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F1 Azerbaijan GP – Unusual Second Place for Verstappen : A Detailed Explanation



F1 Azerbaijan GP 2023 Unusual Second Place for Verstappen A Detailed Explanation

In the bustling city of Baku, a dramatic turn of events unfolded during the Formula 1 race as Max Verstappen’s victory was snatched from his grasp. When a safety car intervention was triggered by Nyck de Vries’ accident, Verstappen’s carefully planned strategy crumbled, leaving his teammate Sergio Perez to seize the opportunity and claim a hard-fought win.

The situation couldn’t have been more inconvenient for Max Verstappen when his friend Nyck de Vries pulled his AlphaTauri off at Turn 6, causing a safety car intervention in the Formula 1 race in Baku just 10 laps in. Leading the race with teammate Sergio Perez closely behind, Verstappen was struggling with rear tire temperatures, while Perez’s tires appeared to be in better shape.

If de Vries had managed to reverse out of the run-off area and rejoin the race – which initially seemed likely – and Max remained on track, there was a high probability of Perez overtaking him with the help of DRS. This situation could have potentially caused an uproar within Verstappen’s team, especially if the subsequent pitstop for Perez would have cost him even more time.

Sticking with the ‘box, box, box’ instruction seemed like a better strategy to gain a slight advantage over Perez and keep him at bay, at least temporarily. However, de Vries, despite having his engine running, had damaged his front left suspension after hitting the Turn 5 apex barrier. The broken track rod meant he wouldn’t be able to continue racing. By the time this was realized and the safety car was deployed, Verstappen had already made his pitstop and was on his out-lap at Turn 2. This allowed Perez (and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari) to pass him by pitting during the safety car period, losing 9 seconds less to the field than Verstappen had. This turn of events favored Perez, but he still had to work hard to seize the victory.

“The first stint was crucial,” an elated but exhausted Perez commented after 40 laps of relentless effort to keep Verstappen out of his DRS range. The hard tires, which most drivers switched to during pitstops, were durable enough to last until the end, allowing Perez and Verstappen to engage in a head-to-head battle.

By racing aggressively, Perez managed to maintain a lead of over 1 second, sometimes barely, until he finally broke Verstappen’s resolve. However, the immense concentration required to achieve this feat, with walls ready to catch any mistake, cannot be overstated. With approximately 12 laps remaining, Perez nearly lost the race when he struck the Turn 15 wall with his right front tire.

The impact was quite strong. “I kept a close eye on the tire to see if I had damaged it,” Perez said. Surprisingly, not only did he escape unscathed, but he also discovered that the collision had somehow improved the car’s performance. It’s possible that the hit favorably altered the camber. “It actually gave me a bit more front-end grip,” he explained. Following this eye-opening experience and with an adjusted setup, as well as Verstappen now trailing by 3 seconds, Perez secured the race victory. He departed Azerbaijan trailing Verstappen by just six points in the championship standings.


So, what contributed to Perez’s strong performance during the first stint, putting him in a position to potentially overtake Verstappen for the lead right before de Vries triggered the safety car?

Perez has a remarkable history of speed in Baku. In 2016, he recorded the second-fastest qualifying time while driving for Force India, outpacing the Red Bulls, Ferraris, and other competitors (although he faced a five-place gearbox penalty).

This time around, Perez outperformed Verstappen in Saturday’s Sprint qualifying and went on to claim victory in the 17-lap race. In Friday’s qualifying for the Grand Prix itself, he was just 0.1 seconds behind. Therefore, his innate speed at this circuit was undoubtedly competitive, making for an exciting race once both drivers managed to overtake the pole-sitting Ferrari of Leclerc within the first four laps.

Perez cleverly utilized DRS to pressure Verstappen and his tires. DRS accounts for around 0.3 seconds of lap time improvement, allowing Perez to sacrifice 0.3 seconds of cornering time on the delicate medium tires that most drivers started with while still maintaining a strong presence in Verstappen’s mirrors at the end of the DRS zones.

The medium-compound rear tires were susceptible to overheating and graining, so being able to ease off by 0.3 seconds in the corners and rely on DRS to make up the difference was a significant advantage.

Verstappen, fully aware of the need to preserve the medium tires during the first stint with heavy fuel loads, didn’t initially push as hard as he could in the two laps after passing Leclerc and before Perez overtook the Ferrari. Reflecting on the race, Verstappen admitted, “In hindsight, I just wasn’t pushing hard enough in some corners. I could have been more aggressive with the tires. I was being a bit too careful.”

In essence, securing the best possible stint time wasn’t Verstappen’s main concern at that moment. Given the Red Bulls’ superior speed, he could have focused on pushing harder early on to prevent Perez from entering his DRS range. Once Perez achieved that, Verstappen was compelled to overwork his tires anyway. Max reasoned it would have been more effective to push harder during those two laps when Perez was still behind Leclerc.


Instead, he lapped about 0.7 seconds slower than his potential for each of those laps. By the time Perez overtook the Ferrari, he was only 1.2 seconds behind Max, whereas it could have been around 2.6-2.7 seconds. From that point, it would have been challenging for Perez to get within DRS range before the pitstop window opened – and without DRS, he wouldn’t have been able to force Verstappen into further tire degradation.

Verstappen experienced difficulties with his car’s setup, lacking confidence in the front end and losing time to Perez when braking for Turns 2 and 3, as well as during the entry to the tight Turn 8. Consequently, when Perez was only 1.2 seconds behind after passing Leclerc, Verstappen couldn’t maintain a pace that would keep Perez from closing the gap to less than 1 second and activating DRS. “The car just didn’t feel very good between entry and mid-corner,” Max explained, “and that’s what this place is all about. So I was playing with my tools, trying to get a good balance.

“I actually managed to find it about 10 laps from the end, but of course, it was too late by then. However, on the bright side, I think it’s actually given us a better understanding of the car. Street circuits reveal these issues better than a normal racetrack, which can sometimes mask them, I believe.

“We have different tires this year, and I think that has made a difference in getting the best out of the car. I think I’m operating the tools a little differently compared to Checo, and maybe I didn’t have it right for these new tires. Some weekends you don’t have to touch the car, and it’s a rocketship. We still have a rocketship, but I didn’t get the best out of it here.” This is something Verstappen might not have discovered if Perez hadn’t been so well-adapted to the circuit and able to apply pressure on him.

Verstappen was uncomfortable with the front end’s lack of responsiveness, preventing him from confidently increasing his entry speeds with the walls in close proximity. His usual approach of turning in early at high speeds and then blending the brakes with cornering to achieve the final rotation late in the entry phase didn’t seem viable. “I’m having a lot of brake issues,” he reported to his race engineer as Perez reduced the gap between them.

It wasn’t that there was a problem with the brakes, but rather that Verstappen couldn’t execute his usual effective entry phase. Gianpiero Lambiase attempted to guide him through the torque maps for engine braking, differential settings, and various toggle switches. Meanwhile, Perez—whose driving style was simpler and didn’t require that kind of car response—relentlessly closed in and loomed large in Verstappen’s mirrors.

Perez consistently gained time on Verstappen entering Turns 2, 3, and 8, as well as in the DRS zones, causing Max’s rear tires to heat up even more. Verstappen was eager for the pitstop to arrive. On the ninth lap, he radioed, “The tires don’t feel fantastic.”


“Make sure you stay on top of your tools,” responded ‘GP’ [Verstappen’s engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase]. “The front right,” he suggested. However, the car just wouldn’t rotate around the front right in a way that gave Max any confidence.

“Currently, you’re on Torque 6,” GP pointed out, indicating that Verstappen was running a significant amount of engine braking and not maximizing braking efficiency. “Yeah, but I’m sliding,” Max countered, referring to the understeer he was trying to limit by using a more rearward brake bias to help rotate the car from the rear.

However, this was affecting his rear tire temperatures. As he was completing what would later be his in-lap, a strip of graining was visible on his left-rear tire. This was the result of excessive tread temperatures impacting the medium tires.

Perez, on the other hand, wasn’t experiencing any of these issues. He was ready to pass and secure the win when Verstappen suddenly entered the pit lane. Perez likely thought the competition was over, assuming Max would gain time with the earlier stop and avoid tire degradation on the more durable hard compound tires they’d use for the remainder of the race. That was until De Vries intervened.

During the second stint of the race, Perez was in control but well aware of the challenge he faced. Verstappen quickly overtook Leclerc once more and initiated his pursuit of Perez. However, no matter how hard Max tried, Perez managed to respond, thereby keeping his fight for the world title alive.

With two wins each (three for Perez and two for Verstappen, including the sprint), it’s clear that Perez benefited from the safety car, but he also seemed to have a slight edge regardless. “You were unlucky there,” Perez said graciously to Verstappen. “Yeah, it happens,” Max replied. “You had it last year. In Jeddah.”

The effortless rotation that the Red Bull couldn’t provide to Verstappen’s satisfaction, particularly at this circuit, is something the Ferrari excels at. This characteristic has been a hallmark of the Ferrari since at least 2021 (when Leclerc also secured pole position with a less competitive car). The Ferrari boasts an impressively smooth response in slow corners, which, when combined with Leclerc’s bold driving style, can be used to devastating effect—especially when the Red Bull struggles to bring its front tires up to temperature during the initial stages of a qualifying lap.


Once the Red Bull’s tires reach optimal performance and the RB19 can fully utilize its aerodynamic advantage, the Ferrari’s pace can’t compare. Slower through the turns and on the straights, particularly in the DRS zones, the Ferrari is harder on its tires. This combination enabled Leclerc to clinch pole twice (once on Friday and again for the Sprint on Saturday) and finish second in the short sprint race, as well as third in the Grand Prix.

Leclerc had to work hard to fend off Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin in the closing laps. The Aston boasted better tire degradation, and Alonso patiently conserved his tires before initiating a late assault. To his surprise, Leclerc’s tires had enough life left to counter. “I think they got lucky with the cloud cover,” Alonso remarked, as it led to less tire degradation than anticipated. Both drivers traded fastest laps, only slightly slower than Verstappen’s, while George Russell secured the actual fastest lap for Mercedes with a fresh set of softs.

Lewis Hamilton’s race was hindered by pitting just before the safety car, a move prompted by Alonso’s strategic use of his better tire degradation. Nevertheless, Hamilton managed a respectable recovery to sixth place, overtaking Russell after the restart and Lance Stroll’s Aston following a Turn 16 misstep. High rear temperatures, however, prevented Hamilton from breaking through Carlos Sainz’s defense of fifth place.

Trailing significantly behind, Lando Norris’s McLaren and Yuki Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri secured the final two points-paying positions. Both cars benefitted from significant upgrades at this race. Oscar Piastri, Alex Albon, and Kevin Magnussen were not far behind.

“That was intense,” Perez admitted. “We pushed to the maximum to stay ahead. I know what Max is like. We pushed each other so hard. I gave it my all.” When asked about his title prospects, Perez said, “With three kids at home, I wouldn’t be traveling around the world if I didn’t think I could be world champion.”

There are still many races to go, but Verstappen might be realizing that this championship won’t be a cakewalk.

F1 Azerbaijan GP – Unusual Second Place for Verstappen : A Detailed Explanation F1 Azerbaijan GP – Unusual Second Place for Verstappen : A Detailed Explanation F1 Azerbaijan GP – Unusual Second Place for Verstappen : A Detailed Explanation F1 Azerbaijan GP – Unusual Second Place for Verstappen : A Detailed Explanation F1 Azerbaijan GP – Unusual Second Place for Verstappen : A Detailed Explanation F1 Azerbaijan GP – Unusual Second Place for Verstappen : A Detailed Explanation

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