It could be anybody’s race this weekend. But if you are a Ferrari fan, then probably all eyes would be on their young recruit Charles Leclerc.
The 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix is only a few days away.
And from where a certain Charles Leclerc, who’s raced previously here on a few occasions, shall find there’s a lot to be done for his current racing marquee.
A Ferrari driver has never won the 51-lap contest, ever since the street circuit came to become a part of the F1 roster.
Back in 2016, it was the then-world-champion Nico Rosberg who exulted from the top step of the podium. A year later, one would see arguably the finest race held thus far at Baku, one that was clinched by Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull. A race no stranger to drama and shall one say, antics with Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel being little shy about his feelings on Lewis Hamilton – “he brake-tested me“- saw Red Bull spoil Mercedes and the Scuderia’s party.
Then, in 2018, in another dramatic turn of events, so central to shaping Baku’s narrative would see Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, currently trailing Lewis Hamilton on the Driver’s Standing, retire having run over debris during the closing stages of the race. This meant that Lewis, then running in top three would inherit the race of the lead and with pressure getting the better of Vettel meant that Raikkonen and Perez made it to the podium.
But back in the day, even before he was a debutant with the erstwhile Sauber (who were then rechristened as Alfa Romeo), Charles Leclerc won a sensational F2 race at the very track where he’s about to race in all reds for the very first time.
10 teams, 21 drivers, an intense contest fought under an immensity of heat- an omnipresent part of the Baku street circuit- was there something that Baku didn’t have that day?
In 2017 it did seem as if some of the world’s most revered rising forces in motor-sports, determined to outdo one another had been left on the track akin to birds left uncaged. But only one would fly.
So what exactly happened in the contest?
Charles Leclerc, his fans would note, clinched perhaps his most exasperating race at Baku back in 2017 in a closely-fought F2 contest. But what made Leclerc’s big moment stand out was the fact that it came during the key middle stages of the 2017 FIA F2 championship, eventually grabbed by the Monegasque driver.
At turn 8, perhaps one of the trickiest parts of the circuits saw a late pile-up owing to Arden’s Sean Gelael crashing unexpectedly. This would lead to the suspension of the race and would hand over the race win to Charles Leclerc of Prema Racing, a result that could’ve gone anyway with Rapax’ Nyck de Vries in hot pursuit of the winner.
But Leclerc, pole-sitter of the contest made an excellent getaway in the 29-lap race. That said, the youngster’s fellow front-row starter Matsushita of the erstwhile Russian Time dropped down to fifth.
But moments later, young Venezuelan driver Johnny Cecotto, then seventh, would make contact with the wall at turn 2 but not before stalling in his Rapax only to find himself getting going from the pitlane.
Leclerc would soon lead the grid again, leaving Latifi behind, the Canadian DAMS driver passed already by de Vries for second.
Later on, Baku’s exciting 2017 contest would unfurl more drama with Leclerc making the most of the opportunities goofed up by the likes of Sirotkin, Malja, Matsushita, and Gelael. The battling quartet not only failed to pass Ralph Boschung of Campos Racing but also saw the Arden driver hitting the wall, his wheels now having nowhere to go.
And where did this leave the race then?
Toward the end, the 29-lap contest seemed larger than life for the young drivers embroiled in a race for supremacy that eventually saw current Ferrari hotshot claim victory with Nyck de Vries trailing the red and white machine.