Our resident F1 fundi, Nick van der Meulen, shares his F1 review Baku 2019.

It appears that the Germans can party harder than the Italians: when Mercedes switched to “party” mode in Qualifying 3 in preparation for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, archrivals Ferrari could not respond. Sebastian Vettel could only manage third fastest, while Charles Leclerc, who was the class of the field throughout the weekend, dropped the ball in Qualifying 2 and put his Ferrari into the wall at Turn 8… and Mercedes locked out the front row.

Keeping the pressure

To rub further salt in open wounds, Mercedes took their fourth 1-2 finish to maintain a perfect score for the manufacturer (and set a new record in the process), but it was the turn of Valtteri Bottas to keep teammate and reigning champion, Lewis Hamilton, at bay in qualifying and on race day.  They are currently only separated on the log by the points scored for fastest laps, in Bottas’s favour.

Fluffmeisters

Ferrari fluffed their weekend – again. Sebastian Vettel had a solid, if unspectacular, weekend, finishing on the bottom step of the podium again, but what could have happened if the strategists on pit wall had been more alert to what was happening on track and changed Leclerc’s pit strategy?

It’s clear that the team has been lacking in this area since Ross Brawn’s departure (yes, for that long) and one would have thought that this may have been highlighted by now. Yes, Leclerc hurt his chances by stuffing his machine into the wall in qualifying, resulting in mechanics having to work feverishly to produce a race-worthy machine by Sunday morning – which they did to great effect.

Click here to read our piece on special, one-off Ferrari road cars.

Leclerc made a slow start but proved to be blindingly quick on the medium compound Pirelli rubber as the race progressed, while his rivals started the race on the softer compound. It was clear the Monegasque was on the back foot when his rivals pitted early to switch from soft to medium rubber and, for him to remain effective for the entire race, he would have had to stop twice.

Instead, the team kept him out too long when he led the race, resulting in Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel sailing past him before he managed to pit. At best, he was going to finish 5th following a conservative strategy, so he had nothing to lose on a two-stop strategy (his late stop to put on a set of softs to break the lap record in the dying stages of the race doesn’t count).  Ferrari lost out on an opportunity to shine, as Leclerc was on fire throughout the weekend… la sigh.

Improvement noted

McLaren had an excellent weekend, with Carlos Sainz opening his scorecard with a fine 7th place ahead of team mate Lando Norris, while engine partner Renault, in contrast, had a nightmare. Daniel Ricciardo had a bizarre accident with Daniil Kyvat (Toro Rosso Honda). Danny overshot on the brakes while passing the Russian into Turn 15 with the Australian running down the escape road and Kyvat having to stop because he couldn’t make the corner.

To add insult to injury, Ricciardo selected reverse gear and collected Kyvat – resulting in retirement for both drivers. Ricciardo has been punished with a three grid slot penalty for the next round at Barcelona, along with a promise from Kyvat that he will buy the “Honey Badger” a rearview mirror. Nico Hulkenberg had a forgettable race, finishing 14th, which left McLaren smiling as the team moves to 4th place in the constructors’ standings while Renault plummets to 7th.

Double points finish

Racing Point Mercedes was another team to have reason to smile, with both drivers scoring points: Sergio Perez finished a fine 6th, while Lance Stroll crossed the finish line in 9th place. The team is placed 5th in the constructors’ championship.

Alfa Romeo had a rollercoaster ride at Baku: both of their drivers, Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen, qualified in the top ten, but both cars were penalized. Giovinazzi had to accept a ten-place grid penalty for the team having to replace his vehicle’s control electronics, while Raikkonen’s car failed post-qualifying  scrutineering because its front wing flexed too much and the Fin had to start from pit lane (behind Robert Kubica and ahead of Pierre Gasly, who was penalized twice for infringements!). Giovinazzi was disappointed to not finish in the points, while Raikkonen charged through the field to claim the final point on offer.

The F1 circus now moves to Europe, with Barcelona being next up on the schedule. Ferrari laid down the marker here in testing early in the year… will the next round finally bring a change to their fortunes for the better?

F1 review Baku 2019 race action in this video.