Welcome to the Azerbaijan edition of This Grand Prix after round eight of the 2022 season, a weekend where Ferrari may have started to look flustered and had setbacks because of engine failures resulting in a double DNF even before that there appeared to me Ferrari looked unsettled in Monaco and Baku with strategy.
The focus going to Montreal next weekend will be on how can Ferrari bounce back at another high-speed street circuit. Mercedes again capitalising with a strong result but with both drivers complaining of back pain and the bouncing and porpoising is there still could be work to do…
FP1 saw Sergio Perez go fastest with a 44.475 on going a tenth ahead of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc, who spilt the two Red Bulls after going just over two tenths faster than Max Verstappen. But the surprise early on was the Alpine with Fernando Alonso going within half a second of Carlos Sainz, and a tenth behind.
FP2 saw Leclerc come out on top having a quarter of a second margin over Perez after setting his time on the soft tyres and getting a slipstream from the Williams of Nicolas Latifi. Verstappen could only manage third following a disrupted session caused by the continuation of the DRS issues which affected him in FP1.
FP3 saw Perez and Leclerc go fastest once again, the Mexican setting a 43.170 going seven-thousandths of a second faster, with Verstappen’s disjoined weekend continuing with him nearly three tenths off in third ahead of Sainz.
Leclerc took his sixth pole of the season after setting a 41.359 on soft tyres which put him quarter of a second ahead of teammate Sainz. While Ferrari looked to have the edge over Red Bull anyway, both Perez and Verstappen’s final runs were hampered by a delay in refuelling the two Red Bull’s.
Verstappen took victory by twenty seconds from teammate Perez after a close first half of the race between Red Bull and Ferrari, but Ferrari’s race would unravel in the middle part. Sainz retired with a brake by wire failure on lap nine while Leclerc retired with engine issues later on.
That gave George Russell third the only driver to finish in the to five in all of the first eight races ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Hamilton working his way from seventh with some brilliant overtaking.
Mercedes trackside engineering director Andrew Shovlin says Mercedes “needs fundamental improvements” after struggling massively during Friday practice. George Russell finished FP2 seventh over a second off the pace and there were complaints from the drivers about the purposing, like in Monaco.
Shovlin admitted the struggles in Baku go beyond fine-tuning with the team needing to find time on both single and long-run pace, but says the team needing to do more than just ‘fine tuning’ and says the team were not struggling with grip or balance. The ride of the Mercedes appears to be the issue for Mercedes, it then has an impact on straight-line speed.
Hamilton said the dramatic bouncing, which also affected other teams including chart topping Ferrari, was the “hardest thing” about his Friday.
Saying “The hardest thing about today was the bouncing, I’m a bit sore. We’re hitting serious speeds at the end of the straight and bottoming out. We’re facing the same problems as in the last race. We tried something experimental on my car in the second session, it didn’t feel great but at least we tried it and we got some useful data to go through.
Following qualifying, Russell said it was only a matter of time before the porpoising causes a major incident. The long flat-out section between Turn Sixteen and One along Neftchilar Avenue the high-speed nature of that section of track has started to maybe like we saw in Jeddah that will start to raise safety concerns and lead to attempts to try and slow cars down.
Talks were held in Friday night’s driver’s briefing on whether teams should sort the issue out themselves or whether the FIA should step in and enforce tweaks on health and safety grounds.
The porpoising continued into the race with Hamilton saying he could not express the pain and was relieved just to finish. He finished the race fourth behind the Red Bull’s and Russell, with Toto Wolff apologising to him for the car’s bouncing problem.
Hamilton told Sky Sports F1, having been visibly in pain when both getting out of the car and in the post-race media interviews, “I was just holding and biting down on my teeth due to the pain, and the adrenaline [helped], I cannot express the pain that you experience, particularly on the straight here.”
“But we were in such a good position still, third and fourth, a great result for the team. The team did a great job with the strategy.” There also appeared to be new hope from Hamilton, while admitting the bouncing was costing them a second a lap, he thinks once that is sorted they can fight Red Bull and Ferrari.
Chief engineer Paul Monaghan went into the weekend saying the team were confident that they have managed to fix the recurrent DRS issue, with this weekend being the ultimate test. In Barcelona, Max Verstappen was forced to abort his last lap because of a DRS issue.
While Red Bull thought it had found a quick fix between qualifying and the race, the problem reared its head again on Sunday, hindering the Dutchman on his way to an unlikely victory after erstwhile leader Charles Leclerc retired. Monaghan says the team has learnt lesson.
At the heart of this was his suggestion the team cut too many corners and the issue was self-inflicted, as it tried to save weight on its car. While the problem appeared to be solved in Monaco, where the DRS flap faced a relatively low airspeed when it was actuated, Baku poses a completely different challenge with top speed of over 340km/h on its 2.2km long straight.
Going into the weekend the team said it believed that this year’s regulation changes have allowed Sergio Perez to be as comfortable as Verstappen in the car. The Mexican’s win in Monaco 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.
Red Bull suffered from more DRS issues in FP1, with the flap vibrating, and the team had to make changes before FP2. Having edged out his teammate despite a less than perfect session, Perez was encouraged by the progress.
More issues affected Perez in qualifying when a power unit issue prevented the Mexican from giving Verstappen a tow and allowing him to challenge in the closing moments of qualifying. The tow is very important in Baku and drivers can find a chunk of lap time by the tow.
But after qualifying second, Perez was left feeling that he lost out because of the issue. He said, “I t was not an ideal qualifying because, at the end, we just had a problem with the engine. We couldn’t turn it on, and that meant that we lost [time], I was basically on my own. And that’s very powerful around here.”
“Who knows if enough for pole, but certainly we lost a few tenths. But I think Charles has a very good lap.”
Verstappen also clarified he hadn’t expected to gain the tow from his Red Bull teammate for the final Q3 run due to their pre-qualifying run plan, after being heard on team radio asking about Perez’s issue.
Perez says it was the right call for him not to fight Verstappen but has been left wondering why he couldn’t fight with Verstappen in the closing stages. The Mexican driver led the early laps in Baku after beating polesitter Charles Leclerc off the line, but struggled to match the race pace of Verstappen after the first virtual safety car periods.
The Mexican said “I need to understand it, right now it didn’t feel like I was hitting the tyres hard at the time [on the first stint], it was right up to the virtual safety car where we lost the pace. I think all the way to that stage things were looking right, things were looking OK, but it was mainly after the virtual safety car when we really dropped the pace massively.”
Perez lost the lead to Verstappen at the start of lap 15 when his teammate passed him into Turn 1, but the Mexican was unable to respond for the rest of the race and finished 20.8s off the win in second place.
Following Friday practice Leclerc said there are still “question marks” over the true form book after he edged out both Red Bulls. but admitted it was a scrappy session for all the drivers as well as the drivers needing to back off for other mistakes, Leclerc, Verstappen and Perez all went down the escape roads at various points.
Asked if he expected a hard fight for pole with Red Bull, Leclerc said: “I think it will be. We’ve had a good Friday because overall I think we’ve improved quite a lot from FP1 to FP2, but there’s still another step that we need to do from today to tomorrow.”
“I also feel in FP2 nobody really put a lap in and neither did we, I think Max and Carlos [Sainz] didn’t actually improve on the soft. So yeah, there are still quite a lot of question marks.”
Leclerc’s heavy fuel run was compromised by what he later admitted was a change to the setting of the car, which resulted in the sudden loss of power urgently asked his team for advice, and he was told to switch to race mode.
Saying “Actually, it was not a power unit problem. It’s just me that forgot that I had changed something which obviously made me lose power. But nothing bad.”
But come the race Ferrari suffered power unit issues which saw both Leclerc and Sainz retire. Leclerc has been left questioning where the reliability has gone following two engine-related DNF’s in three races which has allowed Verstappen to open a thirty-four-point lead in the drivers.
Leclerc told Sky Sports, the pain of the latest retirement was hard to accept, as he said there was no logical explanation for why Ferrari was now suffering such a poor finishing rate having won two of the first three races of the campaign.
“We’ve been fast and we didn’t have particularly big problems in the first part of the season. Now, it seems that we have a bit more compared to the beginning of the season when we didn’t change anything. If anything, we made the thing better. So it’s difficult to understand for now. But we will have to analyse obviously. I don’t have the full picture of what happened today.”
Ferrari need to get on top of this as I think its inevitable that Leclerc will face engine penalties in the latter part of this season as we are now only a third of the way into this season. Leclerc’s retirement capped a disappointing day for Ferrari with his teammate Carlos Sainz also retiring after suffering a hydraulic problem.
Daniel Ricciardo is adamant he has a contract in place until 2023, but McLaren says there are “mechanisms” which could see his stay end early as rumours increase about the Australian’s future with the team. This story appears to be lingering around as the pressure grows, but how much this is bluffing to try and get better performance out of him?
Ricciardo is a proven race winner and was an equal match to Max Verstappen, however, there is this theory that he has struggled to get to grips with this generation of cars. McLaren knows that if they are going to challenge for championships in the medium term, they need two competitive drivers.
During the race there appeared to be some passionate debate between the drivers and the team after Lando Norris was told not to pass Ricciardo in the closing stages. This happened because the Australian had better pace and gained a position under the VSC allowing him to jump Norris.
In the final stages of the race, Ricciardo was chasing Fernando Alonso with Norris just behind him and asking if he could pass and attack the Alpine driver. Norris was told to hold station and despite his obvious frustration the Englishman accepted the decision, and the two McLarens crossed the line in eighth and ninth places.
He explained after the race, “There was one lap just before I boxed that Daniel could have overtaken me, and didn’t. I think he was told just to defend to [Pierre] Gasly pretty much until I boxed, but I boxed the next lap. So there was one lap he stayed behind me, and I guess the return favour for him just not overtaking me was for me not to overtake him.”
Norris conceded that it wasn’t easy to stay behind, but acknowledged that there was a bigger picture. It will never be easy for any driver to concede not to fight for position as always there will be discussions to try and learn lessons from this.
Adding “I think just racing for a normal position at the end. He wasn’t there, or behind me or whatever, or in a different position, because of what we did earlier in the race. We thought that would help me, but it didn’t. And therefore at the end of the race, there was nothing to gain or lose between us.”
Esteban Ocon says it is “disappointing” to see that the French Grand Prix is likely to be absent from the 2023 calendar. The race was revived following a ten-year absence in 2018, and this years race could be the last as Liberty Media continues its push for destination cities.
The remote venues of Le Castellet and the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa-Francorchamps, which is also struggling to see its contract renewed, with spots on the calendar becoming increasingly scarce, both tracks could end up in a rotation hosting races every other year, or disappear altogether.
He said “It is very disappointing. I’ve been living in my young career when the Grand Prix was not there. Then it came back, and I’ve been very lucky and very fortunate to race there. We have it this year, and we are going to enjoy it to the fullest.”
Losing the French GP again would be disappointing as its where Grand Prix racing began, but in a world were we know remote venues and privately funded races are struggling more for the reasons we all know, I think its difficult to resolve but with Las Vegas and Doha coming back has to give.
Fernando Alonso was one of several drivers who sparked complaints about blocking after holding up Alex Albon in qualifying. The Williams driver felt following the restart of Q1 the Alpine driver appeared to slow down and then went straight on into the T15 run-off, ruining the lap of every driver behind him.
Williams’ Albon, who was behind Alonso at the time, was furious with Alonso’s alleged antics. On the team radio, he fumed: “He needs to get penalised this guy, he has to. This is ridiculous, he was doing it the whole lap. He was driving slowly on purpose.
Alonso responded by saying “Not really. That corner I think we saw during qualifying that it was extremely challenging. I braked late, I could not make the corner I thought, so I took the escape road. McLaren did as well in Q2, Sebastian [Vettel] thought that he could make the corner and broke the front wing.”
Red Bull’s motorsport advisor Helmut Marko believes Pierre Gasly has no better alternative than staying with Alpha Tauri after Red Bull closed the door on a possible return by extending Sergio Perez’s contract. We know Gasly has said he feels ready to make the step up to a bigger team, and admitted that he may need to look elsewhere.
Marko reckons that, even if Red Bull decided to let Gasly go before the end of his contract, the Frenchman would not find a better seat. He told Formel1.com, “Before the signing, of course, I spoke to Gasly, explained the situation to him and, yes, we’ll just have to see what happens with Gasly after ’23.”
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.
Gasly says that he expected it to be closer, but there is this theory with the sliding reductions in the cap over the coming years will lead to the gaps being reduced further.
Alpha Tauri looked very quick and comfortable going into qualifying with the Frenchman leading the teams charge to qualify sixth while teammate Yuki Tsunoda was eighth. The best Saturday performance from Tsunoda all season and for Gasly there will be hopes of converting that into points.
After qualifying, Gasly said “To split the two Mercedes boys is definitely a really good job. I’m happy for the team because we’ve had quite a lot of things happening in the last few weekends and the main mindset going into this race weekend was about trying not to make any mistakes, trying to keep things simple and that’s what we did. We managed to show a very strong performance today so happy with that.”
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.” However, he remains confident that he will remain in the sport.
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.”
In practice on Friday Alfa Romeo were slightly further back than we have started to expect, but the plan appears to be holding off putting the upgrades on the car until FP3 because Baku is a street circuit which runs a higher risk of crashing and damage to the car.
Valtteri Bottas says he expects when they are put on for FP3 the team will be on the urge of the points and added that on his best lap in FP2 he locked up. He said, “I don’t think it’s the true picture of where we are. The fact is we don’t necessarily have all the best bits on the car yet. And also on my last lap, I was four tenths up, but then I had a lock-up, and I lost all the time.”
Zhou, who was just 0.149s behind Bottas in 16th in FP2, agreed that the new parts will make a difference. Adding “in terms of the pace, we definitely caught up quite a lot compared to my teammate, we closed the gap. So it’s good today to see both sessions we were very close together. I think today the main focus is that as a team, we need to just find some more speed.”
In recent weeks teams have been warning that they will be risking fines for breaching the budget cap, well Williams have been found to have breeched it last year and have been fined for failing to meet the deadline of 31st March 2022 for the year 2021. They were fined $25,000.
I think personally, it depends how much they breeched it and whether there is escalating fines the further you breach the cap? Every team will be watching this closely because those bigger teams may feel that this is a penalty worth taking if they want to move forwards. We know that rising costs have to lead to warning that the top three teams could breach it this season.
Gunther Steiner revealed that Mick Schumacher’s crashes need to stop because they are putting the teams budge under pressure following his major shunt in Monaco. Adding 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.”
We know that Haas operates below the budget cap and the crashes add pressure, which means that they may need to divert from the development budget, but he hasn’t been calling naturally for the cap to be raised.
This Grand Prix was a tame one for Baku and I think for me the biggest takeaway after eight races is that reliability is going to play a role in the championship. Red Bull bouncing back very well from defeat you need to wonder if that’s being in the championship fight last season, we are heading into the middle part of the season with five races before the summer break these next seven weeks are going to be key.
Verstappen I think is beginning to grow into this driver who is difficult to beat when he has momentum and a quick car and he now has that twenty-nine-point lead over Leclerc in the championship. Ferrari will hopefully have learned and this could be the start of the implosion they need to stop the rot now to avoid a repeat of when they went wrong in the fight with Mercedes between 2017-19.
I think Mercedes have made progress the car is faster, and they are getting closer but the purposing remains a there biggest issue and they must be starting to look towards next year now. Russell continues to be the lead driver and giving Hamilton the run for his money and I think it will if they get lucky could get wins when there is drama for Ferrari and Red Bull. Mr Saturday has become Mr Consistency.
Pierre Gasly has been the driver who continued to impress me this weekend he has continued to underline and grow into a driver worthy of another shoot of a top team. He was best of the rest in both qualifying and the race, so we know that Alpha Tauri is quick in both race and qualifying pace. Yuki Tsunoda as well looked to have a decent weekend
|1||Max Verstappen||NED||Red Bull||01:34:05.947||25|
|2||Sergio Perez||MEX||Red Bull||+00:20.823||19|
|1||Max Verstappen||150||Red Bull||279|
|4||Carlos Sainz||96||McLaren – Mercedes||65|
|5||George Russell||99||Alpine – Renault||47|