Azerbaijan Grand Prix predictions: Mercedes up for Baku battle
After four straight wins, Red Bull are threatening to run away with the honours in another thrilling Formula 1 season.
Max Verstappen sits nine points clear of Ferrari's Charles Leclerc in the Drivers' standings as the teams prepare for a second consecutive street race, this time in Azerbaijan.
Ferrari dropped the ball last time out in Monaco as they somehow failed to convert a front row lock out into a win around the tight and impassable streets of the Principality, so they will be desperate for a positive response on the banks of the Caspian Sea.
The omens are not great for the Scuderia though with only Red Bull and Mercedes having ever tasted victory in F1's four outings around the Baku City Circuit.
Red Bull are favourites to come out on top again but the Silver Arrows will hope they can muscle their way into the podium picture after a recent upturn in form.
In the past, Mercedes and Red Bull have got their set-ups right for the uniquely challenging 6,003km Baku City Circuit which contains a little bit of everything.
It is home to the longest straight on the F1 calendar — the 2.2km Neftchilar Avenue — which sees teams touch 350kph, as well as a narrow, technical section through the medieval part of the city, presenting teams with a tricky challenge when it comes to getting the aerodynamics right.
Last year, Red Bull got their set-up spot on as Sergio Perez won for only the second time in his career. He was able to take advantage of team-mate Verstappen's tyre blowout in a race which usually guarantees drama — no more than 16 cars have ever finished the Azerbaijan GP.
Verstappen is the favourite to make amends for his unfortunate finish to last year's race and recent performances certainly make the world champion, who has won four of this season's seven races, the man to beat.
The straight-line speed of the Red Bull has given them a decisive edge at the likes of Imola and Miami, and could make all the difference here as well.
Verstappen's team-mate Perez has shown great affinity to this circuit since it was added to the calendar, finishing on the podium in two of the last three races.
Fresh from his excellent win in Monaco and a fastest lap in Spain, it is certainly worth having the Mexican on side for a podium finish as he bids to move above Leclerc in the Drivers' standings.
Leclerc is now only six points ahead of Perez having been reeled in by Red Bull due to Ferrari's recent technical and strategical mishaps.
The Scuderia's issues have come against the backdrop of them being the quickest team in the last two races and there is every chance Leclerc justifies favouritism in qualifying to capture a sixth pole of the season.
However, it is not easy to trust the Scuderia right now and it might be more profitable to look at one of the two Mercedes men snatching a podium place.
The Silver Arrows had discounted challenging in Monaco due to their ongoing struggles in qualifying but their improving race pace stands them in better stead in Azerbaijan.
George Russell was worthy of his third-place finish in Spain and is the only driver to finish in the top five in every race this season.
Lewis Hamilton finished brilliantly in Barcelona, demonstrating the potential speed of the Mercedes by recovering from a first-lap puncture to take fifth. The Brit might feel like he is due a good result in Baku after a late mistake saw him drop all the way to 15th last year.
Mercedes have proven more reliable than both Red Bull and Ferrari, who have recorded multiple DNFs between them, and they could take advantage of any mishaps the top two encounter in a race that has a habit of throwing up the odd surprise.