Will ‘street fighter’ Perez hit back?
Max Verstappen and Red Bull head into this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix in imperious form.
Two victories and a second place finish in the opening three races, combined with a challenging Australian Grand Prix weekend for teammate Sergio Perez, has seen Verstappen open up a 15-point lead in the championship.
It may be early days, but many have already written off Perez’s title chances given Verstappen’s purple streak of form and the Mexican’s torrid weekend last time out in Melbourne.
Perez will be looking to kickstart his world championship ambitions this weekend in Baku, a circuit he holds an impressive record at.
Perez has more podium finishes than any other driver in Azerbaijan, having stood on the podium four times in six races, including taking his first victory for Red Bull in 2021.
He turned in a strong performance at the venue last year to lead the early stages before Verstappen caught and passed him to ultimately claim the win.
Perez is considered to be something of a street circuit specialist and his strong performances at the high-speed track have even seen him dubbed as the “King of Baku” by his race engineer.
If Perez is going to be a genuine world championship contender, he needs to halt Verstappen’s momentum soon and start turning the tide in his direction. A win for Perez in Baku would certainly re-ignite the title battle.
Could F1 sprint return spice things up?
Azerbaijan will see F1’s sprint race format return for the first time in 2023.
It will mark the first sprint to be held around the streets of Baku, adding another fascinating element to a race that has traditionally thrown up excitement and drama throughout its short history on the F1 calendar.
Pending approval from a vote held during Tuesday’s F1 Commission meeting, a new version of the sprint – which will see the race become a standalone event – is set to debut this weekend.
Teams are already nervous about the potential jeopardy that comes with holding a sprint event at such a demanding circuit. If signed off, the proposed changes – which would see the sprint have no bearing on Sunday’s grand prix – may prompt the drivers to take more risk and could spice up the action even more.
Curiously, no driver has won twice in Azerbaijan. Will that pattern continue this weekend?
What impact will Allison’s return have on Mercedes?
During the break, Mercedes confirmed they have brought James Allison back onto their F1 front line as part of a job swap with Mike Elliott.
Allison has returned to the role of technical director as part of a major reshuffle, with Elliott moving into the position of chief technical officer.
The 55-year-old Briton, who in 2021 took a step back from day-to-day F1 involvement in a role that focused on longer-term strategic issues and other projects such as the America’s Cup, will attend this weekend’s race in Azerbaijan.
It comes amid Mercedes’ quest to turnaround their fortunes following their admission they have got the unique philosophy of their W14 F1 car wrong.
Allison, one of the most highly-regarded technical leaders in F1, will look to correct the mistakes of the last two years and steer Mercedes back into race and title-winning contention. But it will not be an overnight fix.
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff confirmed last week that the team are working on “consistently bringing upgrades” over the coming races in a bid to improve their competitiveness.
Can Ferrari get their season back on track?
After being Red Bull’s nearest challengers in 2022, Ferrari have slipped back and endured a miserable start to 2023.
Winning either world championship already looks a long shot for F1’s most famous team after a terrible first three races that culminated with a point-less Australian Grand Prix.
With no upgrades planned for Baku, Ferrari’s focus will be optimising their performance – especially over one-lap – in a bid to improve their fortunes after falling behind both Mercedes and Aston Martin in Melbourne.
Baku kicks off a hectic run of five races in six weeks and Ferrari will be targeting this period as a crucial opportunity to get their season back on track – before it is too late.
The start of McLaren’s revival?
Another team that have made a dismal start to 2023 are McLaren.
Having admitted they missed key development targets over the winter, and following a restructure of their technical department, the team have set their sights on turning things around in Baku.
Ever since the MCL60’s unveiling in February, the emphasis has been on a major upgrade package that will be introduced in Azerbaijan.
McLaren hope these updates will help to address the current flaws of the MCL60 and enable the team to join the fight for fourth place in the constructors’ championship.
After finally getting off the mark with a two-car points haul in Australia, can McLaren take another step forward in Baku?