Putting a rarely exciting Monaco Grand Prix behind us, we head to Azerbaijan for round six of the 2021 season. Better known as Baku, this tight street circuit has provided us with some ultimate battles and drama since the first race here in 2016.
The 51 lap race has a good mix of tight, twisting corners to wide, open stretches and an extremely long main straight which is ideal for slipstreaming. The surroundings are magnificent, with the circuit winding through the medieval city walls, then along the Baku shoreline. As far as street circuits go, Baku is by far the most exciting.
Last time out in Baku, back in 2019, it was the Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas that took the chequered flag with the Silver Arrows enjoying not only a lights to flag victory from the Finn, but a spectacular one-two finish which extended their lead in the constructors standings. This year, the championship battle is spicing up between Mercedes and Red Bull, with Sir Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen fighting for the title. Mercedes will still be sulking after a disappointing weekend in Monaco, losing their lead in both the constructors and driver standings to Red Bull after a disaster of a pit-stop for Bottas and lack of performance from Hamilton saw them grab just seven points from the weekend.
Image Credit: Formula One
However, Mercedes are known to put these things behind them and focus on the next race, but this year they have the mounting pressure from Red Bull, something they haven’t had from a rival team in a few years. They need a strong weekend to put Red Bull back in their box and regain their spot at the top of the championship.
Ferrari will be a team to watch in Baku as their Monaco pace was surprising but well deserved. It is great to see the Scuderia back fighting at the front of the grid, as Charles Leclerc took pole position. Due to his unfortunate trip into the barriers during qualifying, he never made it to the grid to start the race, but his team mate Carlos Sainz managed to clinch second, giving Ferrari some real hope to fight for 3rd in the constructors battle this year. With all the attention on Ferrari in Monaco, it is definitely worth mentioning the pace of McLaren. Lando Norris claimed his second podium finish in five races, showing not just how much he has grown as a driver, but the consistency he is now bringing to the team. His team mate Daniel Ricciardo is still struggling to work out the reasons behind the lack of performance against Norris, however with one car scoring points in the top six at every race this year so far, McLaren should be proud of their performance.
Max Verstappen will have been given a confidence boost after his win in Monaco, and now that he is leading the championship for the first time in his F1 career and not finished on the podium in Baku before, he will be geared up to take the fight to Mercedes and increase the gap in the standings. Red Bull are looking competitive, but the controversy over the “flexi wings” are certainly giving Mercedes a headache, with team boss Toto Wolff wanting it resolved before this weekend. Baku is a circuit that could benefit those teams using the “flexi wing”, including Ferrari and Alfa Romeo as well as Red Bull. However, if those teams are seen to be benefiting from it, you can bet that Mercedes will be protesting.
With four races to it’s name, Baku has had four different winners, so it is a hard race to predict. Nico Rosberg, Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas have all stood on the top step here but have also all fallen victim to the drama that can develop during the race. To keep with tradition, my prediction will be that Max Verstappen will take the victory, giving him his first ever win in Azerbaijan, and extending his lead in the standings.
Headline Image: Red Bull Racing
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