The script has flipped in Formula One, with Max Verstappen and Red Bull now holding a narrow 2021 advantage ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Verstappen leads Lewis Hamilton by four points in the drivers’ championship, while Red Bull are one clear of Mercedes in the constructors’ standings.
Prior to the last race in Monaco on May 23, Mercedes were relishing how they and Hamilton had overcame an initial pace advantage for Red Bull to record some impressive results. But a miserable weekend in the principality means they are now under immediate pressure to strike back.
It’s finally race week! 👊 Ready to bounce back in the Land of Fire. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/fIw9qjHKfs
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) May 31, 2021
There have been four previous F1 races in Baku – three editions of this race and the European Grand Prix in 2016. No driver has ever had more than one win here, though Mercedes have won three of the four events, taking pole on the same number of occasions.
While Baku is another street circuit, both Verstappen and team boss Christian Horner have warned that they expect Mercedes to bounce back quickly and strongly this weekend.
Last time out
Verstappen roared to victory at the Monaco Grand Prix and jumped above reigning champion Hamilton at the top of the drivers’ standings. The Red Bull driver benefited from the shock withdrawal of pole-sitter Charles Leclerc ahead of the race, the home driver having been unable to start due to a technical issue caused by a qualifying crash.
Verstappen produced an immaculate drive to stay out of trouble and finish ahead of Carlos Sainz, who salvaged an impressive result out of a dramatic weekend for Ferrari.
McLaren’s Lando Norris completed the podium, securing his second third place of the season, with Sergio Perez, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly all coming home ahead of Hamilton, who trailed in a distant seventh and only got the fastest lap for consolation as he lamented losing positions at the pit stops.
Bottas had been on course for a podium, only to be forced into a retirement from second place when Mercedes were unable to remove a wheel at his pit stop.
What to look out for in Baku?
While Verstappen is thrilled with his championship position, he has conceded Baku is not his favourite track. Indeed, while his team-mate Perez has two podiums here, the Dutchman is yet to finish in the top three.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff insisted they expect to find it difficult at the circuit, though stated how impressed he had been at the determination everyone in the team has shown to recover from Monaco, saying he wished there had been a race sooner given how fired up they were.
Hamilton vowed Mercedes would learn from their Monaco mistakes. He stressed bouncing back from poor outings was why the team had been so successful. If he can quickly return to form after his Monaco misery, it could be decisive in his bid for an eighth title, even if this is only round six of a long season.
🗣 "I’m really looking forward to Baku and I hope we can put a strong qualifying together because we’ve proved that our race pace is right up there." @SChecoPerez previews the #AzerbaijanGP 💪🇦🇿 pic.twitter.com/jvi4f3uyIa
— Red Bull Racing Honda (@redbullracing) June 2, 2021
Perez will hope his past Baku form can push him to a first Red Bull podium, Mercedes’ Bottas remains under pressure despite a retirement that was not his fault last time out, while Ferrari expect to pushed by McLaren despite showing scintillating pace in Monaco.
Top five OPTA stats
Unpredictable podiums – Eight different drivers for five different teams have reached podium in the four races in Baku combined. Only Hamilton, Bottas, Vettel and Perez have ever recorded two podiums here.
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 1, 2021
Fired-up Ferrari – After Sainz came second in Monaco, Ferrari are looking for back-to-back podiums for the first time since their amazing run of 13 in a row in 2019. Sainz could become the first Spanish driver to take back-to-back podiums in F1 since Fernando Alonso in 2013.
Hope for Hamilton – The odds suggest Hamilton will return to the podium after his Monaco misery. The last time he failed to reach the top three in back-to-back GPs was way back in 2017 (Mexico & Brazil).
Masterful Max – The Dutchman is looking for back-to-back wins for the first time in F1. Indeed, Verstappen is already one win away from equalling 2019 as his best winning season (three wins) and one podium away from setting up the best streak in his F1 career (it would be seven in a row, after three wins and three second places in his last six).
A first for Perez? – The Mexican has been placed in top five for the last three events (fifth in Spain, fourth in Portugal and Monaco). Perez has never ranked in the top five for four races in a row in his 196-race F1 career and now has the chance to do so at a circuit where he has traditionally run well.
1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) – 105
2. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) – 101
3. Lando Norris (McLaren) – 56
4. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) – 47
5. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) – 44
1. Red Bull – 149
2. Mercedes – 148
3. McLaren – 80
4. Ferrari – 78
5. Aston Martin – 19