The Azerbaijan Grand Prix is going to be lit.
It's F1 weekend again, and this time, the circus will be competing in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. This particular Grand Prix will be the last of the street races before the teams start hitting the high-speed circuits next week. The Canadian Grand Prix is up next, and after that, we finally get to Silverstone and the Red Bull Ring.
While the Azerbaijan Grand Prix is a street circuit, it's not nearly as dull as the Monaco Grand Prix. The Baku-based course is tight in certain areas but wide open in others. There's enough room to pass on the long straight, and three cars can go into the first corner side-by-side.
Baku City Circuit used to be the newest street circuit on the schedule until the chaotic Jeddah Corniche Circuit made its debut.
Baku is a stunning city; you get to see the latest and oldest parts of it during the race. The long straight sits next to the shoreline, after which the cars hook a right into the older parts of town. Along the way, you also see buildings dating back to medieval times. Thankfully, there is room to pass, and it won't be a procession of cars like Monaco tends to be.
Drivers still need to be just as cautious because there is no run-off. And because of the long straight, the teams must find the balance between a high-downforce and a slippery car. The cars need grip for the slower parts of the track, but they also need to be slippery if they want to keep up with the Bulls on the straight.
Following a sweet victory in Monaco, Sergio Perez is now a serious contender for the driver's championship. We also know Red Bull loves him because his contract was recently extended to 2024. This shut the door for Pierre Gasly, who many people believed would take over from Perez at the end of the 2022 season. Sorry, Pierre, but the Mexican Minister of Defence still has it.
At the end of the 2021 season, Checo found himself in fourth place behind Verstappen, Hamilton, and Bottas. Verstappen ended the season on 395.5 points, while Perez finished with 190 points.
We're only seven Grand Prix into the season, but like in previous years, we can see a pattern emerging.
It's Verstappen against his main rival (Charles Leclerc this year) and the rest of the pack fighting for third to 20th place.
Now we have three championship contenders with just 15 points between them and two of them race for the same team.
Will Red Bull still prioritize Verstappen? If Checo didn't have to make way in Barcelona, he'd be leading the championship at the moment. That little fact should at least give Christian Horner something to think about.
As things currently are, Red Bull has a genuine opportunity of locking everyone else out of first and second place and nabbing the constructor's title by a significant margin.
Ferrari started this season in good shape but it has been on a bit of a downward spiral. Charles Leclerc's Ferrari can't match Verstappen's car when it comes to top speed. On top of that, his car broke down spectacularly in Spain, and the Monaco curse struck again.
This gave Red Bull the opportunity it needed to claim the top spot in the driver's and constructor's championship. The gap between the constructors is quite big at the moment, mostly due to Sainz struggling to come to grips with his car. Red Bull, on the other hand, has managed to pull off two one-twos so far.
We saw this last season as well. Red Bull, as a team, is very good at coping under pressure, and equally good at applying it. Mercedes buckled under the pressure for a few races last season, and now the same is happening with Ferrari.
Can Ferrari manage it better?
Is Mercedes still part of the midfield? Yes.
While George Russell has been remarkably consistent, the car he's driving is not a top-tier car. Thanks to his consistency, Russell is currently sitting in fourth place overall, though Carlos Sainz is breathing down his neck just one point behind.
For proof that Mercedes is still a midfield contender, simply look at the massive gaps between the race winners and Russell. The closest he's been to a winner so far was Monaco, where he finished nearly 12 seconds after Perez. From there, it's an average gap of roughly 30 seconds between when the Red Bulls and Ferraris finish and when a Mercedes passes the finish line. Honestly, the most impressive thing about the F1 team now is the Mercedes-AMG One and the role they played in it.
We hope that answers everyone's criticism of why we haven't been raving about Merc's performance.
The silly season is about to start, and the midfield drivers want to shine to get promoted to a better car. No seats are available in a Ferrari, Red Bull, or Mercedes. Lewis Hamilton's contract extends until the end of 2023, but he might bow out earlier. It was recently confirmed that he's heading to Hollywood, and one man can't do two full-time jobs. That's one possibility.
Daniel Ricciardo has been underperforming at McLaren, and the team has gone as far as openly expressing their concerns. Mick Schumacher is also reportedly under pressure, but Haas must remember that they gave Mazespin an entire year before showing him the door.
Alonso's contract with Alpine ends this year, but we reckon he'll keep racing for fun. Ocon is signed until the end of 2024.
Alfa Romeo is looking strong this season, and Guanyu Zhou was only signed for one year. Bottas has already proved that he can put the car up with the Mercs, so Alfa might be looking for a stronger driver.
Sebastian Vettel's contract ends this year, and he doesn't seem interested in talking about renewing it. His general demeanor seems to say that he's done. The scruffy beard, long hair, and lovable controversial statements suggest that he has already started preparing for retirement. If he does retire, may we make one suggestion to the FIA? Please hire him as the Race Director. He knows the sport, happily calls BS when he sees it, and is exceptional at inspecting cars.
The driver we feel for is Pierre Gasly. He drove for Red Bull for a few months before being demoted to AlphaTauri. Since then, his driving has improved drastically. He was destined for that Red Bull seat Checo Perez recently claimed.
Where to next? Aston Martin would be a step backward, but McLaren and Alfa Romeo would be a step in the right direction.
And now that Hamilton's future is in question, a Mercedes seat would be the ultimate for the French driver. Would Red Bull let him go, however? His contract with RB and its little brother extends to the end of 2024.
For now, it looks like a few seats will open up, and we're hoping for new talent to enter the grid. We'd also like to see Gasly in a better car, if only to see whether he's grown enough over the last two years to be a serious championship contender.