Another crazy race in Baku is in the books, and the championship is exactly as it was for the top two riders, but with a potential third threat that closed by going into the season’s first triple header. Here are a few things we look forward to ahead of this weekend’s French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard …
1. Mercedes’ answer, again
We had just this topic after Monaco considering what felt like a disastrous weekend for the defending champions of Monte Carlo as they only took seven points with permission for Lewis Hamilton’s seventh place and fastest lap. But then came Baku …
The response from Mercedes was mixed in Azerbaijan. They improved their car over the weekend after another difficult start, but this time it was Hamilton who was competitive and Valtteri Bottas who struggled.
It all seemed to come together for the seven-time world champion with the late restart before he sailed wide at turn 1 due. a brake setting errorand Mercedes recorded their first meaningless weekend since the Austrian Grand Prix 2018.
On that occasion, both cars retired. If you want the last time both ended outside the points, it was Austin in 2012 – nine years ago – the same day that Hamilton took his last win for McLaren.
After such difficult weekends on two streets, Mercedes will be hopeful that the change of venue will also lead to a change in fortunes, but then we expected that the last time …
2. Can Perez get into the title race?
Remarkably, Max Verstappen and Hamilton ended up driving first and third with seven laps left of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and they remain exactly the same between the top two.
But Sergio Perez’s first win for Red Bull – and the second of his career – came after a hugely impressive run in which he appeared to be able to win at a steady pace before a slow pit stop ruined his chances of jumping Verstappen to the lead. . Admittedly, he would have been second, but for Verstappen’s tire failure or Hamilton’s restart problem, but he was right in the mix with both all weekend.
And the victory drives Perez up to third place in Driving Championship, as he took 25 points out of the pair in front of him. He is still 32 points behind Hamilton and 36 from Verstappen, but Baku has shown how fast a turn can happen, especially in the middle of such an intense title fight.
If Perez can continue his recent form, he could become a factor in the coming races.
3. Last round of drama
OK, so we have not always seen classic races on Paul Ricard since the French Grand Prix returned to the calendar in 2018, but it is still a track that allows overtaking and often sees matches come to the fore in the final stages.
The last time we drove here in 2019, there was drama through the top ten on the final lap, where Charles Leclerc closed Valtteri Bottas and threatened to steal second place, while it all started between Daniel Ricciardo, Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris and Kimi Raikkonen in the lower positions.
Norris ran in P7 with Ricciardo – then on Renault – chasing him down and attempting an overtaking but went wide and then forced McLaren off the track as he rejoined. Raikkonen both jumped only for Ricciardo and then overtook the Finn again in Signes and crossed the line seventh and took two penalties that dropped him out of the points afterwards.
Four cars that scrapped on the last lap were exciting to watch, and with an even closer midfield this year, we hope for more here.
BOARD: Lando Norriss’ dramatic final round in France
4. Williams’ restructuring
There has been a change in the management of one of Formula 1’s most iconic teams since we were last on the track, with Williams team director Simon Roberts leaving with immediate effect and Jost Capito – already CEO – taking over the team’s main responsibility.
Technical Director FX Demaison will also have increased responsibility when he becomes responsible for groundbreaking and technical operations, and this marks an additional stamp of authority on the team from Capito, which has brought Demaison into himself.
Capito is, of course, a Dorilton Capital employee, the man accused of moving Williams further up the web under new ownership since the Williams family’s departure last September, but in Roberts they have let go of a steady hand that helped them through all of the disruption in 2020.
It remains to be seen whether Capito will want to sign a new team director or retain that position even in the long run, but that is another change as part of the plan to return Williams to former glory.
5. Home fans to Gasly, Ocon and Alpine
While Monaco felt more “normal” with up to 40% capacity allowed at the iconic event, Baku was another race held behind closed doors and without the atmosphere that fans provide.
In France, it is another step back to normalcy, where up to 15,000 spectators a day are allowed on Paul Ricard. It is twice the size of the largest audience we have seen so far this season, and if the figure of 15,000 is hit on all three days during the race, it will mark a total attendance that is a third of the 2019 race.
The French fans will have a new team of sorts to get behind, with Renault having evolved into Alpine since the last time F1 drove in France, and Esteban Ocon back online with the French manufacturer. But it is perhaps Pierre Gasly who will enjoy the greatest support, especially after his excellent form, who saw him finish on the podium in Baku and win last year in Monza.
Charles Leclerc is also likely to get plenty of backing and is seeking his third consecutive pole position this weekend. Monaco were unexpected, Baku even more so, but Paul Ricard would be a whole different level if Ferrari can keep the race going.