BAKU hosts the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday. AFP looks at five stories doing the rounds ahead of the eighth leg of the Formula One world championship:
Lights, camera, Lewis!
Lewis Hamilton has shown he is pretty adept at driving, now the seven-time world champion is to try his hand as a film producer. To many the greatest Formula One driver of all time Hamilton is signed up to co-produce with Jerry Buckheimer an as yet unnamed movie project acquired by Apple’s streaming service and starring Brad Pitt. The 58-year-old two-time Oscar winner plays a veteran F1 driver lured out of retirement with Top Gun: Maverick’s Joseph Kosinki in the director’s chair.
Pride in F1
Hamilton and George Russell’s Silver Arrows have undergone a technicolour makeover this weekend. “We’re proud to be running the @MercedesBenz Pride Star on our W13s for the next three races, celebrating the LGBT+ community and raising awareness for Pride Month,” Mercedes tweeted.
They are not the only ones marking the occasion. Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel has become the first F1 driver in history to appear on the front cover of Britain’s gay magazine Attitude.
“I think a gay Formula One driver would be welcomed – and rightly so,” wrote Aston Martin’s German driver, who notched up another first recently appearing as a panellist on BBC’s long-running political show Question Time.
Max’s Baku jinx
Max Verstappen says he has “unfinished business” in Baku, getting on the podium for starters would be a novelty. Red Bull’s world champion has a rocky record on the streets of the Azerbaijan capital. In 2016, when it was run as the European Grand Prix, he came in eighth, followed by two retirements and fourth in 2019.
Last year he suffered the cruel twist of seeing a race win disappear when a tyre issue five laps from the end spelt disaster. “I’m looking forward to returning to Baku, we have some unfinished business there after last year,” said the Dutchman who leads Charles Leclerc by nine points in the title race.
“It’s a tricky track with big braking zones and a tight run off, finding the best set-up for the car will be difficult in terms of making sure we get the correct wing level.”
Tales of the unexpected
Sunday’s eighth round of the world championship has a well earned reputation as one of the most difficult to call. Since Nico Rosberg won the European Grand Prix in Azerbaijan in 2016 each edition since has gone to a different driver.
In 2021, after Verstappen’s tyre blow out and safety car intervention, a two-lap shoot out finale saw Hamilton get a jump on Sergio Perez, only for a problem with a button on his dashboard resulting in his Mercedes running off at turn one, handing victory to Perez. In 2018 Valtteri Bottas was cruelly robbed of the win when retiring with tyre trouble a lap from the end, Hamilton the happy recipient of the Finn’s misfortune. In 2017 Daniel Ricciardo emerged the unlikely winner from 10th on the grid.
Ferrari work on strategy
Ferrari managed the difficult feat of becoming the first team since 2008 not to win after locking out the front row at Monaco. Pole-sitter Charles Leclerc called Ferrari’s strategy a “freaking disaster” and a probe was launched into their decision-making problems.
They will be keen for a reset in Baku and orchestrate a return of their early season title momentum. Leclerc can take heart from securing pole in Baku 12 months ago.