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What to look for in the 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix: Pumped-up Perez, Safety Cars and a thorn in the side of Mercedes

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From the next round of the tense fight between the two best teams to a thorn in the side of Mercedes; and from McLaren with work to do to almost unavoidable interruptions, we pick out some of the key things to watch out for on the streets of Baku during Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix…

1. Another Ferrari vs Red Bull fight

This season may have gone Red Bull’s way in races so far – their fourth in a row with Sergio Perez’s Monaco win – but the qualifying battle so far has been won by Ferrari and Charles Leclerc.

READ MORE: Leclerc blasts to Baku pole as Perez joins him on the front row in Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying

Leclerc took four poles in a row with a stunning final lap in qualifying – his sixth in eight races – and it’s also back-to-back pole positions in Baku after also being fastest here in 2021.

From a championship perspective it is beautifully balanced as Leclerc will lead the field but he has the two Red Bulls behind him, with Perez joining him in the front row after a strong weekend so far. The Mexican is just 15 points away from the championship lead and has looked slightly more comfortable so far this weekend than team-mate Max Verstappen, buoyed by his Monaco win and the new two-year contract in his pocket.

Perez also aims to become the first two-time winner of this race to win here last year, while Carlos Sainz moved from provisional pole to fourth at the end of Q3 and will also be a factor as the two best teams battle it out for victory.

2022 Azerbaijan GP Qualifying: Leclerc beats Pérez to claim sensational pole position

2. Gasly splits the Mercedes pair

Mercedes may have gotten on top of their car in Barcelona, ​​but they were a bit behind in Monaco and also struggled to clear their bouncing issues in Baku, which left them unable to compete for the pole position. But against that background, they almost had the third row to themselves – but for Pierre Gasly.

It hasn’t been the easiest season for Gasly so far and he has just six points to his name at the moment but the Frenchman looked fast all Saturday and managed to split the Silver Arrows pair to finish sixth on the grid for Lewis Hamilton.

READ MORE: Red Bull and Ferrari ‘in a completely different competition’, says Hamilton after frustrating qualifying in Baku

Gasly and AlphaTauri were also strong here last year as he finished on the podium after starting from the second row, and he has the car to give Mercedes a headache on Sunday if he can hold position or even outrun George Russell at the start .

Russell, meanwhile, will look to continue his impressive start at Mercedes, having finished in the top five at every race this year, but the Briton admits he struggles with bouncing in his car and fears he will face an uphill battle. race on Sunday.

Gasly is in top form in Baku and shared the Mercedes in qualifying

3. McLaren outside the top ten but confident

The two McLaren drivers seemed very in the mix for Q3 after the final practice session, finishing in the top six. But that was not the case later in the afternoon as temperatures dropped for qualifying and both finished outside the top ten, with Lando Norris in 11th and Daniel Ricciardo in 12th.

Norris felt he should have made it to Q3 but having lost a fight trying to get a slipstream from Lewis Hamilton, and it was a message to Ricciardo that will give McLaren fans hope for Sunday as his race engineer told that they have a car to fight with in the race.

READ MORE: Gasly delighted to split Mercedes pair with ‘best qualifying of the year’ in Baku

There is also optimism from the team as Alfa Romeo struggled even more in qualifying and Alpine has just one driver in the top ten, with Fernando Alonso just one position ahead of the McLarens in tenth.

Team principal Andreas Seidl hopes McLaren has an attacking race ahead of them as they chase what would only be the team’s second double points finish in 2022.


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Daniel Ricciardo counts on a better race pace from his McLaren in Baku

4. Bottas and Ocon with ground to make up for

Two more of the most consistent performers in 2022 were surprisingly subdued in qualifying in Baku, but their form ahead of this weekend suggests that by the time we get to the final stages of the race they’ll be in the mix for some serious points. could sit.

Valtteri Bottas has scored points in every race he has completed – only retired in Jeddah – and has four top-seven results in that run, but never looked particularly competitive on Friday and Saturday, finishing 15th on the starting grid in Azerbaijan , behind the rookie team mate Guanyu Zhou.

FACTS AND STATS: Leclerc first to take multiple poles in Baku, overshadowing Verstappen’s P1 count

Likewise, Esteban Ocon also had four top sevens this year and is one position behind Bottas in the Drivers’ Championship, but while Fernando Alonso made it to Q3, Ocon was eliminated in 13th place.

Both are capable of fighting through the field and have already done so on occasion this year, and can provide exciting action to make up for places in the race.


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Valtteri Bottas has a job to do if he wants to keep his score this season

5. Safety Cars and Mistakes

There is a bit of a trend in Azerbaijan where a race is either chaotic and spectacular, or relatively incident free. The first event was the last example, as all drivers saw the drama of that year’s Formula 2 race and chose to play it safe. On that day, they expected a bloodbath, but in the end, no one made a meaningful mistake.

Since then, however, most races have had twists and turns, no more than the two-lap shootout we saw here a year ago.

HIGHLIGHTS: Watch the qualifying action in Baku as dominant Leclerc takes pole

As qualifying showed, there are plenty of places for a driver to make a mistake that can be costly – and not all of them require going all out. With the cars being more of a handful this season, just one minor mistake could have caused someone to go to the run-off areas, and turning the car around in that scenario isn’t easy.

But the main incidents will be those where contact with a wall requires a Safety Car or Virtual Safety Car, as that will impact strategy, but could also lead to the tense restarts that have become familiar here, with the field battling on the long straights to Turn 1 and Turn 3.