Breaking Down the Thrills and Disappointments of the 2023 Azerbaijan GP
Breaking Down the Thrills and Disappointments of the 2023 Azerbaijan GP: Perez’s Performance Validates His Ability, Leclerc’s Reputation Gains a Boost, Alonso Shines, and Mercedes Struggles.
Leclerc Shines in Baku, Bolsters Reputation for Potential Suitors
Usually, going from first to third is not a sign of an exciting race, but in this case, it was the best that could be hoped for.
Charles Leclerc’s performance over the weekend has further bolstered his reputation and market value for potential suitors after 2024.
During the race, he managed his race pace-deficient Ferrari exceptionally well, avoiding a potential battle for a podium spot with Fernando Alonso and leaving his teammate Carlos Sainz over 20 seconds behind. Leclerc was even closer to winning than he was to Sainz, which speaks volumes about his impressive driving.
Alonso’s Brilliance: Low Grid Position Doesn’t Define Your Weekend
Formula 1 drivers often repeat the cliché that Sunday is the most important day, especially when things don’t go well during qualifying.
Fernando Alonso’s performance in this race perfectly exemplifies how a relatively low grid position doesn’t have to define your weekend.
Despite qualifying in sixth position, over a second slower than Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari, Alonso finished less than a second behind him, nearly securing his fourth consecutive podium finish of the 2023 season. He was also 16 seconds ahead of the other Aston Martin.
Alonso’s remarkable awareness of his surroundings is almost unparalleled.
He constantly provided crucial information to his Aston Martin team, such as the fact that Lewis Hamilton’s tires were deteriorating quickly and how adjusting brake balance could help his teammate, Lance Stroll.
Moreover, his move to take fourth place from Carlos Sainz just after the safety car restart was as impressive and opportunistic as the maneuver he pulled off on Hamilton in Bahrain.
Alonso’s relentless brilliance was instrumental in Aston Martin’s strong performance in this race.
McLaren’s Norris Earns Two Points in Impressive Performance
When all the drivers from the top four teams finish a race without any significant issues, a ninth-place finish is typically the best that a midfield driver can hope for.
Thus, Lando Norris and McLaren deserve credit for earning two points. McLaren’s upgrades for the Baku circuit performed well, and the team managed to widen the gap between themselves and Alpine, who had another frustrating weekend due to their own mistakes.
As a result, McLaren solidified their position in fifth place in the constructors’ championship.
Perez Outshines Verstappen: Red Bull Teammates Battle for Victory
Although Red Bull driver Sergio Perez claimed victory over his teammate Max Verstappen, it was not just the outcome that made him a “winner.” Perez’s performance was impressive, especially in the early stages of the race where his speed forced Verstappen to pit for new tyres earlier than desired.
Throughout the race, Perez was able to keep Verstappen at bay and even outdrove him on some occasions. While we can’t be certain whether Perez could have passed Verstappen for victory, his driving showed he had a good chance.
Additionally, Perez’s adjustments to his driving style allowed him to increase his pace, particularly in sector two where he was consistently faster than Verstappen on race day. This performance indicates that Perez is not simply a number two driver and is striving to improve, as evidenced by his significant progress on a circuit where he struggled in the previous year’s race. While it may not signal a major shift in the championship, it demonstrates that Perez is a force to be reckoned with.
Tsunoda Overcomes Setbacks to Score Points for AlphaTauri
Despite encountering several setbacks during the weekend, including a qualifying red flag, contact with his teammate, and a crash, Yuki Tsunoda put in an impressive performance to recover and earn two points in the race.
So far this season, Tsunoda has had to work hard for the points he has scored, and it seems unlikely that AlphaTauri will have many more opportunities to add to their tally.
However, in terms of Tsunoda’s position in the Red Bull hierarchy and his ability to fulfill the potential that initially attracted Red Bull to him, this performance represents another positive step forward.
Russell’s “Funny Old Game” Weekend: Mercedes Struggles Continue
After a strong performance in the previous race, where he briefly led and qualified second, George Russell described Formula 1 as a “funny old game” when he unexpectedly failed to qualify in the top 10 in Azerbaijan.
Despite Mercedes’ efforts over the four-week break and the change in technical director, the W14 was never close to challenging for the front row or a podium finish in Baku.
Even without the setback of pitting before the safety car intervention, Lewis Hamilton, who was the stronger of the two Mercedes drivers in Baku, would not have been able to beat Charles Leclerc or Fernando Alonso.
The W14 was the fourth-best car on the circuit, according to Hamilton.
Both Russell and Hamilton expressed their frustrations with the car’s performance, describing it as slow both in straight lines and corners and difficult to drive. Russell even suggested that Mercedes could remove the rear wing and still be slower on the straight than Red Bull’s RB19 with DRS open.
With a lot of work ahead of them, Mercedes’ new technical director, James Allison, will have his work cut out for him.
Sainz, Stroll, and Russell All Disappointed by Teammates in Baku
Several drivers, including Carlos Sainz, Lance Stroll, and George Russell, were soundly beaten by their respective teammates in Baku and cannot view the weekend as anything other than a disappointment.
Sainz finished more than 24 seconds behind Ferrari teammate Charles Leclerc, having qualified eight tenths of a second behind him on Friday. This equates to a deficit of roughly half a second per lap in terms of race pace, even without accounting for the safety car intervention.
Sainz admitted that he simply could not get comfortable with the revised Ferrari set-up, which he had previously used effectively to mount a recovery drive in Melbourne. He faces a significant and rapid learning curve before the start of Miami practice.
Despite being a previous podium finisher in Baku, Stroll was outclassed by teammate Fernando Alonso in both qualifying and the race.
Despite running together during the lap-14 restart, 37 laps later, Stroll was nearly 30 seconds behind his teammate, with a deficit of roughly eight tenths per lap.
Although George Russell was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the safety car intervention, he lost position to Stroll and teammate Lewis Hamilton due to a mistake during the restart. Despite setting the fastest lap, this was likely the first weekend of the 2023 season where he was comprehensively outperformed by Hamilton.
Verstappen’s Disappointing Day in Baku Signals Step Backward
Compared to last season, when Max Verstappen won in Baku with a 21-second lead over Sergio Perez, his two-second loss to Perez this year represents a clear step back for the reigning champion. Verstappen’s championship lead has also shrunk to single digits, making this a disappointing day for him overall.
While it’s possible that Verstappen could have held off Perez without the safety car intervention that flipped the order after his pitstop, it would still have been viewed as a letdown given the expectation that he should dominate his teammate.
This is reminiscent of the pattern seen in early 2022, when Perez was more comfortable with the initial balance of Red Bull’s car than Verstappen was. It’s possible that the RB19’s anti-squat/dive suspension, which provides consistent downforce, limits front grip and constrains Verstappen’s performance compared to Perez, who thrives in such conditions.
Verstappen did note feeling more comfortable in the car as the fuel burned off during the final 10 laps of the race. However, he was only able to match Perez’s pace at that point, not beat it.
In terms of pure performance, Verstappen was the second-best Red Bull driver during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, irrespective of the outcome.
From Hero to Zero: Nyck de Vries’ Disappointing Performance in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
After an impressive performance in the sole practice session of the weekend, it was difficult to imagine that Nyck de Vries would end Sunday in an even worse position. While there were mitigating circumstances to his crash during Friday’s qualifying session, it was unlikely that he would score points after that, given how the race unfolded.
However, his crash on Sunday was still quite dire, as he clipped the inside wall at Baku, which always looks particularly embarrassing.
De Vries was on an upward trajectory after his first race weekend in Formula 1, but after five races, he is in a difficult situation.
Alfa Romeo Beats Williams and Haas to Avoid Last Place
Alfa Romeo managed to beat Williams and Haas to a place in the losers column due to Valtteri Bottas’s miserable race and the only mechanical-related retirement of Zhou Guanyu’s mid-race stoppage.
Bottas finished as the clear last car on the road after he dropped five places on the opening lap following midfield skirmishes with Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, which tapped his rear. Bottas took avoiding action after Oscar Piastri and Alex Albon made light contact.
Throughout the weekend, it appeared that Alfa Romeo was the least likely team to score points, with every other team having significant running in the top 10.
Alpine’s Nightmare Weekend in Baku Raises Concerns for Future
It was a nightmare weekend from the start for Alpine at Baku, and the race was fittingly bad. While it was difficult to gauge the effectiveness of their upgrades at this circuit, it was clear that the team struggled throughout the weekend.
While Esteban Ocon managed to hold on to a top 10 position for a significant portion of the race on used hard tyres, it was hardly an encouraging sign for the team, especially considering that he was being hounded by a Haas for much of that stint.
Ultimately, Alpine’s rough Friday seemed to set the tone for the rest of the weekend, and the team was a non-factor throughout. This is particularly concerning for a weekend where extra points are at stake.
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