The Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix concluded on Sunday, 12th of June 2022, with Max Verstappen making it look easy to grab victories, along with Sergio Perez in a RedBull 1-2 finish. The retirements of both the Ferraris due to an engine failure paved the way for the RedBulls to shine and a podium finish for the Mercedes of George Russell.
Azerbaijan – the Land of Fire, the city of winds hosted the 8th round of this year’s Formula One World Championship Grand Prix, and it didn’t disappoint. Races here have been held only since 2017, and every single year since, this circuit has given the fans a different winner. The trend continues this year as well.
The circuit is 6.003km (3.73 mi) long, with 51 laps of racing. Charles Leclerc started from pole the first driver to get two consecutive poles at this circuit followed by Perez as the front row lockout. Verstappen and Sainz begun from the second row. Most of the drivers started on medium compound tyres to get a better start. A few chose otherwise, thinking of a possible one-stop strategy. But the other teams are definitely on a two or three-stop strategy.
It’s lights out, and the race gets underway, with Perez getting a fantastic start. At the first corner, he attacks Leclerc, who locks up, and overtakes him from the inside. Perez is now P1, with Leclerc falling back to P2. Max follows Leclerc closely, waiting for an opportunity to overtake. At the start, Albon gains two places. Just before the start, Nicolas Latifi’s Williams mechanic pushes him back into his slot on his grid position, which is considered as starting grid infringement. He gets a 10-second stop-and-go penalty and is race over even before it starts.
The gap between Perez and Leclerc widens by lap 4, with over 2 seconds between them. Max slowly catches up to Leclerc. With RedBull being faster on straights, Max now gets very close to Leclerc on the main straight. On this lap, Latifi serves his penalty. In the midfield, the McLarens battle it out. At the end of the lap, Max gets into the attacking range of Leclerc and attacks Leclerc on the main straight. At the end of turn 1, he misses his chance to overtake but still stays behind Leclerc to exploit the opportunity at the next DRS zone.
Since the start, Gasly manages to stay ahead of Hamilton. In the past, Gasly has always managed to make Hamilton’s races troublesome whenever he’s been ahead. This time was no different. Also, the Mercedes of Hamilton was porpoising heavily on the straights. It was amply audible and visible. This was further causing problems for Lewis Hamilton as he started complaining of backache in the middle of the race. Back to the front, Max Verstappen was doing speeds of over 340 kmph, attacking Leclerc on the straight to get past him on lap 7. Such high speeds were last seen back in 2016 cars. On the same lap, Perez could be seen struggling for traction as his times gradually got slower.
On lap 9, we see the first DNF of the race. It’s none other than the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz. The car stops at turn 4. We later learn that Sainz’s car stops due to a hydraulic issue. Virtual Safety Car (VSC) is deployed on this lap. This is the time when drivers start pitting. In comes Charles Leclerc first. But was Ferrari gambling on an early pitstop, or was it a change of strategy to take advantage of the same later in the race? Only time would tell. The race gets a green flag at the ending stages of Lap 10. Max doesn’t pit during the VSC period and gets 12 seconds ahead of Leclerc.
On lap 12, we see the front row of RedBull 1-2, with Perez leading. But on this track, a RedBull 1-2 has not ended well in the past. An interesting point to note is McLarens. They end up at P6 and P7. On lap 13, the battle of P9 intensifies with Ocon, Vettel and Hamilton. Vettel makes a move on Ocon but goes into the runoff area at turn 5. But Vettel doesn’t hit the barriers, instead makes an amazing U-Turn with momentum and gets back on track. Legend for a reason. Hamilton and Tsunoda make use of this opportunity and overtake him. On lap 15, Max catches up to Perez. Perez is told – No fighting, and at turn 1, Max surpasses Perez and takes the pole position.
On lap 17, Perez pits for Hard tyres, and his release is delayed a little bit. The green light doesn’t light up, and it takes a few more milliseconds to post his tyre change. Every millisecond matters in F1. It can make or break a race. Perez now comes out on lap 17 and is immediately under threat from George Russell. Perez manages to put some gap between himself and Russell in the next lap. Back to the midfield, Hamilton manages to get ahead of Ocon after a series of tries in the past few laps. In the next lap, Max pits for Hard tyres, Leclerc now leads the race, and Perez is in P2. On lap 20, smoke comes out from the exhaust of a car on the main straight. It turns out to be Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari of Charles Leclerc is now out of the race. Leclerc manages to get the car into the pit and retires.
The race gets interesting with Gasly and Ricciardo battling it out on lap 21. Gasly overtakes Ricciardo on the main straight at the end of lap 21. At the same time, Tsunoda gets past Ocon and climbs to P7. Norris pits for a tyre change and comes out at P16. He has a slow pitstop. On lap 23, we see the train of Ocon, Vettel and Zhou for P8. In the middle of the lap, Zhou is told to get the car back into the pits, citing engine troubles. Zhou retires as well. Hamilton is now at P6, with Ricciardo P5. On lap 25, Hamilton makes a move on Ricciardo under DRS on the main straight. At turn 3 on lap 26, Hamilton succeeds and is now up at P5. His nemesis returns – Gasly at P4. Norris slowly makes up places amidst all this drama, up at P13 now.
Kevin Magnussen had a mixed bag up until now, getting in and out of points. On lap 33, Magnussen’s car stops, the 4th Ferrari Power Unit to retire from the race. VSC is deployed again. On the next lap, RedBulls do a double-stacking, perfectly executed. Other drivers also come in. Ricciardo comes in for mediums. Mercedes of Russell and Hamilton pit as well. VSC ends on lap 35. On the very next lap, Hamilton at P6 attacks Tsunoda on P5. At this time, the camera points to Tsunoda’s rear wings. DRS apparently seems to be broken on his car. He pits on lap 39. At the pitstop, the AlphaTauri can be seen taping his rear wing. He was told not to use DRS anymore during the race, dashing his hopes of P6.
Now, it’s Hamilton vs his nemesis – Gasly. On lap 43, Hamilton makes a move and tries to attack the inside of turn 1. Gasly blocks successfully, but at turn 3 on the next lap, Hamilton succeeds. He gets ahead of Gasly and into P4. Even in the end, Latifi doesn’t disappoint. He ignores blue flags waved at him and got a 5 second time penalty for the same. On lap 48, Lance Stroll retires the car due to oscillations in the vehicle, noted by his engineer.
We now get to the end of the race. Max Verstappen gets the chequered flag, followed by Russell. Hamilton in P4. Lewis Hamilton receives Driver of the Day.
This race made it pretty evident for the fans that RedBull has managed to tame their engine reliability issues. On the other hand, the issue is now passed on to Ferrari Power units. Both drivers of Scuderia Ferrari, Zhou Guanyu and Kevin Magnussen, also faced engine-related problems in this race. This could escalate if the teams don’t look into the matter.
With this race, RedBulls are now 80 points ahead of Ferrari in World Constructor’s Championship. With the way Mercedes is performing, they could soon snatch the second place from Ferrari. Ferrari has a lot of catching up to do; look into their reliability issues as it cannot carry on further. They will only disappoint their fans and might run out of budget for this year.
Sergio Perez is officially into the battle for World Drivers Championship, taking second place from Charles Leclerc. Sergio Perez is 21 points behind the current leader and 13 points ahead of Charles Leclerc. Counting Charles Leclerc out of WDC would be a mistake even at this point unless Ferrari has another engine trouble in their next race. Max Verstappen, on the other hand, now has 25 career victories, equalling the record of the legends – Jim Clark (1960-1968) and Niki Lauda (1971-1979, 1982-1985) for ninth in the all-time list of winners.
Lastly, a lot of drivers here complained of back pain due to either the porpoising on the car. The undulating roads added further to the drivers’ misery. Lewis Hamilton was unable to keep himself together after the race and said that the pain was just incorrigible. Most of the drivers spoke about it openly, including Daniel Ricciardo. It is up to the FIA to look into the designs of the cars and see if something can be done within the new rules to change the current issues of porpoising. Driver safety should be of utmost importance here. Until then, it is on the teams to figure out what further could be done as RedBull managed to get rid of porpoising. All eyes will be on FIA.
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