton. This unleashed Ricciardo to streak clear at the front, while Bottas, who was running dead last on lap one, stole P2 on the line. Stroll rounded off the podium with his first in Formula 1 to mark an immense Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The Championship Lowdown
Max Verstappen's 15-point haul from the Monaco Grand Prix saw him extend his championship lead over Charles Leclerc by three points to a nine-point gap. The major talking point from Monaco, however, was the emergence of Sergio Perez as a championship contender.
The Mexican was some way off his Dutch colleague in 2021 but has enjoyed an impressive start to the 2022 season and was unfortunate not to take victory in both Jeddah and Barcelona. Victory in the principality has moved the Mexican within 15 points of first-placed Verstappen ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Ferrari's disastrous weekend in Monaco has left them trailing Team's Championship leaders Red Bull by 36 points as the drivers head to Baku. George Russell's immense consistency means that Mercedes are 75 points clear of their nearest challengers, McLaren. Haas will be keen to improve this weekend, having claimed just 15 points from the opening seven rounds of the season despite producing a car capable of fighting in the upper-midfield.
Storylines and Predictions
There are multiple key battles to watch ahead of the 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Multiple drivers will be feeling the heat as we head to Baku this weekend, none more so than Mick Schumacher, whose future at Haas has been thrown into dispute following his second major crash of the season. The German is fighting for his F1 future this season and needs a strong weekend in Azerbaijan to restore confidence.
Daniel Ricciardo will also be under pressure following a dismal weekend on the streets he used to love while at Red Bull. Pato O'Ward's immense Indy500 performance couldn't have come at a worse time for the Aussie, who is battling to keep his F1 career alive.
Lewis Hamilton's start to the season has been frustratingly underwhelming. He's losing the Sunday battle 6-1 to teammate George Russell heading into round eight. The seven-time world champion will be desperate to get the better of his rival this time around after spending 64 laps looking at the rear of Fernando Alonso's Alpine two weeks back.
All three of the championship contenders have previous at the Baku City Circuit. Charles Leclerc claimed a shock pole position here last season but struggled to squeeze the pace from his Ferrari on Sunday as he crossed the line in fourth. Meanwhile, a tire failure saw Max Verstappen crash out on the pit-straight from the lead. Sergio Perez subsequently claimed his maiden victory as a Red Bull driver after Lewis Hamilton went straight on at turn one at the restart.
RealSport101's 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix predictions
Pole Position: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
Podium: P1: Max Verstappen (Red Bull), P2: Charles Leclerc (Ferrari), P3: Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
The schedule for the 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend is listed below.
FP1: Friday, June 10th (12pm BST)
FP2: Friday, June 10th (3pm BST)
FP3: Saturday, June 11th (12pm BST)
Qualifying: Saturday, June 11th (3pm BST)
Race: Sunday, June 12th (12pm BST)
This weekend also sees the return of the Formula 2 championship.