Our man in Europe, Nick van der Meulen, takes a look back at the most glamourous Formula One Grand Prix in his report F1 Review Baku 2022.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix, at the ancient city of Baku, is the second street circuit event in succession following the Monaco Grand Prix. Seeing that Monaco is under close scrutiny with regard to its future on the calendar, the comparison between the event held at the principality and this circuit begs discussion. Baku is an ancient city that lies 28 metres below sea level and its street circuit layout includes a long one-kilometre straight and many tight and twisty turns.
Baku, like Monaco, it is a circuit that is notoriously difficult to overtake at, even with the DRS zone at the start/finish straight. The circuit can bite hard, as Charles Leclerc found out in 2019. The young driver crashed his Ferrari into the wall in qualifying in 2019. Max Verstappen, whose rear tyre on his Red Bull let go in the closing stages of the race in 2021, pitched him into the wall. Lance Stroll destroyed his Aston Martin in qualifying for this year’s race, while teammate Sebastian Vettel buried his nose into the tyres, but still managed to continue and was fast enough to make Q3.
Porpoising was an issue that was raised again at this round, with drivers complaining about the effect it has on them. Of the most vocal was Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes), who also complained with back pain in the race. The seven-time world champion was seen hobbling from his mount after the race, in obvious discomfort. The on-board camera sound clearly illustrated the problems the drivers are facing.
A day to forget
It was a black race day for Ferrari. Both machines were forced to retire before half distance. Carlos Sainz pulled off the circuit on lap nine. This brought out a virtual safety car and provided most of the field the opportunity to pit towards a two-stop strategy.
Teammate Leclerc, who lost out to Sergio Perez (Red Bull Racing) at the start, did so in the hope of gaining an advantage over the Red Bull racers later in the race. It was not to be, however. Leclerc’s turbo let go on lap 20 while leading. This left Verstappen and Perez to take first and second place, respectively, at a canter. This could be the deciding weekend towards deciding the 2022 world championship in favour of the Anglo-Austrian team.
A decent showing
Mercedes had a strong outing at Baku, despite the porpoising issues of which both drivers were complaining. George Russell finished a distant third, the Englishman pragmatic about the podium result. Teammate Hamilton managed to carve his way into fourth position by the fall of the chequered flag, earning him the “Driver of the Day” accolade.
Daniel Ricciardo has been under fire lately due to his dismal performances in 2022. He produced a solid, if not spectacular, performance at Baku. He remained in touch with teammate Lando Norris throughout and scoring points for eighth position, narrowly edging out Norris at the finish. The two drivers had vastly different strategies for the race. The team tried to use Norris to overcut Fernando Alonso (Alpine) for position. Meanwhile they kept the “Honey Badger” out for a late stop, which was staged at the second virtual safety car event. This was caused by Kevin Magnussen’s (Haas-Ferrari) retirement on lap 34 of 51. Despite the strategies, both drivers could not pass Alonso and the Spanish veteran finished a fine seventh.
Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) produced a fine performance to finish a fighting fifth. Sebastian Vettel continued to impress with an anonymous drive to sixth position. Alpine was another team to score points with both drivers, with Esteban Ocon adding a point for tenth position to add to that of Alonso’s seventh place.
The Red Bull pilots find themselves at the top of the world championship table. Verstappen leads Perez by 21 points. Leclerc, following his retirement, is relegated to third place in the standings. The Ferrari drier is 13 points behind Perez and 17 points ahead of Russell. Sainz is still fifth in the standings 16 points behind Russell and 21 points clear of Hamilton. Red Bull are now a massive 80 points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship. Mercedes are 38 points behind the Italian marque in third position. McLaren is a further 96 points behind Mercedes in fourth position and 18 points clear of Alpine.
The F1 circus must cross the Pacific Ocean to Canada for the ninth round of the world championship on 17 to 19 June 2022. The legendary Il Notre Dame circuit, named after Canada’s favourite son Gilles Villeneuve, is fast and hard on brakes. It is likely the drivers will suffer from the bumps on the back straight. Also at the heavy braking at the final corner before the “wall of champions” at the start/finish straight. Ferrari will have a strong following there…will they be able to turn their fortune?