It was a tough outing in Monaco for Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton qualified and finished seventh in an enormously frustrating weekend for the champion, while a stripped wheel nut cost Valtteri Bottas any chance of a podium.
The 14-hour pit stop will undoubtedly have given the Brackley-based outfit some time to think about what went wrong in the Principality, but they will probably just put it down to one of those weekends. They are not very used to those.
But we are getting accustomed to Red Bull pushing them all the way, and they lead the Constructors’ championship following Max Verstappen’s victory two weeks ago. The table-topping flying Dutchman is towering over the almost infallible champions.
However, looming over the Austrian bulls is the potential protest this weekend from Mercedes regarding their “bendy wings”, as the entertaining psychological battle continues between Christian Horner and Toto Wolff. The real entertainment though, we hope, will be on track.
The six kilometre Baku street circuit provides another close encounter with the barriers, but the long straights and 90-degree turns, coupled with a flowing, tight middle sector, make for a different challenge for the drivers and cars to overcome.
The powerful nature of the circuit favours Mercedes, and they have won three of the four races contested here since its introduction as the European Grand Prix in 2016. Valtteri Bottas is the last winner, all the way back in a time before COVID in 2019.
It also saw Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crash in qualifying, just as he did last time out in Monaco; Ferrari will be aware that pole will be much less easily attained in Baku, but they should expect to continue their improved form in 2021. Carlos Sainz excellently spared the Prancing Horses’ blushes with a podium finish two weeks ago.
As should Sebastian Vettel, having finally collected his first points of the season after a beautiful Monaco drive, while there needs to be an urgent bounce back for Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso, who flattered to deceive in Monaco in weekends that just did not go their way.
This title race, already littered with feistiness and polemic wings, looks set to further heat up in the land of fire. Formula One is back in Azerbaijan.