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F1 Race Preview: Azerbaijan Grand Prix


F1 Race Preview: Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Next up on the jam-packed 2022 Formula One calendar is a stop in Baku, for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The race is fast becoming known as one of the most memorable of the year, as it’s a race where literally anything can – and usually does – happen.

Read on to inform your F1 predictions ahead of the eighth race of the 2022 Formula One season with expert insight from Jennie Gow.

Last time out, the F1 circus stopped in Monaco, often seen the toughest challenge on the F1 calendar, espeically when it comes to qualifying. Charles Leclerc, however, was imperious around the streets of Monte Carlo on the Saturday and with a Ferrari front row lock out, it seemed like it was his race to lose – but lose he did!

Standing on the grid just before the race a couple of drops of rain started to fall and then in true deluge style the heavens opened and threw the entire pit lane into chaos! The race was delayed for over an hour but when it finally got going, it was a cracker (well, compared to Monaco standards).

The Red Bull team got the upper hand with a series of brave strategy calls that outfoxed Ferrari; however, it was Mexican Sergio Perez and not Championship leader Max Verstappen who was better placed to take advantage and the man from Mexico came home ahead of Carlos Sainz to win.

It means Verstappen leads the Drivers' Championship by nine points from Leclerc (who finished fourth), but Perez is closing the gap and is only 15 points behind his teammate after seven rounds of the World Championship.

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Can Perez contend for the Drivers’ Championship title?

After the race there was news that Perez – who is currently in his second season with Red Bull – had signed a contract that will keep him with the team until 2024. Off the back of his third-ever race win in Monaco, will he be a factor in the title fight this season?

It may still be a bit of a long shot but sometimes the impossible does happen. The Red Bull is clearly the in-form car when it comes to race day and Perez has proven that he has the pace to keep up with the rest of the pack right now. So, just like when Nico Rosberg won for Mercedes in 2016, while Perez may not be the favourite, it remains a fact that he is in one of the fastest cars, driving for a team who can clearly challenge for wins all season long, and if something odd happens to Verstappen, you never know – Perez might be the one to pick up the pieces.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2022: What to expect in Baku

Next stop on the calendar is another street circuit – Baku in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is a race where you can expect the unexpected. Last year, Verstappen was cruising to the win when his tyre exploded and he spun out of control over the start/finish line causing the race to be stopped for a period of time.

Lewis Hamilton was on pole when the race got going again and looked on for an easy victory; however, he made a rare mistake and pressed a button which saw him go long into the first corner, lock up, and lose any chance he had of winning the race. Eventually, it was Perez who was there to take his first race win for Red Bull.

The Baku City Circuit is a temporary course built around the streets of Azerbaijan’s capital which held its first Formula One race in 2016. The race carried the title of European Grand Prix in its first season, then became the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as of 2017. The 6km layout was designed by Hermann Tilke and features 20 turns and ranges in width from 7.6m through the old castle section to 13m down the start/finish straight. An unusual fact to wow your friends with is that the track is the only one of the year that is actually located below sea-level!

The cars can reach speeds of 349 km/h down the 2.22-kilometre-long main straight but there are also tight and twisty sections, so car set-up involves a compromise between having good top speed and enough downforce to tackle the slow 90-degree turns.

The team who nails the set-up this weekend will have the greatest chance of success in Baku.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2022: Who will win in Baku?

It’s hard to see anyone but Charles Leclerc being on pole in Baku. He is in such great form when it comes to qualifying, having taken five out of the seven pole positions so far this year. The Ferrari car in the hands of Leclerc is a thing of beauty in terms of single-lap pace. Unfortunately for the Tifosi (Ferrari’s fans), the car doesn’t seem to perform as well as the Red Bull when the points are paid out on a Sunday. Leclerc only has two wins to his name this season.

Despite leading the Championship, Verstappen would be a long shot for pole, as he only has one pole to his name this season, from Imola, and has never been on pole in Baku.

Contrary to what you might expect, there have only been two races from the five that have taken place in Baku that have been won from pole. The first race (a dull affair) in 2016 was won by Rosberg and then in 2019, Valtteri Bottas won from pole.

Hamilton secured pole position in F1’s second trip to the city back in 2017 but that year, it was Daniel Ricciardo who took the win for Red Bull. In 2018, Sebastian Vettel took pole but Hamilton went on to win the race. And last year, Leclerc took pole but couldn’t convert the win and, as mentioned, Perez took the points.

It’s definitely a race with high attrition rates and I wouldn’t expect the man on pole to win!

Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2022: The contenders

Bottas has always gone well at Baku (as mentioned, he won in 2019) and if the slightly fragile Alfa Romeo can hold up then maybe this weekend will see the Finn get his best finish of the season so far.

The other driver to keep an eye on is George Russell in the Mercedes. He is still the only man to finish in the top five in every race of the season so far. The car might not be great to drive right now but there is no doubt that the team are starting to get on top of its behaviour and with two weeks between Monaco and Baku, the team will have had plenty of time to work on the beast! Another top-five finish seems highly likely for Russell.

Ready for racing in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix? Sign up to Pinnacle and enhance your experience with Pinnacle's fantastic F1 odds for each race.

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