As Formula 1 returns to Baku, Red Bull has two drivers in contention for the driver’s championship, the lead in the constructor’s championship, and the best race car of 2022, thus far. Can Red Bull dominate Baku again?
The 2021 Race – A Sign of Things to Come?
Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez were in complete control of the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Verstappen was showing world champion form, and Perez was finally getting acclimated to the RB16B. Red Bull was on track for their first 1-2 finish in many years, until lap 45 or 51 and a rear tire failure on Baku’s final long straight-ended Verstappen’s race.
After the late-race restart, and aided by an uncharacteristic mistake from Lewis Hamilton, Perez’s struggling Red Bull won the race in Verstappen’s absence.
Now, in 2022, Red Bull returns to Baku firing on all cylinders, with a straight-line speed advantage. The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is a 3.73 mile (6 km) long street, with tricky slow-speed corners and two long straights with DRS.
Will Red Bull dominate the stress of Baku again? Or will Ferrari strike back after two-consecutive weekends of Ferrari failures helped Red Bull take control of the championships?
The front of the grid: Ferrari versus Red Bull
The Red Bull has been and continues to be the best race car on the grid. After signing Sergio Perez through 2024, Red Bull has security in the second seat they haven’t had since Daniel Ricciardo left for Renault. It seems like Red Bull has set itself up for continued success, having the best race car, a driving tandem performing extremely well, and team stability for years to come.
Ferrari needs a very strong weekend in Baku to keep pace with Red Bull for the championships, However, Baku’s circuit characteristics don’t necessarily suit the Ferrari’s strongest facets. Charles Leclerc is going to be at the front of the grid unless he crashes out of qualifying.
In 2019, Leclerc famously crashed in practice at the castle section of turns 8 -10, proclaiming across the radio (for the entire world to hear) “I am stupid.” Leclerc qualified on Pole for the 2021 running of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Expect Leclerc to continue to qualify on the first row.
Carlos Sainz needs to build on the success from Monaco to keep Ferrari in both championships. Sainz needs to find consistent performance again to find himself truly in contention for the Driver’s World Championship. A Sainz win, or a Ferrari 1-2 in Baku, will be significant to Ferrari’s chances of glory at the end of the season.
What About Mercedes?
What about Mercedes? Mercedes clearly have the third-fastest car in race trim on the grid. The W-13’s single lap pace is still struggling behind Red Bull and Ferrari, but George Russel can’t seem to finish outside the top 5 in 2022. And Lewis Hamilton is still the greatest driver of his generation and one of the greatest drivers of all time.
This will be Mercedes’s true second race weekend after appearing to solve their porpoising issue in Barcelona. How much development progress will Mercedes have made before Baku, and will Baku evoke the return of proposing?
McLaren, the Mid-Field, and Backmarkers
Despite still being sick, Lando Norris had an excellent weekend in Monaco. Norris is a perennial dark horse: in any qualifying or race, Norris has the talent to put his McLaren as close to the front of the grid as possible. McLaren should find itself with Mercedes for company in the final standings of the race.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly’s campaign for a non-Red Bull seat in Formula 1 begins in Baku. Red Bull’s decision to re-sign Perez means that Gasly will either stay and leave Alpha Tauri or move on to lead another midfield team. With Red Bull, Ferrari, and Mercedes’s driver line-ups locked in for years to come, Gasly’s options seem limited. Regardless, Gasly needs strong performances to maximize his potential value in the driver market.
How will Aston Martin’s “green Red Bull” look in Baku? This is Aston Martin’s first real weekend since debuting the “green Red Bull” to develop this upgrade. Sebastian Vettel had an excellent Monaco Grand Prix, raising the question “will Aston Martin’s upgrades move them up the competitive order?”
The answer: quite likely. The 2020 Racing Point (now Aston Martin) “pink Mercedes” was quite successful in moving the team up the competitive order.
What shenanigans does Alpine’s “Wiley-old campaigner” Fernando Alonso have up his sleeve?
Haas needs both drivers to finish the weekend without further damage or reliability issues.
Williams will be Williams. Alex Albon will put in impressive performances, especially considering the machinery he is driving.
Our qualifying predictions: Leclerc to take pole position, Verstappen 2nd, Perez 3rd, Sainz 4th, and Norris 5th.
Our podium predictions: Verstappen wins, Leclerc in 2nd, Perez in 3rd.
George Russel finishes 4th or 5th. Norris splits the two Mercedes.
And Williams’ Nicholas Latifi will be the ultimate backmarker.