F1 Today – Azerbaijan Prixview – 03/06/2021

F1 Today

Ferrari going “back to reality” – Leclerc

Charles Leclerc is expecting that Ferrari will go “back to reality” after taking a surprise pole position in Monaco two weeks ago, feeling the team’s pace was a “one-off”. At his home Grand Prix, the Italian manufacturer was a surprise with an upswing in performance at the low-speed circuit.

Leclerc scored Ferrari’s first pole position since the 2019 Mexican Grand Prix but failed to start the race due to damage sustained in his crash at the end of qualifying. Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz finished the race in second place, marking his first podium for the team and Ferrari’s best result of the season so far.

Going into this weekends race in Baku, Leclerc has been playing down suggestions that Ferrari’s form in Monaco could see the team join Mercedes and Red Bull in the fight at the front. He believes “It will be a bit back to reality now, Monaco was a one-off. We were fighting for the victory, which was incredible and very nice for the motivation of everyone.”

“But now, with long straights and a bit more high-speed in general here, even though there are quite a lot of slow-speed corners, I believe we will be back to the to normal competitiveness that we’ve that we’ve had before Monaco.” Asked if there could be other circuits that could play to Ferrari he pointed to Singapore.

However with the caveat being that the conditions, which are warm and humid, but he believes that the characteristics of the circuit are similar to Monte Carlo. Ferrari were very competitive as Red Bull and Mercedes in terms of pure performance since the end of 2019, having seen its form slump dramatically last year.

Leclerc took confidence in the aerodynamic performance of the SF21 car, saying it gave him a good level of balance through the slow-speed corners. Saying “We think the aero actually, even today, with how much aero we have on the car, it’s actually quite powerful.”

“So in the low-speed corners, it’s a combination of chassis and aero that makes it quite nice. The balance is also quite nice in the low-speed corners, which helps us so it’s a combination of things that makes our car quite strong in the low-speed.’

 

Four teams in five years helped Sainz settle in

Carlos Sainz believes his experience moving teams four times in six years has allowed him to settle into Ferrari quicker than the other drivers who have also changed teams this year.

The Spaniard has appeared to have got to grips with his new team faster than most with Daniel Ricciardo and Fernando Alonso struggling to get up to speed with their respective new teams. Since making his debut in 2015, Sainz has driven for four teams in the last six years.

Ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Sainz explained how his various team changes over the years have ‘opened his eyes’ to the level of adaptation needed in F1. He said “Yeah, well it’s something that at first when I changed from Toro Rosso to Renault, I thought ‘well okay these two cars are completely different.”

“Maybe this is maybe a one-off’, but then changing from Renault to McLaren it was then completely different [cars] again and then McLaren to Ferrari was completely different again.” Sainz believes that he has seen how different it is with each of the teams he has driven for, which has given him an awareness of things like mapping.

Sainz says that he may have lacked a bit but most of his gains came in understanding the different diff maps, the engine braking and the last bit of driving style to extract the last two tenths.

He says that also applies to the set up of the car and how you exploit things like aero but you don’t know how things are going to perform at each circuit.

Former McLaren teammate Lando Norris has revealed he’s been forced to adjust his driving style for this season, even though he hasn’t moved teams.  Sainz has had to do the same as he looks to get on level terms with Charles Leclerc.

Adding “But yeah I don’t know, I’m just, you know, spending time at the factory, as you guys all know, and trying to understand every single detail of the car, how to drive it. Also why Charles is so quick in qualifying and trying to figure out what is he doing to be that quick, and trying to learn from that.”

He says that cars are complex meaning there are so many things you can do as a driver, which means you need to put the work in as a driver and it would be impossible to adapt if you didn’t have that capacity.

 

Verstappen “can’t be bothered” with mind games

Max Verstappen says he “can’t be bothered” with mind games against Lewis Hamilton but believes their respect will remain through this year’s title fight. The Dutchman’s victory in Monaco put him in the lead of the driver’s championship for the first time in his career.

Following that win in Monaco, the Red Bull driver stated ‘actions speak louder than words’ and that he preferred to do his talking on the track, a subtle response to Hamilton’s earlier comments during the weekend where he claimed the Dutchman ‘had a lot to prove’ in this year’s title fight.

However, Verstappen has played down suggestions that his relationship with Hamilton is deteriorating, insisting there’s still a high level of respect between the pair. Ahead of this weekends Azerbaijan Grand Prix, he said “I can’t be bothered by it, to be honest, mind games. I think Lewis said after the race he doesn’t want to play those things.”

“We just have to focus on what we have to do on the track anyway, which I think we do and that’s also the best. Whatever is said in here [press conferences] sometimes… at the end of the day it can be a bit emotional sometimes after a race or before a race and it also sometimes depends on how you get the question asked.”

Verstappen’s win put him four points ahead of the Englishman, allowing him to lead the drivers’ championship for the first time in his career, four points clear of Hamilton. Mercedes also lost its lead in the constructors’ championship for the first time since 2018.

 

Osaka incredible brave – Hamilton

Sir Lewis Hamilton has given his backing to the “incredibly brave” Naomi Osaka and taken aim at French Open organisers for fining her, as the seven-time world champion said young sportspeople needed more support dealing with the media.

Ahead of the French Open at Roland Garros, the four-time grand slam winner said she would not speak to the press during the event to protect her mental health. She was fined $15,000 by organisers after not appearing in the press conference following her first-round win.

The 23-year-old subsequently withdrew from the tournament, explaining her reasons and revealing she had “suffered long bouts of depression” since winning her first Grand Slam title in 2018. On Thursday morning, Hamilton said most athletes were “not prepared” for success and that the pressures of fame “weigh heavily on you”.

He said, “It can be daunting still standing behind a camera It is not the easiest, particularly if you are an introvert and you do struggle to be under those pressures.” The sporting world has been dominated by Osaka’s comments about ‘protect her mental health’.

She then pulled out of the tournament on Monday, a day after the organisers of the four Grand Slam tournaments threatened to expel her for not talking to the media. The story has opened a debate about the relationship between sports stars and the media, especially in the context of mental health.

Seven-time champion Hamilton said: “She is an incredible athlete and human being and her activism has been just so impactful. But at such a young age, there is so much weight on her shoulders it is inevitable.

Hamilton lost the lead of the championship to Max Verstappen in Monaco, following the Dutchman’s win where the Mercedes driver could only finish seventh. They have both played down the significance of Verstappen’s four-point lead after just five races of the season.

Although Mercedes struggled for competitiveness in Monaco, Verstappen said he believed their car was still the quickest on most tracks. Verstappen said “I do believe they are still on normal tracks ahead of us,”. “But for us so far this season we have had a great start compared to other seasons.”

“We just need to keep it up, keep improving, keep bringing new bits to the car all the time to try to improve it and then we have a very good shot at it. So far, to be leading the championship is very positive.”

 

Russell’s tough love from Wolff

George Russell says that Mercedes CEO and team principal Toto Wolff showed him “a lot of tough love” in the aftermath of his crash with Valtteri Bottas at Imola. Russell and Bottas both retired from the race following a high-speed crash which wrecked both their cars.

The pair had collided at high speed while battling over ninth place in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, which put them both out – wrecking their respective FW43B and W12 cars. In the aftermath, a firey and heated discussion including punches followed, before Russell apologised the following day.

In an interview with Autosport, Russell explained how it had impacted his relationship with Wolff. He said, “If anything, my relationship with Toto has grown since the incident in Imola.”

“There was a lot of tough love. But he ultimately wants to extract the absolute maximum from me, or from what he believes I can achieve, and you know, I think I’m mentally strong enough to be able to take this stuff on the chin, take it on board, reflect on it, and come back stronger.”

“But my relationships with everybody to be honest – from everyone at Williams and to a number of the key people at Mercedes, who I’ve spoken with since, is better than ever.”

Russell revealed that he flew back to the UK with Mercedes chief technical officer James Allison and they had a conversation about the accident where the suggestion came from. At the time he didn’t see it as fighting his teammate, but soon as he got home he knew what he did wrong.

He explained that Bottas and Sir Lewis Hamilton were effectively teammates and if he was attempting a similar move on teammate Nicolas Latifi he would have probably backed out of it.

However, “ad Kimi [Raikkonen] right behind me, who, had I not gone for the move, maybe he would have overtaken me and got the 10th position. But at the end of the day, it’s unacceptable to crash with a teammate.

“It was just a lot of things altogether, but no issues whatsoever [with Mercedes] and Toto and I speak weekly. We don’t even talk about it now, it’s behind us.”

 

Clamping down on backing off

FIA race director Michael Masi has announced a clampdown on drivers running too slowly to make a gap for themselves in qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. In his race directors notes for this weekend he has specified the last section of the lap that runs from Turns Seventeen to Twenty and on to the start/finish line.

The concern is that drivers may back off before a qualifying lap in order to make space and then not be aware of how fast cars are approaching through the series of blind bends. In Sochi last year Masi placed a similar warning through Turns Twelve and Thirteen.

Although this has been an issue at places like Monza before, the move to introduce similar measures in Baku appears driven by safety. Slow lap times will be judged in comparison with the maximum time between safety car lines that is always published after FP2.

In today’s notes, Masi wrote: “For reasons of safety, during each practice session, acts such as weaving across the track to hinder another car may be referred to the stewards.

“During free practice session 3 and the qualifying practice, the time published in accordance with Item 8 [the safety car line maximum time] of the race directors’ event notes will be used as a guide by the stewards to determine if a driver is considered to be driving unnecessarily slowly on an out lap or any other lap that is not a fast lap or in lap.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the pit exit, as defined in Article 28.2 of the F1 sporting regulations is considered a part of the track and the provisions of Article 27.4 apply in this area.”

With specific reference to Turns 17-20, he added: “During any practice session, any driver intending to create a gap in front of him in order to get a clear lap should not attempt to do this between the entry to Turn 17 through to the exit of Turn 20.”

 

Norris struggling to drive how he wants

Lando Norris says despite his podiums this season he is unable to drive the car the way he wants. The McLaren driver has been leading the team as his more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo has struggled and team principal Andreas Seidl conceding that the current car needs a ‘special’ driving style, Norris’s issues haven’t been as clear.

Despite the podiums in Imola and Monte Carlo, Norris says that it has been hard to get the most out of the current McLaren, and he is not able to push it in a way that he could in previous cars. He said, “This year the car is different, and there are different things on the car that you have to drive in a different way.”

“I’m still learning a lot now, with every race that we do, about the car. I would say Monaco was my best qualifying that I’ve done, but I made mistakes in previous qualifying and races because of not knowing about the car enough.”

He says that he is still is learning a lot of things and says that in the opening races he was driving the car too much like last years car. That meant that he needed to adapt to this year’s car, saying that there were a lot of differences meaning it was not easy going from last year to this year.

Norris explained that the set-up he had learned in junior categories won’t work with the current McLaren, which is why he is still finding his feet with it. Adding “I still can’t necessarily drive it the way that I want to, as a preference from how I drove in Formula 3 and Formula 4 and things like that.

“I can’t drive it the way that I want. So a bit of it is just you have to adapt, and every car in F1 is different and you have to get used to it.”

His teammate Ricciardo had a difficult weekend in Monaco, and has over the last week tried to take a step back to try and understand how the car works, with a more open approach.

He added, “We just tried lots of different things and even things that don’t feel, let’s say, correct. We’ll try them and then understand why that doesn’t work. So we just played around a lot.”

“And certainly some things now do seem more clear to me, and I think it was really productive to do that. So I’m just looking forward to putting it in [action].”

 

The weekend ahead

This weekend it will be interesting to see weather Mercedes are able to bounce back after losing the leading of both championships to Red Bull. Baku is a very different circuit to Monaco, high speed and downforce on this street circuit which is easer to overtake. However, its still a street circuit meaning anything can happen, and it has a reputation for crazy races.

Mercedes after a difficult weekend always tend to come back very strong and if Red Bull break that cycle over the coming races if they are going to challenge for this championship. Max Verstappen will want to push Sir Lewis Hamilton, the question over the last few weeks has been when do things boil over? Baku has a habit of being that race.

Ferrari are going to be an interesting team to watch, they were very competitive in Monaco throughout the weekend and the question is was that a one off? You have to believe it was given the one-off nature of the circuit and they have been this week trying to down play that performance in Monaco.

McLaren are going to be Ferrari’s main challenger; I still believe McLaren are the stronger team in the midfield group and they were just behind in Monaco. Lando Norris appears to be on a very strong run of results this season, he needs to deliver the boost from the Mercedes power unit to start well.

 

You can join us for LIVE coverage of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix via Twitter @FormulaOneVault starting with FP1 Friday from 12:15 / 09:15 BST, Qualifying 15:45/12:45 and forward race coverage 15:30/12:30 lights out 16:00 / 13:00
Jack

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