F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Sunday June 12, 12:00
Sky Sports F1
Charles Leclerc's Monaco heartbreak continued last time out as a strategic slip-up from Ferrari saw the usual Monegasque charm turn into fury as he dropped from pole to fourth place, with Sergio Perez, Carlos Sainz and Max Verstappen stepping onto the podium.
Defending champion Verstappen still tops the Driver standings with a nine-point lead over Leclerc, but Perez has now closed the gap to 15 points to his Red Bull teammate and is fresh from signing an extension with the team.
Could the Mexican now push to make this a real three-horse race at the top of the championship rankings?
Perez has momentum as he looks to repeat Baku success
Since his DNF in the season-opener in Bahrain, Perez has gone on to finish 4th, 2nd, 2nd, 4th, 2nd and 1st since, and in turn has emerged as a more consistent figure from the pack with others struggling with reliability woes, bad luck and costly mistakes.
Perez also has great memories in Baku having won here last season, although Verstappen will certainly feel as though he has unfinished business after his late retirement from that race which cost him a maiden win on this track.
Nevertheless, Team Principal Christian Horner noted after Monaco that Perez is in the championship race as much as Verstappen is, and given how consistently well he has driven so far this season and how he's adapted to the new car and regulations, it would come as no surprise if Perez is back on that podium on Sunday.
Ferrari desperate for win boost
After the frustration of the last two races, firstly with a power unit issue forcing him to retire in Barcelona and then the team spurning a great opportunity for him to win on home soil with a poor pit-stop strategy, Leclerc will be itching to put things right.
Ferrari can't afford to make mistakes again in what is looking like an increasingly tight championship battle, both for the Drivers and Constructors titles, and so they need a bounce back in Baku.
With Sainz also hoping to build on his second-place finish in Monaco, the stage is set in Azerbaijan with this circuit undoubtedly capable of producing drama. It would come as no surprise if the four mentioned above battle it out at the front of the grid once again, but the set-up of the cars is going to be pivotal.
Combine the 2022 cars, new regulations and the track layout at the Baku City Circuit, it has all the ingredients for a thriller. The street circuit has a long, full throttle section to Turn 1 which Red Bull might relish but that's balanced out with a Monaco-like labyrinth in Sector 2 with the low-speed corners and subsequent acceleration out of them potentially suiting Ferrari more.
Add to the mix Mercedes who would have hoped to build on their performance in Barcelona but were arguably left assessing a step back in Monaco, it's suggested that they could alter their wing set-up here which could see them compete in qualifying, but leave them vulnerable to tyre degradation in the race.
There's still a bit of the unknown with them heading into this weekend as they look to close the gap further, and so Perez, Verstappen, Leclerc and Sainz could once again be vying for top spot.
Behind them, Alfa Romeo have scored in all but one race so far this season as they sit fifth in the Constructors standings after seven rounds, and in Valtteri Bottas they have an experienced driver with some good memories on this track, and he'll certainly be targeting more points this weekend as a realistic possibility.