Why Perez will be the one to watch

Sergio Perez sits just 15 points behind Red Bull F1 teammate Max Verstappen after the opening seven rounds of the season.

Given Perez’s struggles last year, it’s a remarkable turnaround for the Mexican.

Renowned for his impressive race pace and tyre preservation, Perez’s sizeable improvement in form has come over one lap. 

He was Red Bull’s best shot of pole position in Monte Carlo, with Verstappen struggling to get to grips with the legendary street circuit. 

Perez recovered from his crash in qualifying to take his third career victory, benefitting from several strategy blunders from Ferrari.

Already this season, Perez has shown great form at street venues - taking pole in Jeddah, winning in Monaco and showing strong pace in Miami.

Historically, Baku has been one of Perez’s best tracks.

He claimed two podiums for Force India in 2016 and 2018 before winning for Red Bull in 2021. 

Yes, Perez did get fortunate with Verstappen’s tyre blow-out but without his slow pit stop, it’s likely he would have been able to overcut his teammate. 

Regardless of what Red Bull say, Verstappen is their main man and Perez taking points off the reigning champion isn’t ideal given the tight fight with Charles Leclerc this season.

However, Perez has only beaten Verstappen on merit once in race trim during their time together as teammates so maybe it’s too early to hype up his chances just yet.

But for this weekend, our money is on Perez to impress once again in Azerbaijan.

Can Ferrari compete with Red Bull?

Ferrari missed an open goal in Monaco with a series of poor strategy choices costing Leclerc a memorable home victory.

It was another missed opportunity for Leclerc and Ferrari, who were dominating the last two races but came away with no victories, handing the initiative to Red Bull.

Ferrari will no doubt be quick in Baku with their performance in low-speed, 90-degree corners often impressive.

Leclerc claimed pole in 2021 despite not having the quickest car while he looked set to take it in 2019 before his crash in Q2. 

Red Bull has often held a significant advantage on the straights making life very difficult for Ferrari, particularly if Leclerc is overtaken by Verstappen - think back to Miami, for example.

Mercedes’ ‘dangerous’ potential

It’s only a matter of time before Mercedes turn their season around.

The eight-time world champions were back on form at the Spanish Grand Prix with George Russell finishing third, while Lewis Hamilton showed incredible pace following his clash with Kevin Magnussen.

Hamilton’s race pace in Barcelona was level with eventual race winner Max Verstappen indicating that if Mercedes can fully unlock their W13 challenger, they could be a serious threat this year.

The German team’s potential has even caught the eye of Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko.

“Mercedes is doing incredibly fast laps in practice and also in the races, both with [Lewis] Hamilton and [George] Russell," Marko told Formel1.de. “Not continuously, so for us it's difficult to interpret where that lap time is coming from. Listening closely to the Mercedes people, I don't think they know either.

“But the dangerous thing is the potential seems to be there. And once that can be called up over a race distance, then they'll be right up there or right at the front.”

Mercedes unlocked a strong turn of pace in a straight line in Barcelona with Russell consistently fastest of anyone in the first sector. 

Despite Baku being a street circuit, it’s incredibly high speed - like Saudi Arabia and Miami.

While Mercedes weren’t too competitive at the aforementioned circuits, they have made significant progress since then.

A race victory might still be out of reach for either Russell or Hamilton but further progress is key if they want to turn their season around before it is too late.

A chance of an upset?

The chaotic nature of the Baku City Circuit means there could be a chance of an upset on Sunday.

Daniel Ricciardo claimed a shock win in 2017, while Lance Stroll scored his maiden podium.

Perez finished on the podium in 2016 and 2018 for Force India, while Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly made surprise rostrum appearances last year.

Out of the drivers yet to finish on the podium, Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas has got closest with the Finn running in contention in a number of races so far this year. 

With the potential for carnage on Sunday, we might have a different looking podium.

Off-track issues continue to dominate 

Off-track issues will continue to dominate F1 paddock conversation with the cost cap at the heart of the discussions.

Many teams, particularly, Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes want the FIA to up the cost cap as a result of the unprecedented levels of inflation which has had a significant impact on freight and energy costs.

Alpine and Alfa Romeo have already expressed their disagreement with the big three teams.

No doubt, it will be a story that will continue to rumble on in Azerbaijan.

Talking of never-ending stories, jewellery always comes up during the Friday media sessions so don’t be surprised if it does again.