F1: Charles Leclerc out for redemption but must contend with flying Sergio Perez around unpredictable Baku

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 (AP)
(AP)

For 12 days, Charles Leclerc has only needed to look out the curtains of his Monaco home to be reminded of the one that got away.

Strategic errors by his Ferrari team — an unwanted trademark in recent years but not so this season — cost him victory at a home race which had looked his for the taking all weekend.

Not normally one to point the finger, he aired his grievances very publicly in the aftermath of the race.

“Let down is not the word,” he said. “Sometimes mistakes can happen, but there have been too many mistakes today.”

Digging the knife in deeper to both the trackside team and those back at the team’s HQ in Maranello, he added: “I’m used to getting back home disappointed, but we cannot do that, especially in a moment now where we are extremely strong.”

And so a home race for the Monegasque which should have ended with the win and eroded his previous racing misfortunes resulted in fourth place and a few more valuable points lost to Max Verstappen in the title fight.

Amid the frustration, Leclerc pledged that his Ferrari team would come back stronger, and they have another chance at another street circuit in Baku for Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

On paper, Ferrari could again be the frontrunners. It was Leclerc who took pole at this race a year ago in a car far less competitive than this one, and there is confidence going into the weekend.

But Baku is not known for its predictability. In the four runnings of the race, there have been different winners every time: Daniel Ricciardo at the inaugural event in 2017; Lewis Hamilton the following year; Valtteri Bottas in the race before the Covid pandemic; and then Sergio Perez last year.

Perez will be the driver most brimming with confidence. He returns to a circuit where he picked up his first win for Red Bull and less than two weeks after defying expectations to win at Monaco. In the interim, he has signed a lucrative new deal to stay at Red Bull.

 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

There are plus and minuses for Red Bull. Perez finally looks a competitive rival for Verstappen. For chunks of the preceding Spanish Grand Prix, he had been quicker than his much-heralded team-mate and has consistently been no more than a tenth of a second slower than him during qualifying in 2022.

It boosts Red Bull’s chances in a constructors’ championship which could get tight, but also throws up the dilemma of team orders and the fact that Verstappen is clearly still the team’s No1 driver.

With a previous podium in Baku with the far-less competitive Force India, it could yet be the Mexican, rather than Verstappen, who is the most adept at taking the challenge to Leclerc.

The top two teams look likely to remain the same this weekend, with Mercedes, as ever this season, unsure quite how they will fare.

The Spanish Grand Prix was seen as a new dawn after their earlier gremlins, as Hamilton and George Russell showed genuine pace. Gone was the porpoising on the straights and in the high-speed corners.

My teeth, my jaw moving all the time... I’m done shaking.

But others had crept in through the low-speed corners, which were slightly papered over in Barcelona but became abundantly clear come Monaco. Another street circuit like Baku could provide the backdrop to another tough weekend.

In the aftermath of Monaco, Hamilton turned his attention to Azerbaijan in hope, rather than expectation.

He said: “I’m praying the car doesn’t feel like it does here. This was the worst in this car so far, because of the potholes. I’m looking forward to [the problem] going away — just my teeth, my jaw moving all the time. I’m done shaking. I don’t know if it’s porpoising.

“I hope it’s not what we had in the last race, so I want it to not be a problem. But if there are potholes, then in the corners we can have them.

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