10 things we learned from F1's Azerbaijan Grand Prix
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Max Verstappen remains four points clear of Lewis Hamilton at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship. A tyre failure on Lap 47 for Verstappen cost him the win in Baku and a potential chance to extend his lead to 15 points.On a weekend where Mercedes struggled for pace, Hamilton should have taken the win in the circumstances, having made a better start than Perez after the red flag but a misjudgement with a switch on his steering wheel moved the brake balance completely forward, causing him to lock-up and take to the escape road.Here are 10 things we learned from the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix…1. Hamilton is feeling the pressure.On a day where his main title rival hit trouble, many watching in Baku expected Hamilton to fully capitalise and reclaim the lead of the drivers’ championship when the FIA decided to resume the race with a standing start with three laps to goThe seven-time world champion made the perfect start to get past Perez into Turn 1 but then remarkably locked up and ran wide in the run-off, dropping to the back of the field.Had Hamilton gone on to take the victory, it would have been a decisive blow in the race for the title given Mercedes had the second-fastest car in Baku. Related ArticlesaccImages.createImage(); Horner disagrees with way Mercedes F1 boss Wolff ‘roasts his own team’accImages.createImage(); Williams F1 team boss Simon Roberts leaves in reshuffle2823259.0064.jpg accImages.createImage();With France, Austria and Britain coming up – all tracks that are likely to favour Mercedes on paper – Hamilton could have taken a substantial lead in the championship.It was another rare mistake from Hamilton, as we saw in Imola where he had a trip through the gravel trap but was bailed out by a timely Safety Car thanks to George Russell and Valtteri Bottas’ collision.When was the last time we’ve seen Hamilton make two high-profile mistakes in the same season? 2. Perez showing why he’s the perfect #2 for Red BullPerez continued his upward trajectory with a fine performance to claim his second career victory in F1.Related ArticlesaccImages.createImage(); Williams F1 team boss Simon Roberts leaves in reshuffleaccImages.createImage(); F1 drivers want answers over “joke” Safety Car delay in BakuEven without Verstappen’s misfortune, Perez performed magnificently to go from seventh to second with comfortable ease.Who knows, without his long pit stop he might have been able to have overcut Verstappen for the lead of the race.Perez resisted immense pressure from Hamilton behind for much of the race and picked up the pieces when it went all wrong for his teammate.”42823333.0064.jpg accImages.createImage();The only concern for Perez is his qualifying performances.While Valtteri Bottas struggled in Baku, he often is on it when it comes to qualifying, and as we saw in Barcelona and Portimao with Perez, a poor qualifying performance can leave you detached from the leading pack.3. The Mercedes ‘Diva’ has returnedThroughout 2017, Mercedes boss Toto Wolff labelled the W08 a “diva” for its varying level of performance and difficulties in getting the car setup but also the tyres into the right operating window. The W12 appears to have a similar issue as Mercedes had no pace whatsoever throughout Friday practice.”5It was a role reversal to Monaco where Bottas had the pace to challenge for pole, while Hamilton languished down the order.In Baku, Hamilton was right up there while the Finn never looked like he had the speed to challenge where he usually would.The smooth asphalt and lack of high-speed corners meant getting heat into the tyres proved tricky, although it’s unlikely this issue will carry into France, Austria or Silverstone. The Red Bull RB16B looks like a more complete package, while Mercedes’ W12 – is very fast, but tricky to get into the window.”64. Leclerc is F1’s best qualifier2820321.0064.jpg accImages.createImage();It was another breathtaking qualifying performance from Charles Leclerc in Baku as he claimed pole position for the second race in succession.Yes, he did benefit from a slipstream but the young Monegasque continues to extract the most from the Ferrari over one lap.Unlike in Monaco, Leclerc was able to start the race from pole position but Ferrari’s poor management of the rear tyres was crucial as he dropped behind Pierre Gasly and Sebastian Vettel.There’s no doubt Leclerc has been F1’s best qualifier in 2021 with the Ferrari driver boasting an average of 3.67 in terms of qualifying – only Verstappen (2.33) and Hamilton (2.50) have better.”75. Never underestimate a championSebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso showed their class on race day in Baku.Both drivers have struggled to get to grips with life at their new teams but Azerbaijan was a timely reminder that you should never underestimate a multiple-time F1 champion.Vettel went from 11th to second after an impressive first stint on the softs allowed him to overcut Yuki Tsunoda, before overtaking Gasly and Leclerc on track.2823291.0064.jpg accImages.createImage();Vettel moved up to second following the misfortune of Verstappen and Hamilton’s mistake on the restart to finish second. Alpine didn’t have the race pace to maintain a top ten finishing position but we saw the best of Alonso off the start yet again.”8The Spaniard moved up to sixth from 10th after the red flag stoppage, with a ballsy overtake on Tsunoda around the outside of Turn 5.A reminder to everyone – myself included – that Vettel and Alonso still have what it takes to compete at the highest level.6. Yuki’s move to Italy is paying offAfter ing in final practice for the Monaco Grand Prix, Red Bull decided to move Tsunoda from Milton Keynes to Faenza in Italy, where AlphaTauri is based.”9It seems like his move is already paying off as he enjoyed his strongest weekend as an F1 driver so far.The Japanese rookie progressed into Q3 for the first time and finished inside the top seven.A positive step forward. 2823119.0064.jpg accImages.createImage();7. Aggressive Mazepin is slowly improvingNikita Mazepin continued his notable improvement from Monaco as he was narrowly out-qualified by Haas teammate Mick Schumacher by less than a tenth of a second.”10The race proved to be less fruitful as he ran over 50 seconds behind his teammate when he had an off at Turn 4.Mazepin got past Schumacher at the restart into Turn 4 but lost out on the run to the line as the German nicked 13th. No doubt that Mazepin’s defence was over the line, he’s enjoyed a steady improvement since his torrid first weekend in Bahrain.8. Questions for Pirelli…Pirelli has been forced to conduct a full investigation to determine what caused the tyre blowouts that ended Stroll and Verstappen’s race.Pirelli has revealed details of its early findings, suggesting it’s likely to be debris given that they found cuts in Hamilton’s C3 tyre set.2822850.0064.jpg accImages.createImage();Regardless, it’s not the first time we’ve had similar blowouts over the years since Pirelli became F1’s sole tyre supplier in 2011.These types of incidents shouldn’t be happening and both drivers were fortunate to have got away unscatched given how both were travelling at the time.Let’s wait for the outcome of Pirelli’s investigation.9. …And the FIALeclerc vented his frustration at the FIA about why it took so long to deploy the Safety Car after Max Verstappen’s .“That’s a joke,” he said twice over team radio, before adding: “Put the f–king Safety Car out straight away, why are they waiting?”The Ferrari driver had a point given that the majority of the field passed Verstappen and his stricken Red Bull without there being a Safety Car or VSC. Something to look at for the FIA moving forward into France.2822832.0064.jpg accImages.createImage();10. Is Baku F1’s best street circuit?Unlike Monaco, Baku threw up another dramatic thriller.Safety Cars, red flags, great overtakes – Baku is everything you want from a street circuit.The combination of long straights and the tight, twisty ‘Old Town’ section mean teams have to compromise their setup, rather than run completely low or high downforce. Baku remains one of the most challenging circuits on the F1 calendar and given that every year it throws up a good race, it certainly warrants a spot on the calendar for the foreseeable future.
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