Sergio Perez is the king of Baku. The 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix will either prove that the Mexican is capable of providing the much-needed support for Max Verstappen in the Championship or showcase just how focused the Red Bull car is on his Dutch teammate. This is the biggest weekend so far for Christian Horner’s team in 2021.
Perez has secured two podiums in the four races completed on the Baku street circuit. The new Red Bull driver managed to get his Force India car on the podium in the 2016 European Grand Prix, and the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. This during the era where the absolute majority of podiums fell into the hands of either Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull.
To add to this, Perez has always qualified and finished the race inside the top 10. In 2017, Perez retired due to a broken seat. But during this version, Perez ran in P3 for 18 laps after gaining three places on the opening round. He also climbed up to P2, but only very briefly.
Was the Force India car just really strong in the streets of Baku? It wasn’t a bad car for sure, in 2016 and 2017 the team finished fourth in the Constructors Championship. But Perez has only been out-qualified by a teammate once in Baku. And the gap to Esteban Ocon on that day was just 0.024 seconds.
On Sunday’s Perez always finished ahead of his teammates in Azerbaijan. The only time he didn’t was when he retired in 2017.
Perez has 44 points to his name so far this season. Which is a strong tally compared to Gasly and Albon at this stage in years gone by. And it is strong enough to give Red Bull a one-point advantage in the Constructors Championship.
However, Perez has only qualified inside the top five on two occasions. When he had his best qualifying result and actually started ahead of his teammate in Imola, he dropped back and didn’t score any points. He is yet to score a podium finish, but he has been consistent around the P4 and P5 mark.
In four of those five races, Perez has either gained places from his grid spot or stayed level showcasing his tyre saving and racing skills. But in qualifying, he has been way off Verstappen. Perhaps showing just how the RB16B is built for Verstappen.
Perez will be flying to Baku with a spring in his step. Red Bull’s strategy last time out gave him a massive advantage in the Monaco Grand Prix. In fact, the strategy allowed him to jump rival Hamilton. He even had a battle with Lando Norris for P3, but couldn’t get through on the narrow streets.
To add to that, Perez knows how to perform in Baku. He has strong results at this venue and this is his best chance yet to provide Red Bull with strategy options. He should be full of confidence.
It’s his best chance of properly nailing down a weekend for Red Bull to show he is fully capable of supporting Verstappen in the Championship. And in the process, potentially become the first driver to get three podiums at the venue.