Under the microscope | Baku definitely not the Achilles heel of stageless Verstappen in 2022

After an exciting race in Monaco, the Formula 1 grid travels to the streets of Azerbaijan. There, Baku City Circuit forms the battleground for the eighth race of the year. In terms of form, it was Ferrari that got off to a strong start, but have since fallen short, giving Red Bull Racing a chance to fight back into the title race. What should you pay attention to this weekend? F1Maximaal.nl highlights it.

1. Sergio Pérez takes matters into his own hands

It sounds a bit unreal, but the man in shape at Red Bull Racing for this weekend is not with certainty Max Verstappen. Various factors have led to a start to the season in which Verstappen managed to take the championship lead, but not everything goes as he wants. Helmut Marko recently indicated that the RB18 does not work quite as the Dutchman would like. This was clearly reflected in his Monaco dip.

On such a narrow street circuit, every mistake is punished, so that drivers who have confidence in the material excel. Pérez’s outsized performance in the streets of Monte Carlo suggests that the Mexican is currently feeling a bit better in the RB18 than Verstappen. Let it just be that there is another street circuit on the calendar; the Baku City Circuit.

Here too, confidence in the car will again play an important role. Good news for Pérez, who also has a very deserving track record has in Azerbaijan. For example, he has taken the most points of all drivers over the past editions, with a first place in 2021 as the icing on the cake. He did need a bit of luck for that, with a Lewis Hamilton handing over a victory at the restart.

2. Baku a Red Bull circuit?

Okay, so Pérez has got the hang of it, but to what extent does Red Bull as a team stand a chance in Azerbaijan? An excellent question that can be answered positively. Red Bull seems to be able to lay claim to the victory this weekend and that has everything to do with how the Austrian race stable showed up in the first Grand Prix of 2022.

What has turned out is that the Austrian racing stable slightly has the upper hand when a circuit requires little downforce. Now the Baku City Circuit is not necessarily a low-downforce circuit, but time can be gained by driving with relatively little downforce. The track consists of two fairly winding sectors, followed by a long straight to the start/finish.

It is precisely here that overtaking can be done in Baku, and Red Bull can skilfully respond to this with its attractive low-downforce package. Yes, Verstappen and Pérez would lag behind in sector 2 in particular with such a setup, but would be able to fend off Ferrari attacks on the straight. There are certainly possibilities here in terms of adjustment.

3. Ferrari with resilience

Ferrari CEO John Elkann must have been shocked when he joined the Formula 1 team in Monaco. The speed was there with the team, but on Sunday the stable messed up when it mattered. It was not Charles Leclerc or Carlos Sainz to blame that the victory on the Monegasque streets went to the direct competitor, but the strategic team of the illustrious racing stable.

This weekend Ferrari can take revenge, but on a track that Red Bull is better on paper than the Grand Prix in Monaco. According to Mario Isola, boss of Pirelli, a bright spot for Ferrari is that the F1-75 has a lot of traction. This is very important in Azerbaijan, as the circuit relies heavily on it. Sector 2 will likely be for Leclerc and Sainz if we look at performance in recent races. Ferrari drove with more downforce than its direct competitor and will probably do so again. For example, the top teams seem to be going in two different directions with their setup.

4. The Unforgivable Streets of Baku

Baku certainly does not have the status that Monaco carries, but in terms of spectacle it is highly regarded by fans and experts. Just think of Johnny Herbert, who already indicated that he was looking forward to the upcoming match with enthusiasm. While the overtaking attempts in Monaco are limited, this is also the case in Azerbaijan, with one major exception.

That long straight that has been discussed here earlier allows for regular overtaking actions to be placed around the start/finish. That means riders who screw up in qualifying can at least work their way up in the race. In addition, the driver who drives in front certainly does not have to continue to drive the entire race, which is usually the case in Monaco.

Also, the streets of the Middle Eastern country are unforgivable. Sector 2 is very tight and that has resulted in painful crashes on more than one occasion in the past – just ask Leclerc. The walls are often not unscathed in qualifying and the race, so safety cars are virtually guaranteed. A Grand Prix to look forward to!

F1 again travels to a street circuit, where the drivers see the Moors approaching. (Photo: McLaren F1 Media)

5. Can Vettel score?

Sebastian Vettel and Aston Martin have not come out of the rule changes nearly as smoothly as they would have liked. The British stable is in the rear rather than midfield, although the Red Bull-inspired new design may change that. There is also another reason to keep an eye on the German this weekend.

In Monaco he took points in a surprising way. Not bad in a car with which that is certainly not a given, and also on a pretty difficult street circuit. A year earlier, he also finished in points in Monaco and P2 in Azerbaijan after a late red flag and an outlier from Hamilton. After Pérez, the Heppenheimer is the man who took the most points home in the recent editions.

The Baku City Circuit suits him well. For example, the bleeding Aston Martin can perhaps expect a boost. In any case, they should not have it from Lance Stroll this weekend. During qualifying in 2021, the Canadian ended up in the wall. Also in the race, although a blowout was the culprit and not Stroll himself.