There had been a four week hiatus since the last Grand Prix and coming back to the sport with a race such as Baku seemed perfect. After the chaos that had ensued in Australia, fans around the world were preparing themselves for another weekend of complete incoherence as the drivers headed to Azerbaijan.
Qualifying saw Charles Leclerc once again take pole in the country and the Monegasque was enjoying a return to the top row with fans hotly anticipating that this weekend would be different to the Red Bull domination we’ve seen in the weeks leading up to this.
We had the first newly formatted sprint shoot-out take place ending with a spat between Max Verstappen and George Russell - all seemed to be going to plan.
However, ‘lights out and away we go’ came and then nothing. No drama, no intense battling and Red Bull got yet another one-two finish. Sergio Perez won his sixth Grand Prix and continued his reign as ‘King of the Streets’ while Leclerc came in third, at least making the podiums slightly different, but all the drama that had been expected just completely vanished.
So what happened in Baku and why was there no drama?
What happened to overtakes?
Baku has been the home of pandemonium and havoc for five years but it can wear this crown no longer. Of course, it’s very hard to have any disruption if those out in first and second place are enjoying a race all on their own.
Red Bull are in such a different ball game that these weekends become more about who will fight for those middle-order points and Baku was a perfect example of how the disparity between teams has once again shown through, making for (let’s face it) a pretty boring race.
Mercedes Team Principal, Toto Wolff, weighed in on the lack of overtaking and has suggested that this is a matter for the teams rather than yet more changes to the regulations and believes it is up to the nine franchises to find a way to compete with Christian Horner’s unrelenting system over at Red Bull:
“There was no overtaking today, even with a big pace difference. It made not great entertainment. I wouldn’t know today between Aston Martin and Ferrari and us who is quicker because you’re stuck where you’re stuck and that’s pretty much it.
“But at the end it all comes down to racing. It needs the tough battles and I think the highlight you could see yesterday (during the sprint race) was George and Max being able to battle it out. And today there was none of that.
“Even if you were within 0/2 seconds it was nearly impossible to overtake unless the other driver makes a mistake. We need to look at it and how we can make it better, how can we avoid just a boring race.”
Signs of life for two struggling sides
On a slightly more positive note, there were some growing signs of life from both the McLaren and Ferrari garage. It’s no secret that both Carlos Sainz and Leclerc have been frustrated with their engines and while Sainz has been more consistent, Leclerc has had two DNFs and a seventh place finish.
The Monegasque driver might have hoped for much more when he secured his third consecutive pole at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix this weekend but it’s no small order to secure a podium when you’ve previously been struggling to even finish a race.
Additionally, for McLaren, they have now had their second week in a row with points and this week will seem much more of an accomplishment given there were more drivers against whom to race compared to the six DNFs of Melbourne.
Britain’s Lando Norris came in ninth with Oscar Piastri just outside in 11th. Zak Brown has already said more upgrades are to come over the coming weeks with their MCL60 but if this is what can be accomplished with just one upgrade, Papaya fans will be waiting in hopeful anticipation of what’s to come.
It doesn’t say much about a race that the most exciting parts were during qualifying and that two teams who have been suffering for the past three weeks now look as if they may not suffer quite so much going forward, but such was the way of Baku.
However, we are still only four races into a 23 race season. Maybe next week’s Miami Grand Prix will suddenly become the powerhouse of explosive racing but until any team can find a way to rival the Red Bulls in any format, it seems unlikely.