F1 Today – Azerbaijan Prixview – 09/06/2022

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Perez as comfortable as Verstappen in the car

Red Bull believes Sergio Perez is now as comfortable with its car as Max Verstappen, which has allowed the Mexican to make a solid step in 2022. The Mexican joined the team at the end of last year and needed time to adapt to a car which had largely been developed around Verstappen.

Perez managed one win and five podiums, while Verstappen took the world title, but convinced the team to keep him on for 2022. With this year’s regulation changes allowed the team to design a car to both their liking creating a level playing field, the Dutchman has still had the advantage over his teammate.

With the all-new RB18 Verstappen and Perez started on a level playing field and while Verstappen still has the measure of his experienced teammate, Perez has found his best form in recent races, winning the Monaco Grand Prix after outqualifying Verstappen. His first win of the season moved him to third in the driver’s championship, having already after seven races scored over half his 2021 points haul.

Even before the win in Monaco his performances had earned him a new two-year contract to stay with the team until the end of 2024.

When asked to explain the differences between his two drivers, Red Bull chief engineer Paul Monaghan says the 2022 car suits Perez more than last year’s machine. Monaghan explained to Motorsport.com, “Checo is driving extremely well this year, and he does find the car is not always to his liking but it’s one that he can drive,”

“I find it interesting that Max… he can drive the thing. Goodness me, he really can. And the likes and dislikes, that’s a typical ebb and flow you will see between teammates. I think last year’s car, don’t forget that we were coming to the end of a set of regulations which had evolved, and we’d evolved with Max.”

Monaghan suggested that Perez was now on top of the car at least as quick as Verstappen during a Grand Prix weekend, but that the Dutchman is performing at his best-ever level to find an edge in the final stages of qualifying.

Adding “I wouldn’t say it is particularly difficult car, I wouldn’t say it’s an easy car. And at the moment the ebb and flow is that Checo is very with it and likes it.”

 

“Sad” that 2022 regulations have not closed the gap

Pierre Gasly finds it “a bit sad” that this year’s new regulations have not cut the advantage of the biggest teams over the midfield, leaving drivers “fighting for seventh”. The new regulations were designed to place a greater focus on aerodynamics and make it easier for cars to follow closely on track, thus allowing for more overtaking.

The regulations also saw a clampdown on technical freedoms in a bid to help the field converge, with a view to creating closer competition between teams. However, the first seven races of the season have either been won by Ferrari or Red Bull, with a big gap behind Mercedes who are third.

Gasly admitted in Monaco that he “expected the field to close up together” in 2022, and that while it has “happened in the midfield”, he was disappointed the big teams remained out of reach.

Gasly told Motorsport.com, referring to Red Bull, Ferrari and Mercedes, “I think if you look from fourth-fastest to probably the last actually, I think we all bunched up quite a lot, but the top three is a different world. Even last year, I got excited many times because I could outqualify a Ferrari, sometimes the Red Bulls, sometimes Mercedes.”

“I felt like this top three, they were faster, but they were not such a different league that you could tease them sometimes. This year, there is no way. It’s clearly a big step. Only [Valtteri] Bottas can challenge at times. We’re literally fighting for seventh, which is a bit sad, because clearly the target was to close [up].

The advantage of the big teams is expected to fade over the next few years, if the push to change the budget cap is unsuccessful, with the field expected to closed f9urther. It is the hope of the regulation changes are both to make the sport financially more sustainable as well as closing the performance gap.

Gasly is hopeful that the regulations over time will allow for drivers to “have a bigger impact and input on the end result, not the car”. Believing that if you’re in a Red Bull, Mercedes or Ferrari you can still go completely wide and still qualify in the top ten, and compete in the top six compared to those in the midfield.

Outside of the top three teams, McLaren is the only outfit to have recorded a podium finish this season courtesy of Lando Norris at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

Asked by Motorsport.com about Gasly’s comments, McLaren F1 boss Andreas Seidl disagreed, saying he thought the midfield had “made another step compared to last year, being again a bit closer to the cars at the front.”

Seidl admitted that it need time to get to the level playing field, pointing out the top three have spent years building up their infrastructure and organisations which they will be continuing to benefit from.

 

Zhou has “no plans” for future after 2022

Guanyu Zhou says that he has “no plans yet towards the future” with his deal with Alfa Romeo believed to be only for this season. The Chinese driver admits that the first seven races of his debut season have been “quite up and down.” But he feels “quite confident that we can still do the job this season” and isn’t “too worried about what’s coming up in next year’s plan yet.”

He told Motorsport.com, “It’s still the beginning of this season. So I have no plans yet towards the future or what’s the plan yet. But I quite enjoy my moments so far in Formula 1. Of course, it’s been quite up and down, because due to the last few races reasons. But overall, I feel very happy and very nice to be here.”

“I feel like there’s still plenty of races for me to develop my ability in Formula 1 yet. So I’m not really too worried about the future yet. And I think right now I’ll just try to focus on getting myself up to speed and bring the team double points finishes.”  Zhou says he is confident that he can still do the job this season and wasn’t too worried about next year.

Zhou has only scored points in Bahrain, but since then has not made an impact on the top ten and also had double retirements in Miami and Barcelona leaving him eighteenth in the championship. Meanwhile teammate Bottas is eighth and has scored in every race he has finished this season.

 

Clarity on crossing the white line

F1 race director Niels Wittich has formally announced that drivers will be allowed to run their cars across the pitlane entry and exit lines at this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The revision to the rules followed a failed protest by Ferrari about Max Verstappen crossing the yellow line on pit exit in Monaco

Whereas previously drivers were in breach of the rules if they touched the lines, now it has been clarified that cars must not cross the line, which has been classified as having a ‘full wheel’ beyond it.

In pre-event notes issued by F1’s race directors up until Monaco, it had been stated that drivers had to strictly keep to one side of the line. But in light of the Monaco clarification, and a change in F1’s International Sporting Code over the winter, Wittich has revised the message to teams and drivers for this weekend.

In his official event notes, the relevant section on the pit entry and exit lines ahead of the Baku weekend said: “In accordance with Chapter 4, Article 4 and 5 of Appendix L to the ISC drivers must follow the procedures at pit entry and pit exit.”

This means that drivers can now go across the lines, as long as the full tyre does not go beyond it.

 

Tsunoda criticises FIA consistency

Yuki Tsunoda says he has no trust in the consistency of the FIA’s decisions following the latest change in stance over pit entry and exit lines. ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix the FIA clarified the rules, as explained above, to what is deemed a breach of rules for drivers crossing the lines.

Tsunoda, who famously received two penalties at last year’s Austrian Grand Prix for crossing the pit entry line, thinks it is another example of a lack of consistency in the way rules are applied, and says he is not sure he would escape punishment if he went over the line from now on.

The Japanese driver is especially angsty about the rules situation because a reprimand he got for impeding Kevin Magnussen in practice at the Monaco GP was his fourth of the season, which leaves him on the verge of a grid drop if he is sanctioned again.

He explained to Motorsport.com, “I’m not trusting the FIA. Every time it’s super inconsistent. I got already four reprimands, and the last time in Monaco, I still don’t know why.”

“I mean, it’s not good to say what other drivers were doing, but other drivers were doing even worse things and they don’t have any investigation, whereas other races they [the FIA] were suddenly getting strict or something like that. So probably if someone cross the white line there would be a penalty for some races.”

“For me, I’ll just stick to what the regulation [says] or just the safest as much as possible to not get in any trouble. So I don’t think that, ‘okay, Max and Checo were crossing the line last time in Monaco so we can do it.’ I think every time it is different.”

Tsunoda also believes the change of race directors to Niels Wittich and Eduardo Freitas, has led to a different approach in terms of experience. While accepting they are doing their best and trying to make things consistent as possible, he says there could be a bit of inexperience with things like traffic management.

Magnussen said he believes that two race directors have made it ‘more difficult to really understand what the rules are.’ He added “Maybe it’s become slightly more difficult at the moment to really understand what the rules are. [They have] just got to try harder to understand it and speak to the guys.

“I think it’s been more consistent [in the past] than it is right now. It’d be nice if their stance or the way they interpret the rules would be totally consistent.”

 

Ben Sulayem clarifies stance after questioning activism

FIA president Mohammed Ben Sulayem has insisted he supports the promotion of “diversity and inclusion” by Formula 1 drivers, following his controversial remarks about the activism of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.

In an interview in Monaco, Ben Sulayem questioned the merits of Hamilton, fellow former world champion Vettel, and Lando Norris using their platforms to speak out on non-sporting issues.

In an interview with GrandPrix247 during last month’s Monaco GP, Ben Sulayem described motorsport as “too political”, before highlighting Vettel’s promotion of LGBTQ+ rights, Hamilton’s activism on human rights issues and Norris’ attempts to encourage conversations on mental health, and comparing the trio to former world champions Niki Lauda and Alain Prost, who he said were “only interested in driving”.

Ahead of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, for the first time since Ben Sulayem’s comments were published, the Emirati took to social media on Thursday in an apparent attempt to clarify his remarks.

He Tweeted, “As a driver, I have always believed in sport as a catalyst of progress in society,” Ben Sulayem posted on Twitter. That is why promoting sustainability, diversity and inclusion is a key priority of my mandate. In the same way, I value the commitment of all drivers and champions for a better future.”

“Niki Lauda and Alain Prost only cared about driving,” he said. “Now, Vettel drives a rainbow bicycle, Lewis is passionate about human rights and Norris addresses mental health. Everybody has the right to think. To me, it is about deciding whether we should impose our beliefs in something over the sport all the time.”

The timing comes at the start of pride month, with several teams , including Hamilton’s Mercedes, currently supporting the LGBTQ+ community with features on their car livery. It also follows an interview by Sebastian Vettel with Attuite, where he insisted that the sport must continue to race in countries with poor records on LGBTQ rights, due to its ability to drive change.

 

Schumacher can’t keep crashing – Steiner

Haas team principal Gunther Steiner says that Mick Schumacher cannot continue to have major accidents as the team’s budget comes under pressure. The German had his second big crash of the season in Monaco which saw the rear of the car ripped away after going into the wall through the Swimming Pool section.

He also sustained damage when he collided with Sebastian Vettel in the late stages in Miami. The chassis crashed in Monaco is currently under repair, while Schumacher has lost the use of the gearbox that was torn off in the impact. Steiner says that Schumacher knows that it was not possible for him to continue like this.

He told Motorsport.com, “This is a sport that’s very competitive. And it’s easy to overstep a little bit your mark, and you’ll make a big damage, especially on this race track, like Monte Carlo, Jeddah, here, Montreal is another one, Singapore, and he just needs to adjust himself not to do what was done in Monte Carlo.”

“But it’s not me telling him five times to make it any better, I think it’s making it worse, because it’s like, I get this, and then maybe you get a counter reaction.” Steiner also confirmed that the team had passed their crash allowance meaning any more crashes would need to come out of the teams development budget.

But the team boss insisted he didn’t need to give Schumacher a lecture about the cost of the damage as it was obvious that it wasn’t positive for the team.

The other problem for has is the budget, while the bigger teams are concerned about breaching the cap, Haas operates at a budget below the cap which means they could exceed their own budgets.

Steiner conceded that it was difficult to equate crash damage with any potential impact on getting updates to the car. Adding “No, you cannot quantify it like this. You just need to try to make savings somewhere else and it’s not always you don’t go straight from there’s crash parts and there’s upgrade parts, it’s a mix of everything, it’s not as simple as this.”

 

Vettel questions Hamilton’s excitement

Sebastian Vettel has questioned ed whether Lewis Hamilton is still excited by F1 following the seven-time world champion’s downturn in results. Aston Martin’s Vettel also admitted he was scared by the prospect of retiring from the sport and believes F1 is “missing” the experience of the former race director Michael Masi.

Hamilton arrives in Baku seventy-five points, or three wins, behind championship leader Max Verstappen and has only managed one podium in the opening seven races as Mercedes struggle to keep pace with Red Bull and Ferrari. The four time champion told Sky Sports “When you get to know the sport in the way I have done and Lewis has done, winning and being at the top is what you strive for.”

“Does it excite you to finish eighth, or twelfth or thirteenth? No, it doesn’t, when you know you have been first so many times – and in Lewis’ case more than any other guy. George (Russell) comes in. He spent three years at Williams suffering at the rear of the field, scoring the odd point, and then suddenly he is eighth or 12th and life for him is amazing.”

While accepting he is looking in from the outside, he believes its only natural that Hamilton was not as fired up about finishing eighth as teammate George Russell.

The FIA has come under scrutiny recently for its handling of the rain-delayed Monaco Grand Prix. Eduardo Freitas and Niels Wittich are the only two nominated race directors. They were appointed as replacements for Masi following a review of the controversial 2021 season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Vettel, director of the Grand Prix Drivers’ Association, added: “What we are missing now is the experience that Michael had and brought to the job because he did it for so long and grew up with it. It is not an easy position now because there is more focus and more spotlight on what is happening at race control.”

Vettel’s career has been on a downwards spiral traced back to his crash at the 2018 German Grand Prix, where he crashed out while leading. He was dropped by Ferrari going into 2020 before the delayed season had even begun and joined Aston Martin at the start of 2021. The german admits his future on the grid depends on whether Aston Martin’s fortunes improve and admits the thought of retirement is scary

Vettel said, “Yes [it is]. I have done motor racing for my whole life, and it gives you security, in terms of the schedule being made by other people. I don’t know what life after Formula 1 looks like and I don’t think any sportsperson knows what the next life looks like.”

He says his future depends on “this year and the races that I have coming up. I have not decided yet”

 

The weekend ahead

This weekend F1 heads to Baku a circuit very different to Monaco and while still a street circuit it is one which should require high-speed and downforce. Red Bull were stronger at the two comparable circuits in Jeddah and Miami where they took victory, but we are going to see hard racing across the field.

Baku is a weekend where anything can happen as we have seen many drivers battles boil over, so is this the weekend where we have seen things over boil. I think this is more a Red Bull circuit these types of circuit seem to suit the performances, but can Charles Leclerc if that is the case, put up a real fight to Max Verstappen?

Mercedes are still trying to understand this car, will this kind of street circuit see them find that sweet spot and start fighting at the front. Baku can be chaotic and that can lead to safety cars, red flags we have seen it all over the years in Baku as it’s a circuit where drivers can race.

Can McLaren continue with the feeling I have of making progress towards Mercedes? But I think realistically they need a break through to challenge Mercedes consistently if we are going to get a real fight for third, Alpha Tauri and in particular Pierre Gasly cannot be counted out if they start putting results together either.

 

You can join us for coverage of this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix with reports and analysis on our website and in This Grand Prix, on Sunday evening. FP1 starts Friday 15:00 AZT / 12:00BST, Qualifying Saturday 18:00 / 15:00 and the race Sunday  15:00 / 12:00
Jack

Jack is responsible for the day-to-day running of Formula One Vault. He brings you all the brilliant content. Has an obsession with all things Formula One and anything with an engine.