Max Verstappen returns to Azerbaijan Grand Prix ready to complete 'unfinished business'

World champion and championship leader blew a tyre while on course for victory in Baku last year

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit in Baku. AFP
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Max Verstappen said he is returning to Baku to complete "unfinished business" as the Formula One world champion aims to make up for last year's frustrating retirement during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The Red Bull driver was heading for victory at the Baku street track last year when a tyre exploded and pitched him into the barrier on the high speed run along the city’s Caspian Sea waterfront.

Teammate Sergio Perez took the win instead and the Mexican driver returns triumphant and as a potential title contender after his victory two weeks ago in Monaco.

"I’m looking forward to returning to Baku, we have some unfinished business there after last year," said the 24-year-old Dutchman, who has a nine point lead over Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc, with Perez a further six behind.

"Last year was unlucky, simple as that," he said. "It was a very painful one, but that happens. That’s racing... it’s different cars, different tyres (this time) and we go again."

Perez, who was also on the podium in Baku twice while racing for Force India, is in the form of his life and with a new two-year Red Bull contract freshly signed.

The 6km long Baku street track, a mix of flat-out blasts and tight corners lined by unforgiving barriers, is famed for unpredictable races and has produced five different winners in five years on the calendar.

Leclerc is familiar with the track's pitfalls, having crashed while on course for pole position in 2019.

Ferrari's Charles Leclerc is Max Verstappen's nearest rival in the drivers' standings. Getty

Leclerc and Ferrari, chasing a first title since 2008, will want the weekend to go perfectly after potential wins slipped through their fingers in Monaco and Spain.

Seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton will also be keen to make amends after failing to capitalise on Verstappen's retirement last year when he went from second to 15th in Baku, having accidentally triggered a 'brake magic' function on his steering wheel.

Hamilton's Mercedes team are the most successful in Baku with three wins, but a fourth looks a distant prospect unless the track throws up another surprise.

Lewis Hamilton is still without a race win this season. AFP

"Baku often produces some fun and crazy track action, and the layout generates good racing opportunities," said Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff. "So, let’s see if it lives up to its reputation this weekend."

The possibility of a podium appearance by a midfield team is always there. Apart from Perez's Force India exploits, Sebastian Vettel was second last year for Aston Martin, with Pierre Gasly third for AlphaTauri.

Lance Stroll's first top-three result came in Baku with Williams in 2017

Updated: June 09, 2022, 11:33 AM