GRAND PRIX D'AZERBAÏDJAN - Pole de Leclerc (Ferrari), chances de Mercedes, course spectaculaire : le GP en questions

GRAND PRIX D’AZERBAÏDJAN – Pole de Leclerc (Ferrari), chances de Mercedes, course spectaculaire : le GP en questions

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WHAT TIME IS THE DEPARTURE?

1 p.m., due to the time difference with Azerbaijan.

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IS THE POLE A GUARANTEE OF SUCCESS?

Well no. In four editions, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix has been won only once by the poleman. This is Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes), invincible in qualifying and then in the race in 2019. Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton and even Nico Rosberg, during the European Grand Prix which took place in Baku in 2016, did not not take advantage of their leading position. Charles Leclerc is also on the list. And when we know that the Monegasque has only converted four of his poles into victories, the identity of the future winner can legitimately be the subject of questions.

CAN RED BULLS BEAT FERRARI?

Yes, totally. They have already taken the best of the Transalpins four times this season, despite the pole positions of Charles Leclerc. Their top speed speaks for itself, especially in Baku which has the longest straight line of the year (2,200 metres). In addition, Christian Horner seems a little too confident about his team’s chances, repeating at will that he is concentrating on the race on Sunday while his drivers benefit from a new power unit.

To drive the point home, Max Verstappen even admitted to fearing the Ferraris on a fast lap more than on long stints. Fear shared by Laurent Mekies, Ferrari race director: “We expect Red Bull to be maybe a bit stronger during the race.”

WILL MERCEDES CREATE A SURPRISE?

Not really, although nothing is impossible. Despite the second separating them from the top of the grid, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton managed their qualifying session by finishing 5th and 7th. But the Silver Arrows suffer terribly from porpoising in Baku. Just look at the on-board cameras to become aware of the handicap caused by this phenomenon.

“The gaps with Ferrari and Red Bull are huge and it’s in the corners where we lose the most. We certainly have problems with the rebounds on the straights but without that we would still lack performance”said Andrew Shovlin, Mercedes’ chief track engineer. Toto Wolff uses humor when imagining Mercedes winning the race: “It would take a little luck and the first four are wrong at turn 1! More seriously, on pure pace, we can consider finishing 5th and 6th.”

IS THE AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX SYNONYMOUS WITH A SHOW?

Certainly ! Baku offers chaotic and spectacular races. Last year alone, there were five lead changes and 21 overtakes in 51 laps. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) was dominating the race in 2021 when his rear left tire blew out, leading to a restart during which Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) snatched lead from Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) before shooting straight into the first corner …

Other examples? In 2017, the race was marred by three safety car exits and seven retirements. The 2018 edition was marked by the fratricidal clash between the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen, while Valtteri Bottas said goodbye to victory three laps from the finish due to debris on the track.

WHICH TURNS SHOULD YOU WATCH?

Turns 3 and 15 proved tricky for the drivers on Saturday. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) hit the wall with the nose of his single-seater at No. 15. His team-mate Lance Stroll made the same mistake at the entrance to Old Town, before exploding his front wing at the second corner and ending his Q1 participation prematurely. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) shot straight at No. 3 and Fernando Alonso (Alpine) at No. 15. Movement for which he was singled out by Alex Albon (Williams).

WHAT ABOUT TRICOLOR CHANCES?

Pierre Gasly is at ease on the Azerbaijani track. The Frenchman wore his AlphaTauri in the Top 7 of Les Libres twice, before setting the 6th fastest time in qualifying, well positioned between the Mercedes. His best result of the season. Azerbaijan succeeds, since he finished third in 2021 after a duel with Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) in the final loops. Still, Gasly has only kept one set of hard tires which will be popular with many teams on Sunday…

Esteban Ocon (Alpine), for his part, finished P13 on Saturday afternoon. The fault mainly with a yellow flag released at the wrong time in Q2. However, the Ebroïcien remains convinced that he can “go back up” the peloton during the race: “It’s a track where there are opportunities, where you can overtake. We have good speed so we’ll do everything to take points. We’ll have to get to the end of this race, it’s super important, but we will do everything for it.”

Pierre Gasly

Credit: Getty Images

WHAT CAN MCLAREN EXPECT?

The biggest disappointment in qualifying, tied with 15th place for Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo). Comfortably installed in the Top 6 of the third Free on Saturday morning, Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo failed to hoist their McLaren beyond Q2, finishing respectively P11 and P12. Two reasons for satisfaction for the Woking team: its competitor Alpine placed only one driver in the first part of the grid (Fernando Alonso, 10th) and the Australian driver’s race engineer assured him that he had a car capable of fighting for the points in Azerbaijan.

WHAT TYPES OF TIRES FOR THIS URBAN CIRCUIT?

Last year, Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) and Max Verstappen (Red Bull) suffered the spectacular explosion of their left rear tire. The choice of Pirelli for this new edition of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was therefore expected and scrutinized. As in 2021, the Italian manufacturer has decided to bring its softest tires with the C3, C4 and C5.

“Until Jeddah came, Baku was the fastest street circuit of the year. low levels of abrasion and contained side loadsexplained Mario Isola, director of Pirelli Motorsport. You have to have enough heat in the front tires to generate grip, despite the long straights which cool them down, but not too much heat in the rear, otherwise it is easy to overheat them in the traction zones.

WHAT STRATEGY FOR THE 51 TOURS?

Pirelli recommends starting with Mediums before swapping them between the 18th and 23rd lap for Hards. Another one-stop strategy, but more risky: Soft then white rubber between the 14th and 20th loop to go to the end of this Grand Prix. For these two options, the times are similar.

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