Formula 1 | Tops, flops and questions after the F1 Azerbaijan GP

 Formula 1 |  Tops, flops and questions after the F1 Azerbaijan GP

After each Grand Prix, Nextgen-Auto.com invites you to find the tops and flops identified by the editorial staff. Who deserves to be applauded? Who, on the contrary, should be criticized? Finally, what are the question marks or ambiguities, which should be followed with interest during the next Grands Prix? Check it out below!

The tops

Top n°1: Red Bull makes copy almost perfect

Each passing Grand Prix only confirms the trend that has been observed since the Emilia-Romagna Grand Prix: Red Bull is now the favorite team for victories and titles. Max Verstappen appeared to be in trouble all weekend, trailing an in-form Sergio Pérez after his Monaco win, but the Dutchman was actually hiding his game.

Or in any case, he prepared his race perfectly, since nothing prevented him from dominating after the retirement of the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc. Yes, he benefited from an instruction within the Austrian team, but how not to understand it? By the time Red Bull told Pérez not to fight, Verstappen had just taken more than a second from him on the lap. Having trouble getting his medium tires up to temperature, the Mexican even conceded three full seconds on the lap where he let his teammate pass.

In the end, the two men were able to manage their race in the lead and had no trouble getting the 44 points for the double and the fastest lap, the work of Pérez. Only qualifying still remains a negative point, since the last five pole positions went to Leclerc, but Sunday smiles again and again at Red Bull. The two drivers are now at the top of the championship, Leclerc pointing to 34 points from Verstappen, and Red Bull has 80 units of margin among the manufacturers.

Top n°2: The George Russell Metronome

Difficult to find imperfections in the copy delivered by George Russell this weekend in Baku. The Mercedes F1 driver qualified fifth, best of the rest, and finished third, best of the rest too. Behind Red Bull and Ferrari, the Briton is now the fastest driver by far. He beat Pierre Gasly in qualifying and Lewis Hamilton in the race.

The Azerbaijan GP confirms what we have seen from Russell since the start of the season, unparalleled regularity and races without errors or loss of rhythm. Thanks to this, he signs his third podium of the year, his fourth in his career, and continues with an eighth finish in the top 5.

The one his team calls Mr. Regularity (Mr Consitency) would like to fight for victories, but is already happy to beat his teammate and score big points every weekend. This allows him, moreover, to point fourth in the drivers’ world championship, almost equidistant between the Ferrari drivers.

Top n°3: Gasly and Vettel confirm their affection for Baku

Respectively third and second last year in the Azerbaijani capital, Pierre Gasly and Sebastian Vettel completed the 2022 edition of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in fifth and sixth positions. They each sign their best result of the season, which allows them to return to the battle of the peloton for the championship. The Frenchman is in tenth place, tied with Fernando Alonso, and the Aston Martin F1 driver is 14th, three points behind Gasly.

The latter had a clear round this weekend, qualifying in sixth place and finishing fifth. Seven seconds behind him, Vettel seemed at ease on the Baku circuit, having qualified the day before in ninth position, equaling his best score of the year for a Saturday. With a much calmer race than last year, it was difficult for the two men to shine as much, but they again took the best positions behind the leading teams.

The flops

Flop n°1: Red card for Ferrari in Azerbaijan

A zero score is not dramatic in a 22-race long season for a team chasing the title, especially when its rival suffered the same fate in the season-opening race. But the dynamic in which the Scuderia has been involved for several races is still cause for concern in Maranello. Whatever Mattia Binotto, who advocates calm, says, we cannot imagine that a wave of panic has not invaded the factory at Ferrari’s headquarters. The fact that he admits that the unreliability of the F1-75 is “worrying” is surely a sign.

Because this weekend, the drivers had almost nothing to reproach themselves for. Charles Leclerc took his sixth pole position in eight races, the fourth in a row, and was leading the race when he suffered an engine failure on lap 21. For Carlos Sainz, the race had stopped 13 loops earlier, a hydraulic problem having apparently caused a malfunction of the brakes.

Admittedly, the Spaniard had made a small mistake in his second round of Q3 and only qualified fourth. Admittedly, Leclerc did not seem able to keep pace with Verstappen throughout the race. But he was in the lead with a strategic shift for the tyres, and he could have fought for second place, or even for the win. Instead, he experienced his second retirement in three races, and Ferrari scored zero.

In the last three races, Leclerc have conceded 53 points to Verstappen and 51 points to Pérez, while Ferrari have lost 86 points to Red Bull. What no longer have the choice to wake up, and this from this weekend in Canada.

Flop 2: What is Nicholas Latifi playing?

Is he concerned about his possible future replacement? Nicholas Latifi continues to suffer the law of Alex Albon at Williams F1, but the Canadian adds more errors in the race, and dubious explanations. In Baku, he was six tenths behind his teammate in qualifying, and finished last the next day. But it was above all his management of blue flags that posed a problem.

Thus, Latifi ignored 12 of these flags asking to let cars that take a lap pass. Asked by the marshals about the fact that he blocked Gasly for several minutes, he assured that he wanted to be forgiven for having embarrassed him… by offering him the DRS and the aspiration, so as not to leave him at the mercy. of Hamilton. The latter had returned to the Frenchman because of Latifi, which made the main interested party feel guilty.

It is commendable on his part if this is true, but we can still ask ourselves the question of Latifi’s ability to evolve in traffic. Because in Monaco, he had already blocked Carlos Sainz from the exit of the pits to the tunnel, that is to say a half-turn, costing precious seconds – and possibly victory – to the Spaniard. After two modest but encouraging seasons, Latifi now seems engaged in a downward spiral which will inevitably lead to his replacement, next year or before.

Flop n°3: Alfa Romeo without performance or reliability, Bottas wins

Alfa Romeo had accustomed us to better recently! Despite testing often disrupted by technical problems, Valtteri Bottas had managed to score points in each race between Australia and Monaco. But in Azerbaijan, the team sank, and with the Finn, who suffered the law of Guanyu Zhou. The Chinese qualified 14th, just ahead of his teammate, and was ahead of Bottas before his retirement.

The double elimination in Q2 therefore gave way to a retirement for Zhou and an 11th place for Bottas, despite five retirements in the race. Worse, the team fails to understand why its C42 has completely lost performance. The first elements of an answer could, however, arrive in Canada, where Alfa Romeo is planning drastic changes to understand this drop in speed.

We want to see…

Porpoising, between political game and real danger

Porpoising was the big topic of the weekend, with several pilots raising further concerns about their long-term health. Hamilton and Russell were the most vocal, the seven-time world champion struggling to get out of his car on Sunday, to the point of questioning his participation in the next race for a few hours. Russell, meanwhile, floated the idea that a big crash could happen with the loss of grip that porpoising causes in fast corners.

The fact that the two Mercedes F1 drivers complained about it prompted the opposing clan, Red Bull, to advise the team to simply raise the ground clearance of its single-seater, even if it meant sacrificing a few tenths. A solution that works on other single-seaters like the Aston Martin, but not on the Mercedes, whose rigid suspensions prevent this type of adjustment.

But whatever Christian Horner says, the problem was not just Mercedes, since Sainz, Ocon and even Gasly complained about it, the latter fearing to end his career. “walking with a cane”. But the slight doubt this provokes in public opinion is enough to make it a political game, with some teams fearing that Mercedes is only looking to gain performance.

It is regrettable that the FIA ​​is struggling to intervene, in order to carry out at least a complete investigation into the effects of porpoising on the drivers. The action of a few federation stewards, aero specialists and sports doctors could be enough to quickly assess whether or not porpoising is a safety issue. Now let’s hope we don’t wait too long to find out.

Mercedes F1 fails to confirm progress

Before the weekend, Russell had told us exclusively that Mercedes F1 hoped to validate in the long straight the disappearance of the porpoising interviewed in Monaco, but especially in Barcelona. Unfortunately, nothing happened, and we saw the W13 trail more than ever in the 2.2 km of full load. It also involves the corners that are negotiated hard and lead on the 1.6 km straight, in which Hamilton almost lost control of his car, which could have led to a very violent accident (see video below ).

The W13 is doing better than before on certain circuits, it was undeniable in Spain, but the bumpy tracks on which its rigid suspensions do not take the irregularities of the asphalt quickly make the phenomenon of porpoising reappear. The Brackley team still has a lot of work to do to catch up with the two top teams, as it was rather struggling this weekend to get rid of the AlphaTauri.