After the Monaco Grand Prix, the Formula 1 Circus goes to Baku, home of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, sixth round of the World Championship. The race is held on the Baku road circuit, which has been on the calendar since 2016, the season in which the denomination of the European Grand Prix was used. From the following year it took the name of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The track winds through the streets of the Azerbaijani capital for a length of 6.003 meters, the third longest on the calendar after Spa-Francorchamps and the Jeddah Corniche Circuit, and alternates between very fast and very slow sections. It is covered in an anti-clockwise direction and is made up of 20 curves, 12 to the left and 8 to the right. It also features the longest straight in the World Championship, at 2.2 kilometers, approximately double the finish straight at Monza, which will allow the cars to reach very high speeds. The first 7 curves are all 90°, while the following section, which winds through the old city area, has very narrow sections, especially near curves 8-9-10, next to the castle. It is therefore necessary to find the right set-up to be fast on the straights, but without compromising driveability too much on slow stretches. Hermann Tilke, who was part of the design of the track, had stated at the time of the presentation:
"We have created a street circuit that is very demanding, in terms of engineering and design, and which builds on the interesting urban atmosphere of Baku, with its great combination of history and 21st century style. The historic center, seafront and imposing Parliament House combine to provide a perfect backdrop to the new rink. Of course, street circuits have their limitations, but we were able to integrate some unique features to ensure a fascinating race. For example, there will be a narrow uphill section along the old city walls which will reward precision and courage, as well as a 2.2 km accelerating section alongside the seafront which will see very high speeds so as to create an incredible spectacle for enthusiasts. on the track and at home".
The Grand Prix returns to the calendar, in its classic location in June, after being canceled in the previous season due to the Covid-19 pandemic and due to the timing of the construction of the circuit on the streets of the Azerbaijani capital in a short time . Prior to the postponement of the Turkish Grand Prix, which was added to the calendar to replace the cancellation of the Canadian Grand Prix due to the pandemic, speculation had been raised of a date swap with the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, thus postponing the Grand Prix Prize for one week, but this was not possible as on 12 June 2021 the Azerbaijani stadium will host the match between the national teams of Wales and Switzerland, valid for group A of the 2020 European football championship. Arif Rahimov, member of the organizing committee of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, explains the situation thus:
"I know there is a problem with their current Covid situation and the UK government has raised the alert status on Turkey, it stands to reason that it could put the race at risk, as most of the teams are based in the United Kingdom. There have been talks about a possible date swap, but we can't move the race. There isn't much we can do because the European Football Championships start the following weekend, had it been any other year there would have been no problems, but this year it just can't be done".
The event is held behind closed doors due to the problems dictated by the pandemic, unlike the last race held in Monte-Carlo. The Azerbaijani organizer declares:
"The race weekend came too quickly and at the moment we are unable to host the event with the public in the stands. We therefore confirm that the match scheduled for the weekend between 4.5 and 6 June will take place behind closed doors and without the presence of fans".
On the other hand, on the occasion of the Spanish Grand Prix, the stands recorded the presence of 1.000 employees of the circuit. After competing in the previous Monaco Grand Prix with a livery characterized by its classic orange, combined with the blue of the sponsor Gulf Oil, from this race McLaren returns to use the classic livery shown during the rest of the season, starting from the tests. Lando Norris publicly praised the livery, much appreciated also by the public of enthusiasts:
"Ours was by far the most beautiful car on the entire starting grid. I told Zak Brown these colors are even better than our classics".
However, the McLaren team principal, Andreas Seidl, reiterates that despite the various appreciations, it will not be proposed again in the rest of the season:
"It was clear from the start that it would only be used on one occasion. It was designed for an iconic race and to celebrate the partnership with Gulf that has been going on since the 60s. This was the idea behind the project".
On the eve of the race, some doubts arose regarding the presence of the Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas, who was stuck in the airport in Finland. The pilot, however, manages to reach the Azerbaijani capital and is regularly present at the Grand Prix. With a video posted on his social channels, the Finn explains the situation in which he found himself:
"I'm still in Finland, the plane should have already been in Baku by now. But I've been at the airport for five and a half hours now. I had some problems with the flight and had to find a new plane. I finally found another one, but it's still not starting. But it will soon, hopefully".
The former Formula 1 driver Enrique Bernoldi is appointed assistant commissioner by the Federation; the Brazilian fills this role for the first time, in a race weekend. For this Grand Prix, the German car manufacturer Mercedes supplied the safety car and the medical car. The FIA announces the evaluation of the regulations in force in the IndyCar Series championship in which the time is canceled for those who cause the exposure of the red flag in qualifying, after what happened to Charles Leclerc in the previous Monaco Grand Prix, which incident is being investigated by the Federation to raise any doubts. Toto Wolff comments favorably on this possible novelty, but without focusing attention on the episode that happened to Charles Leclerc:
"I think it's an intelligent rule that would clear the field of any kind of doubt and avoid controversy. In any case, I absolutely don't believe that Leclerc voluntarily crashed the car, because there are too many variables and risks associated with the integrity of the various components at stake . As happened in the past in all the accidents that took place in Monaco, only the driver knows exactly what happened".
Michael Masi, Race Director for the FIA, reveals that the Federation has analyzed the elements at its disposal to remove any doubts about any hypothesis of voluntary action by Leclerc:
"The accident immediately passed under our magnifying glass and it immediately seemed quite clear that it was a mistake in Turn 15. After having also seen the data and communications with the garage, I can state that no rider would go so heavily damaging his single-seater, also due to the consequences that could derive from such an impact".
After Red Bull Racing had announced in the previous weeks the hiring of five engineers from Mercedes, on the eve of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix it is speculated that the Anglo-Austrian team may have also hired Andy Cowell's former deputy: however it is sure that Red Bull Powertrains will go live from April 2022. Steve Blewett will be the new Production Director of the power unit (previously responsible for production of Mercedes HPE since 2010). Omid Mostaghimi will be responsible for electronics and powertrain ERS (previously team leader for PU Mercedes electronics, 12 years with the Anglo-German team). Pip Clode will lead mechanical design at ERS (formerly team leader F1 Power Unit Concept Mercedes, 15 years in Brixworth). Anton Mayo will be responsible for the design of the ICE (previously Mercedes mechanical engineer and team leader of engineers, since 2015). Steve Brodie will be the ICE operations team leader (formerly responsible for Mercedes final control). Although the press release does not mention where the engineers are from, Christian Horner admits to having looked around:
"Success will only be achieved by bringing in the best and brightest talent, providing them with the right tools and environment to work. These appointments demonstrate our commitment and the UK factory allows us to draw on a huge pool of talented engineers. They will be working with our new Technical Director, Ben Hodgkinson and key personnel from Honda Racing Development. They are all experienced, competent and have an innovative nature: we will have the strongest possible engine technical platform for the future".
These join Ben Hodgkinson, a prominent figure in the technical organization of Mercedes, who will be the leader of the new Red Bull hub for the construction of engines. Helmut Marko explains that Red Bull didn't even have to beg Ben Hodgkinson to accept the role of leader of PowerTrains Limited at all costs:
"He applied himself by replying to our job advertisement, we didn't have to hunt him down. He's not the only one who wants to join us. There are other prestigious figures whose names I cannot name. I only know one thing: if Niki Lauda were still alive we would not have succeeded. Mercedes are trying in an absolutely legal way to delay Hodgkinson's arrival at Red Bull as much as possible, but they won't be able to do it for as long as they would like".
After Andrea Kimi Antonelli and Alex Powell, on Tuesday 1 June 2021 Mercedes announces the engagement of a new driver of Chinese origins in its Academy, the thirteen-year-old Yuanpu Cui, currently engaged in the Italian karting championship with the Kart Republic-Argenti team. In addition to the three kart drivers, the Academy of the German team also includes Frederik Vesti and Paul Aron, respectively engaged in Formula 3 and in the regional European Formula 3 Championship. The head of the academy, Mercedes Gwen Lagrue, proudly welcomes the very young newcomer:
"He's the main talent in karting originally from China, and there hasn't been a Chinese driver in Formula 1 yet: let's see how he progresses and how we can help him level up. Yuanpu has certainly caught our attention and has shown great potential so far. We are proud to support young riders from different countries and backgrounds".
For this race, Pirelli, the sole tire supplier, brings C3, C4 and C5 compound tyres, the softest in the range available. Pirelli's F1 and Car Racing manager Mario Isola explains the reasons for this choice by the Milanese company, which hopes to offer more unpredictability and strategic variables:
"From a one-of-a-kind track to another equally particular one: Baku has many differences from Monaco, but the precision required in avoiding mistakes is the same. For the first time we are bringing the three softest compounds of the P Zero range to Azerbaijan, already seen this year in action in Monaco. The reason for this choice lies in the fact that in 2019 the hard was not used by anyone for the race strategy, unlike the medium chosen by everyone. With this nomination we hope to see all three compounds play an important role and consequently different strategies in the race. In Formula 2 there is a step between the compounds, as already happened in the first round in Bahrain: a choice that creates a clear difference between the solutions available and which should lead to exciting and very tactical races, on a challenging track which he is famous for his unpredictability".
The FIA establishes two zones where the drivers can activate the Drag Reduction System: the first zone is established on the pit straight, with the driver gap determination point set at turn 20, while the second zone in the section between turn 2 and curve 3, with the detection point placed before the second curve. Compared to previous editions and following the instructions of race director Michael Masi, the curb entering turn 8 is modified to allow the riders a better approach entering the corner. This point on the track has been subject to red flag incidents in the past. The race direction also informs the drivers that they are carefully examined in case of suspicious slowdowns in an attempt to find the correct slipstream in the long main straight of the circuit. Article 27.4 of the sporting regulations will be taken into great consideration by the race stewards during the weekend that will see F1 teams and drivers busy on the Baku circuit for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, especially when qualifying kicks off. The aforementioned article states that it is forbidden to drive the cars excessively slowly, moving from one side of the track to the other or creating potential dangerous situations. The Federation applies fluorescent yellow stickers on the rear wings of the cars, to monitor the behavior of the latter in the event of any suspicious bending. This choice finds the favor of the McLaren team principal, Andreas Seidl, who is very attentive to the matter:
"We'll see what happens over the weekend, our position on this issue hasn't changed compared to Monaco. If downturns are highlighted, measures will already be needed here in Baku, how and what they may be I do not know and it is not up to me to decide. In his technical directive Nick Tombazis was very clear and I find the idea of applying these indicators on the wings to try to understand more in detail what happens at the flex level. Article 3.8 is clear, if some team has designed wings capable of flexing with the clear intention of obtaining aerodynamic advantages, it seems to me quite clear what is happening".
Red Bull is one of the special observers regarding the flexibility of the rear wings, but Max Verstappen is not at all worried about the situation:
"The high attention paid to our car is understandable, we are doing an excellent job, I also understand the complaints, but for now everything has been done within the rules. So far there is nothing wrong. They are trying to slow us down".
The Dutchman also adds a dog - not so veiled - towards the rivals of Mercedes:
"I think the overall picture needs to be analyzed, the most important and predominant part of an F1 car is the front and our front wing flexes less than that of other teams".
Toto Wolff's answer was not long in coming:
"If there is any abnormal movement of the rear wing, it may be that we will make a complaint. Not only us, but also someone else could protest and ask for clarifications with the FIA. We have always said it, we believe that the rules are clear and the same for everyone. Does Red Bull say our front wing flexes too? Let's all protest, let's see how it ends. Max Verstappen says we try to slow down Red Bull? He's absolutely right, we try to slow them down, just as they try to do with us".
The Alpine is also one of the cars observed, albeit with less attention than the Red Bull. Executive Director Marcin Budkowski explains in this regard:
"First of all, we have designed our rear wings according to the regulations, our rear wing is completely legal. But the FIA has the right to introduce new tests on the wings or any other part of the car. This is absolutely fine, it's part of the process and we accept it. We have done some internal testing and we will have to change some of our [rear] wings for the next race and I think this is the case for most of the other teams. If there is a protest, I would be very surprised because the FIA has addressed the problem by adding new constraints from France [onwards] and has given the teams reasonable time to change wings".
The decision to start the in-depth checks only from the French Grand Prix has been criticized by many. However, the Polish engineer believes this choice to be correct, bringing out a safety issue:
"It's not about putting things on and off the wings, they're structural elements and they're quite critical. Especially here in Baku, on the straights with the walls close together. The last thing you want is for people to be playing with wings at the last minute in the garage. The FIA did the job. From the next round we will have new constraints and we will respect them".
After five rounds, Max Verstappen and his Red Bull took the lead in both World Championship standings, thanks to the victory in Monaco, combined with the few points collected by Mercedes. However, the Dutchman doesn't say too much in view of the race on the Azeri track, not underestimating his rivals, and looking at his past not too brilliant results on this track:
"The track is nice, but probably not my favorite to be honest. I've never been on the podium in Baku, it's time to change this trend. Let's see how competitive we are, but I expect Mercedes to come back strong. The track is not even remotely comparable to Monaco, not only for the straights, but also for the grip level which is very low. We usually feel good in those conditions, we'll see".
attention then shifts to the challenge in the championship, in which he is in the lead for the first time in his career, with the hope of being able to maintain this level throughout the season:
"Yes, I hope so. I wish it were so. But we still have to work a lot and better to really be in the fight. And that is what we are engaged in now. Will 2021 be remembered for the challenge between Verstappen and Hamilton? Personally I hope it can be remembered as a beautiful year. Obviously I hope to finish in front of everyone, but I'm not the only one who dreams of this. We have to live in the present, I know I have to be fast and we will have to work hard throughout the season. I know that many are already working for 2022, but we already have a good opportunity this year and we will have to give everything".
Finally, the Dutch driver expresses a personal consideration, also on life off the track, an aspect that differentiates him greatly from his rival:
"I'm very happy with who I am and the life I live, I'm lucky to be in Formula 1. And I'm not jealous or envious of anyone. I'm happy if someone has a good life and is good at what they do. I just live my life. Yes, maybe Hamilton is more experienced, but that doesn't mean he's more complete than me. It's my opinion and there's no need for anyone else to agree with me".
If Max Verstappen is cautious in his statements regarding the World Championship, Jacques Villeneuve has a completely different opinion. The former Canadian driver believes that the Dutchman must be ready to fight and analyzes the challenge, underlining the differences with other historic rivalries of the more and less recent past:
"He's been in Formula 1 for some time now. If Max isn't ready now, he never will be again. I don't think he was more aggressive than Hamilton. Lewis is great, but usually Max is clean with him. It goes straight to the edge. It looks relaxed, but it's not. They are both very good. Lewis has done the same with Nico Rosberg in the past. Only he 's always done it in a way that feels ambiguous. The public might think Hamilton was doing it on purpose. But if he was certain with Nico, not with Lewis. Now the same psychological games are expected to play between Hamilton and Max. But I wouldn't say that this rivalry can be compared to Prost-Senna, as some have done. A lot of things happened with Senna and Prost even off the track, there was real rivalry. Rosberg-Hamilton, perhaps, could have come close to that rivalry, also because they were teammates, but Hamilton-Verstappen is a different rivalry. Back then there was a real enmity, which doesn't exist now, and then Senna and Prost won seven titles together".
Red Bull Racing team is also fully concentrated on its efforts to prevail in the World Championship, as confirmed by consultant Helmut Marko, who therefore shuts down market rumors about Sergio Perez's seat, author of a not fully satisfactory start to the season:
"We'll start thinking about it in the summer. We are a highly sought after team in the market. I don't think a rider will go into talks or agree with any other team until they have tried to reach an agreement with us. We are now fully focused on the world championship, and we don't see any problem as to who will be Max Verstappen's teammate next year. He will certainly be a competitive boy, but there's still time".
Regarding the Mexican, the Austrian manager adds a brief analysis of his strengths and those in which he is not yet at the top:
"On Checo, let's start from the positive thing, which is the race pace: it's excellent, sometimes at Max's level. He proved it in Monte-Carlo when we overcut. For three-four laps he was among the fastest ever, with tires that were already heavily used. So the race pace is there. The area where we are still lacking is qualification. We need to see improvement there".
Mercedes arrives in Baku as a pursuer, after a disappointing Grand Prix in Monaco. A new situation for the reigning World Champions, but team principal Toto Wolff seems to have clear ideas on how to seek redemption:
"Weekends like the one in Monaco are the ones that make you want to get back on track to do better. Nothing comes easy in this sport, and that's why we love it. We know that if you are not at 100%, or if you don't even come close, you will be punished and you will not get results. On Monday morning I saw the same energy as when we came back from the test in Bahrain and that makes me happy. We analyzed the weekend, asked ourselves leading questions and learned some crucial lessons. I wish we were back on track last Sunday, but the calendar called for a week off. So here we are in Baku, a road circuit very different from Monte-Carlo".
However, looking to the next race, the Austrian foresees a track not favorable to the W12, therefore with the awareness of having to optimize every aspect to obtain the best possible result:
"We are expecting another difficult Grand Prix, the track is not particularly suited to the characteristics of the W12. Red Bull will be strong again, while both Ferrari and McLaren have made great progress recently. A key objective for us must be to exploit the opportunities available to us on those abnormal tracks that are not suitable for our car: when a result is within our reach, we must achieve it. There will be leadership changes in this exciting season for the sport and for us. But after the results of the last race, we are more determined and energized than ever to bounce back in Baku".
There have been discussions within the team over the strategy chosen for Lewis Hamilton in the previous Monaco Grand Prix, which saw the Englishman only cross the finish line in P7. However, the World Champion minimizes this aspect, maintaining an unaltered trust in his team members:
"After Monte-Carlo the meetings were great. I'm really proud, of course, to work with such a determined group of people. There is never any finger pointing, we just work together, have tough discussions, and don't feel out of place questioning people's opinions. We've sparked a lot of discussions and struggled to figure out what we can do better. That's why we 're a great team".
It is inevitable also to dwell on the challenge in the championship, showing great esteem for the rival:
"I feel respect on and off the track. Max doesn't have to change. He's an amazing driver and it's a lot of fun to challenge him. I get excited about duels but I don't think it's about Max or anyone else. The reason is that every day I discover new things about myself. With the pandemic lockdowns I have had more time to refine my talent, body and mind. I always compete against myself. I think about how to fight, I look at how I was last year and how to beat a seven times World Champion".
The Briton also adds a reflection on the future, both personal and regarding his sport:
"I don't look at the rivals much, but the new ones are great. Lando Norris, George Russell, Charles Leclerc. And Carlos Sainz: he has just arrived in Ferrari and is driving very well, with Leclerc he forms a very strong couple. Formula 1 is in good hands, I foresee a fun future. I sincerely hope I don't race at 40. There are so many things I want to do that it would be difficult. But in life evolution is so rapid that it throws you off balance. For example, I didn't expect to have as much fun as I'm having this season".
Finally, the current Champion of the world closes with a consideration on the subject of flexible wings, very hot in recent weeks, without however fueling further controversy:
"I've heard of them, I've talked about them and the important thing is that they pass the tests. Of course it's an advantage on the straights, it can give you a good time. Regardless of what I think though, it doesn't really make a difference. We will just try to do the best we can with what we have. We hope that in the future we can improve on the measurement of these parameters".
His teammate, Valtteri Bottas, on the other hand, is back from an unlucky Grand Prix, forced to retire due to a problem at the pit stop, on a weekend in which he was going very fast. The Finn strongly rejects the thesis according to which his positioning error may have contributed to that situation:
"I saw the video and I think I was quite accurate with respect to where I stopped, Wolff's words? Yeah, I was quite surprised, I think I was an inch or two off the centerline. If you get this accuracy, normally, it's good enough".
The Finnish driver points out that this problem is not new within the team, reinforcing his thesis:
"That was one of my concerns already a few weeks ago. I had raised her with the team. [The mistake ] didn't come up somewhere out of the blue, we knew we weren't perfect in the pit stops. As well as in other areas, such as warming up the tires in qualifying. I knew coming to Munich that it would be a problem. It was one of the things I had already highlighted long before the weekend".
After an initial accusation, Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff also acknowledges that the Finn has no responsibility in the episode :
"I was wrong, it was my mistake. It was actually very accurate, he didn't make a mistake. The mistake was ours".
The team principal also denies rumors that Mercedes have already picked George Russell as their driver for 2022:
"We've always been honest with both riders, right from the first moment we had an idea . And that's how it would be in this case too. But we haven't made that decision yet. Valtteri has had so much bad luck this year, I can hardly believe it. This will surely weigh on our decision".
Ferrari, on the other hand, has just returned from two races in which it showed excellent potential, particularly in Monaco (although not fully exploited, due to Charles Leclerc's accident), approaching P3 in the constructors' standings occupied by McLaren. But in Baku the characteristics of the track are quite different, and this could complicate the Maranello team's plans, especially considering the very long straight to the finish line. Scuderia Ferrari Racing Director, Laurent Mekies, expects a difficult race and many teams capable of challenging the SF21:
"A glimpse of the season begins that promises to be complicated for us. If in Spain the SF21 was clearly the third force on the field and in Monaco it even demonstrated the potential to win, the situation should be different in the next races, starting with Baku. In fact, in Azerbaijan we expect a very strong McLaren, which should adapt very well to the characteristics of the circuit and therefore take the leadership of the group behind the two teams battling for the world championship. Just as we believe that Alpine, AlphaTauri and Aston Martin will also be very competitive. The main objective on our part will be to express all the potential available and try to make the most of every opportunity. To use a football metaphor, we will try to make a good defense and strike on the counterattack".
Even Charles Leclerc, eager for redemption after the great disappointment on his home roads, is realistic about what awaits him on a track that is decidedly different from that of Monte-Carlo:
"I think now we'll go back to reality a bit, Monaco was a unique case. We were fighting for the win, which was incredible and very motivating for everyone. But now, with the long straights and the higher overall speed here, despite several low-speed corners, I think we'll be back to the normal competitiveness we had before Monaco".
The feat of the Principality, on the other hand, amazed even the Monegasque driver himself:
"The balance [of the SF21] is quite good in the low speed corners but we were even stronger in the low speeds in Monaco than we were at all the tracks before".
Alpine is back from a complicated race, with only 2 points won by Esteban Ocon. Marcin Budkowski, team principal of the French team, declares that the team is committed to solving the problems encountered in order to improve in the next rounds:
"We're going to a street circuit, but the downforce is significantly lower for the wide straight and high-speed sections. We have completed rigorous analyzes to understand our Munich issues and make sure they don't affect us again".
Fernando Alonso, in particular, had a complicated start. The Spanish driver offers a new point of view, according to which the circuits raced on up to now present critical issues that complicate the feeling with the car, especially after two years of absence:
"Baku comes at a somewhat unfortunate time . In a certain sense, this start to the season is not the best possible calendar for a rookie or a rider returning after years. We had Imola, where I hadn't raced for decades, and Portimão , where I've never raced in a Grand Prix. The others at least raced there last year. Then we had and will have Monte Carlo and Baku, two street circuits: in short, of the first six races of the championship, four were demanding enough to get used to Formula 1 again. From the French Grand Prix I hope a new championship starts for me".
As for the city tracks, Alonso pays close attention to the tyres, especially the operating temperature window, a crucial issue in order to be competitive:
"I think the tires are the main factor on weekends on street circuits, you need to get them up to temperature and work in the perfect window. Qualifying is also crucial over the weekend, you need to put that energy and heat into the tyres. I don't know how many Grands Prix like Monaco we will have: this is a very unique circuit. In Portugal and Spain we were in a better position, so I hope that next weekend, in Baku, we can return to that kind of performance".
Lando Norris arrives in Baku in high spirits, the young McLaren driver has already climbed onto the podium twice this season (Imola and Monte-Carlo) and is even in the provisional P3 in the drivers' standings. There is no reason why it is not possible to continue this positive momentum, and in this regard the Britain declares:
"I think we can be confident and optimistic, we can do well. Of course, I don't think we will deliver an extraordinary or unexpected performance and we will certainly not be faster than Mercedes and Red Bull. But we have a good car and we showed it in the first five races of the season. We will do our best to obtain a result comparable to that of Monte Carlo. How did I relax after the podium in Monaco? Well, I've been playing golf and enjoying the British sunshine, it's been great these days! I also reviewed the race to understand what went well and what can still be improved. All to prepare us for this weekend. We enjoyed the Monte-Carlo weekend, but equally we must try to repeat this performance. Now we need concentration for Baku and I'm confident we can do well: maybe I'll leave this circuit on Sunday with another trophy! The battle with Ferrari is intense, and that's a good thing for our team. We got the best possible result from Monte-Carlo, also because Ferrari started first and fourth, we therefore limited the damage to a great extent, here we can return the favor to them".
Even his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, is aware of the goodness of the car, despite his adaptation difficulties are compromising his results, especially in Monaco, where he finished the race outside the top ten and was lapped by his teammate who climbed to the podium. On his difficult moment, the Australian declares:
"The car is fine, it's about trying to adapt my style. Sometimes I do what I think is right, what has worked for the last few years; but then I see that it doesn't work anymore and I wonder why it is. It gets frustrating and you question whether it should work. That 's why I took a step back in the last two weeks. I think this has helped me to understand much better what the car is doing, it's definitely clearer to me and now I have to show it on the track. Did I think too much about the fit issues in the car? Yes, but it's like anything in life. Formula 1 is complex, you fall into a negative vortex and it's difficult to get out of it. When a weekend doesn't go well you can't wait to get back in the car and do better, that's how I live it".
Ricciardo nonetheless maintains great determination, aware of being able to resolve the situation and of being able to return to obtaining results of which he is capable:
"I have no doubts about myself, I know inside me what I'm capable of. I know that if I was driving with fear I would tell myself that this sport is no longer for me. But that's not quite the case. I have to get back to getting results, I would have liked to have already achieved it in the previous races, but Formula 1 is a marathon, not a sprint race. And I know that once things get better people will get on the Ricciardo bandwagon again. So if you jumped off, that's fine, it's still going on… I'll get you back up".
Sebastian Vettel looks to the future with optimism, as it will take place on a circuit where the German driver has always achieved good results in the past:
"Really? I didn't remember! What can I say, I hope to continue with this trend then. I don't know if there is only one secret to tackling this circuit. It is certainly demanding and also quite long in one lap. I think the secret is trust in your car, in the circuit and in your qualities. You have to have full awareness of these things to be able to extract that extra bit from the car, because it is ultimately a street circuit. If you're wrong, it's hard to forgive you. It's always a tough weekend here with the wind can be quite strong which adds to the difficulty. Overtaking is possible in Baku, and tire degradation is much higher and will be a factor. So while Saturday remains important, finding a good balance for the driven sector and the high-speed part and a good race strategy will be even more so. These factors will be the key to a good result. We come here after a good weekend in Monaco, and want to keep up our momentum".
The Aston Martin driver arrives in Baku with a great result obtained in Monaco, which redeems a complicated start, and therefore he hopes that this will be a good omen for the future:
"Was Monaco the turning point race? It depends on what comes next, and it depends on us. It was certainly a good weekend, we had both cars in the top-ten. In some ways Baku is similar to Monte-Carlo, but it is also very different. It's a much faster track, with a lot more straight sections. We are gaining more and more confidence with the car, at a team level. It has taken a while, but it is also fair to say that the battle in midfield is very fierce and small details can make all the difference, as we have seen in Monaco in a positive way and in other places in a negative way".
Lance Stroll is also confident, especially seeing the recent trend on the Azeri circuit:
"Baku is a place of special memories for me, this is where I got my first podium in Formula 1. It's a complex circuit because it combines straights and tight corners in the central sector, making the margin of error tiny. We are continuously progressing with our AMR21 and intend to restart from Monaco".
In Monte-Carlo, Antonio Giovinazzi finally got the first point for himself and for Alfa Romeo, but there is no shortage of regrets for some race circumstances that prevented him from obtaining better results:
"The pace in Monte-Carlo has been good all weekend and getting back into the points was the reward. On another track where you can overtake, we could probably have reached eighth position. In general we have to be proud of the work done in the winter, because the car is much better than last year. Kimi and I both found it easier to ride and the rear seems more stable. And the Ferrari power unit has also improved".
The Italian driver particularly recalls some unfortunate episodes in recent races, but at the same time recognizing a great strength in the race pace of his teammate, Kimi Raikkonen:
"I had some misadventures in the race, for example in Bahrain we had a problem at the stop, in Imola a tear-off visor got stuck in the brake, in Spain another problem with the tire change. Furthermore, Kimi is one of the best in terms of race pace and to beat him there you need to be very good, without flaws. I've learned a lot from him since he became my teammate, especially about race organization, how to manage tires and fuel, when to attack and when not. Experience makes a big difference, but at the end of the race I always try to look at your data to understand what makes it different and what aspects I need to improve on".
Azerbaijan Grand Prix , the Italian driver is optimistic, finding himself on a track that has seen him perform very well in the past:
"Baku is one of my favorite tracks to race on, I love it. I have some very good memories here from my time in GP2 and had a great qualifying when I first came here in Formula 1 in 2019. I had my first Q3 that day and would love to do it again this weekend. Getting a point on the scoreboard last time out in Monaco was a good result, even more if we think about how strong we were. We are confident we can carry that form forward here and continue to reap the benefits of our progress".
Finally, Giovinazzi is aware that the continuity of good performances will be essential to keep a place in Formula 1:
"I just want to show off, now I'm here with Alfa Romeo and we'll see what happens next year. There are only twenty drivers in Formula 1, if I'm good I stay. The name and the money help, but you also need to assert yourself in the lower categories. And whoever is in Formula 1 deserves it".
On the competition from Mick Schumacher, who could undermine his place at Alfa Romeo, the Italian driver says:
"Mick has shown what he can do by winning in F3 and F2 and he's here thanks to his results, like me. In the end it was Ferrari who decided to leave him at Haas and leave me at Alfa Romeo".
Kimi Raikkonen, as usual, doesn't expose himself too much, but he is happy with the team's work and progress:
"It's great to see the team getting stronger with each race and I hope this weekend can be good for us. The races in Baku can be very chaotic and it's always a good chance to get a good result if we do our job well. We know what we need to do to get the most out of each session, from Friday to Sunday: we've shown that we can fight with everyone in the middle of the pack, so let's see how it goes".
Instead, there are many more difficulties to face for the Haas team, permanently at the bottom of the group. Most likely the situation seen in the first Grands Prix will also be repeated in Baku, and team principal Gunther Steiner doesn't hide it:
"I think Baku is a very nice place to race. It's a street circuit, but it has long straights. I'm a huge fan of the track and hope it stays on the calendar for a long time. Mick and Nikita both raced once there. It is obviously a very difficult track, but our expectations are not very high. For them it's the same old story, they have to gain experience and learn all the tricks of the circuit to be ready for the future. Our performance won't be much different from Monte-Carlo, but we are looking forward to racing, as we always try to get the best out of what we have".
Mick Schumacher is back from a complicated weekend, also due to the accident in FP3 in Monaco, which inevitably caused the young son of art to lose feeling. The hope is that the race can offer unpredictable opportunities that can be exploited to arrive at a better result:
"Munich was tough, difficult. We've had some incidents on the track which always take you a little bit back in terms of confidence. To be honest, I've always felt comfortable in the car, in FP3 the pace was there . It was a pity we missed qualifying, because I felt we had a good pace to be able to fight with the front riders in qualifying. In Monaco you don't have time to rest, you have to give 100% for every lap. If you lose focus it can end really badly. Now we head to another street circuit, Baku, but it couldn't be more different from Monaco. It's much wider, with more concrete walls, while Munich has more guardrails. Baku is a low to medium downforce track, then you have the long straights which create a lot of overtaking opportunities. It's a fun track. If you have a good start, with all that space leading you into the first corner, you can take advantage of that. But if you start badly, you pay dearly. If you are in the right place, you can benefit enormously, that is what we are aiming for".
Nikita Mazepin, on the other hand, hasn't had any particular problems in the past, even on a difficult track, and this could help him have the confidence to continue on this path. The Russian pilot declares:
"I needed a clean weekend like the one in Munich. I was very happy with the work we did together with the team. Baku has very long straights, super high speeds and great braking points. The track is nice because it also contains the Old Town, which is very narrow, similar to Monte-Carlo. But in general the circuit is different from that of the Principality. I'm curious to see the speeds we reach on the main straight. I raced there in Formula 2 in 2019, it was at the beginning of my career. Baku definitely requires confidence in the car, and I was just starting out. I think I'll be much more ready for the challenge, knowing the circuit is a privilege to race on it".
Before the start of the first free practice session on Friday in the cars of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Sebastian Vettel, Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jr., Kimi Räikkönen, Antonio Giovinazzi, Nikita Mazepin, Mick Schumacher, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi the internal combustion engine, turbocharger and MGU-H are replaced. Everyone mounts the second drive. On the same cars, with the exception of the two Alfa Romeo Racing and Haas drivers, the MGU-K, the second unit, was replaced.
Moreover, the electronic control unit, the second component of the season, is replaced on Nikita Mazepin's car. And finally, on the cars of Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll, Sebastian Vettel, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, the exhaust system was replaced by installing the second unit; the fifth and fourth units were respectively mounted on the cars of Fernando Alonso and Esteban Ocon, while the third unit was mounted on the cars of Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jr., Kimi Räikkönen, Antonio Giovinazzi, Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher. All drivers are not penalized on the starting grid, as all the new components installed are among those that can be replaced within the pre-established maximum number. On Friday 4 June 2021 in Baku there is a clear sky and the temperatures are high, 26 °C in the air and 48 °C in the asphalt. At 12:30 p.m. FP1 is scheduled, and the green light gives the start to the session. Almost all the drivers immediately took to the track to complete an installation lap: only Max Verstappen, Lance Stroll and the two Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, remained in the pits. The Red Bull Racing team decided to mount rakes on the left side of the rear of the car driven by Sergio Perez, having also fitted a new rear wing. The first times are marked by the Ferrari and McLaren drivers, who complete a short run on Hard tyres. Charles Leclerc takes P1, followed by his teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., by just 0.036 seconds. The Monegasque driver detaches Lando Norris by 0.6 seconds. Lewis Hamilton , on the other hand, took to the track with Soft tyres, but his lap was interrupted by a Virtual Safety Car regime, due to the presence of debris on the track. The Stevenage champion tries again shortly after, when the green flag returns, clearly climbing to P1. His rival in the race for the title, Max Verstappen, also completed his first lap on the Medium tyre, trailing the seven-times World Champion by 0.968 seconds. Among them is Lando Norris, who improves and climbs to P2. The Dutchman continued his run and on the following lap he reduced the gap to the leader, bringing it to 0.205 seconds. Pierre Gasly and Fernando Alonso fit behind them, even if separated by more than 1 second. About halfway through the session, the Ferrari drivers also switched to the Soft tyres, immediately after the end of a yellow flag caused by Yuki Tsunoda's error under braking.
The McLaren drivers also took to the track with the Soft tyres, and Lando Norris was the first to improve and move up to P2. On the following lap the British driver sets partial records, but in the last corner he makes a mistake losing control of the car on the way out. Daniel Ricciardo, on the other hand, manages to complete the lap and gets ahead of everyone. However, his leadership does not last long, as he is overtaken by both Ferrari drivers, with Charles Leclerc who climbs to P1 thanks to a time of 1'43"227, and Carlos Sainz Jr. who is positioned in P2, 0.294 seconds behind the teammate. Lewis Hamilton tries to respond to the times set by the Ferrari drivers, but makes a mistake in turn 15 and ends up wide in the escape route. The same fate, a few minutes later, also fell to Pierre Gasly. Shortly after, Max Verstappen also took to the track with Soft tyres. But the Dutch driver was forced to complete two launch laps, as at the end of the first he found Nikita Mazepin in front of him to hinder him. The leader of the World Championship finally manages to complete a fastest lap and climb into first position, beating the time set by Charles Leclerc by just 0.043 seconds. While Nkita Mazepin damages his rear wing shortly after in a contact with the wall in turn 16, still managing to restart. The last driver to try the fast lap is Valtteri Bottas, who however ends up making a mistake in turn 2. Thus ends the first practice session, with Max Verstappen ahead of Charles Leclerc. The Red Bull Racing and Ferrari drivers show an excellent level of competitiveness. Following, Daniel Ricciardo, Pierre Gasly, Lewis Hamilton and Lando Norris, close the top ten, with the latter two drivers who however do not complete their fastest lap. More detached, followed Fernando Alonso (with Medium tyre) and Valtteri Bottas. The atmospheric conditions are similar also in the rest of the day, with the sky always clear and a slight increase in temperatures in the afternoon, which go from 28 °C as far as the air is concerned, and 49 °C for the asphalt. FP2 is scheduled at 4:00 p.m.. The activity is frenetic right from the first minutes, as all the drivers decide to take to the track. The first interesting results come from the times set by Max Verstappen and Pierre Gasly, with the Dutchman setting the record in the first sector, but instead being beaten by the time set by the French AlphaTauri driver by 0.152 seconds.
Immediately after, the two Ferrari drivers responded: first Charles Leclerc, who with the Medium tire beats Gasly's time by just 0.006 seconds, and then Carlos Sainz Jr., who takes the first position away from the Monegasque driver thanks to a time of 1'43"162. Sainz himself is then the protagonist of an argument with Nikita Mazepin, after having crossed paths on the track. Spanish over the radio says:
"This guy is always in front of me".
The Russian replies:
"First he ruins my ride and then he asks me to help him".
After 12 minutes a red flag was shown due to the presence of Nicholas Latifi's car stopped along the track. The Canadian seems to have suffered from an engine problem. Ferrari was still the protagonist at the restart, with both drivers significantly lowering their times, and again with Carlos Sainz Jr. Confirming himself ahead of teammate, Charles Leclerc. This time the Madrilenian is also helped by a slipstream exploited on the main straight. The Monegasque, on the other hand, immediately after setting his time, hits the wall in turn 15, however managing to contain the damage and bring the car back to the pits. In the middle of the session, Red Bull also got into action and responded to the Maranello team, bringing both drivers to the lead. It was Sergio Perez who took P1, with a 0.101 second lead over Max Verstappen and 0.128 over Carlos Sainz Jr.. Antonio Giovinazzi's lap was also very good, occupying the provisional P7. On the other hand, the two Mercedes seem to be struggling, even both out of the top ten. Lewis Hamilton, in P11, complains about his car's poor speed via a team radio:
"Do what you want, I can't go any faster than that, I don't know where the potential is".
As often happens, the last part of the session is dedicated to race pace simulations, in which however Mick Schumacher is unable to take part. The Haas team notices a technical problem on his car and advises the German driver to return to the pits. In this stage Max Verstappen complains about the lack of front grip , but still manages to complete a constant and competitive stint. Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz Jr. also set good times, but the best of all is the one set by Sergio Perez, who confirms that he has a great feeling with the Azeri track. Less good sensations, however, for Charles Leclerc, who seems to experience a rather high degradation over the distance, and says over the radio:
"They are destroyed, or I stop or I go to the wall again".
Valtteri Bottas is also in trouble, slow on time and the protagonist of a mistake. This also concludes the second practice session, with the two Red Bull Racings of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez ahead of the two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc. followed by Pierre Gasly, Fernando Alonso, Antonio Giovinazzi, Lando Norris, Esteban Ocon and Yuki Tsunoda. Only P11 for Lewis Hamilton and even P16 for Valtteri Bottas, struggling with the qualifying configuration. At the end of the tests, Red Bull Racing was fined 200 euros by the FIA, as Sergio Pérez exceeded the speed limit established in the pit lane. At the end of the second free practice, the transmissions were replaced on the cars of Charles Leclerc and Mick Schumacher.
Both drivers are not penalized on the starting grid, given that the Monegasque did not take part in the previous Monaco Grand Prix, while the German replaced the gearbox while remaining within the limit established by the regulations. Lewis Hamilton thus analyzes a difficult Friday to interpret:
"We are undoubtedly behind in terms of lap time and the engineers will have to get to work analyzing the data to find solutions. The race pace simulation went better. I didn't feel good behind the wheel in FP2, I pushed, but the car has limits. I feel I can be faster, but I lack grip. We will work on it. It's not easy to be out of the top ten, also because I don't know why it is".
Yet the day had begun with other premises:
"In the morning I had ridden well, completing all the laps we had set ourselves. I just made a mistake blocking the eraser. I felt better in FP1, in FP2 I simply couldn't do more than that".
Even worse was his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who at the end of the tests declares:
"To say that we are in a bit of difficulty is not the right sentence. It was a very complicated day for us, we clearly lacked pace. It seems to me a matter of grip, the balance isn't that far from ideal, but the car was unpredictable because it lacked grip, so we kept sliding throughout the circuit. It's going to be a very long night".
is in a completely different mood and is happy with the feeling and progress made with his car:
"We have a bit of work to do overnight to try and get a couple of tenths more in terms of one-lap performance. I think we will definitely be in the fight tomorrow and at the weekend. We hope in qualifying to get a good clean lap, which is very important here. It's something I missed in Monaco. In all respects, this is the best Friday of the season, the most positive in terms of data and feeling with the car. The only problem I had was with the helmet, which I had to change after a few minutes in the afternoon because there was air entering my visor, but nothing serious. I think we've made excellent progress: after Monaco, we did a very in-depth analysis, and today it seemed like I finally understood the car and the driving style you need to get better results".
The day for the McLaren team doesn't look exciting if you read the standings, but the drivers have a completely different opinion, seeing the potential to have another good weekend. Lando Norris states:
"FP1 went well, FP2 instead saw us in a bit more difficulty. However, there is ample room for improvement. Based on the data collected, we'll see how to proceed tonight to improve the car, overall it was an acceptable day".
While Daniel Ricciardo says:
"Lap times don't always tell the whole story. We made progress, the day was quite good. I closed in P13 in FP2, but we are much closer to the leaders in reality. For sure we have to work, but I feel more confident and I can't wait to continue the weekend tomorrow".
On the other hand, an excellent Friday for Scuderia Ferrari. Understandably, the cars from Maranello do not replicate the exceptional levels seen in Monaco, but the times are good and closer than expected to the Red Bull and Mercedes drivers. Scuderia Ferrari Racing Director Laurent Mekies is not surprised by the result:
"Surprised? No. We know that this is not Monaco and that we are therefore not in a position to aim for pole or to beat Red Bull. So let's get back to the reality of trying to be the best of the middle pack. This was our point of focus today. The choice of top speed is one of the main issues here, so we did several rear wing scans, ran more exhausts this afternoon and the riders adapted well. Charles and Carlos proved to be very quick and responsive on these types of city tracks. The team is as focused as it was in Monaco. The overall result is different because of the long straights".
Compared to the Monaco circuit, the one in Baku offers many more chances to overtake:
"The tire parameter will play an important role here. There is no longer just qualifying like two weeks ago. We are preparing to earn something in that area as well".
Finally, the Racing Director reassured his driver about the mistake made in FP2, showing himself not at all worried about what happened:
"Does Leclerc 's mistake undermine his confidence? It doesn't have to be like that. He had a very good session. That kind of thing happens, go for the edge and we want you to keep looking for the edge. We don't want to influence him from Monaco or from what happened here two years ago. That's why he's here. To search the limit of the car. We are confident that this will help him to be at his best in qualifying".
The Monegasque seems to think the same way, and remains calm and optimistic based on the impressions he had in the FPs:
"It certainly went better than the first two free practice sessions, however. The pitch looks promising. We will continue to work during the night, hoping to be competitive tomorrow as well. Today's bang? I felt very comfortable, maybe too comfortable because I pushed too hard at turn 15, that's what free practice is for, in the end. I tried to get to the limit, I was on a good lap. We will see tomorrow".
Carlos Sainz Jr. also showed himself to be competitive, but he is keen to remind you of the aspect of slipstreaming, which is fundamental on this track in the search for a good time in qualifying:
"We were certainly faster than we expected, but I also caught a couple of slipstreams in my good laps. This did not allow us to clearly see what our real performance was. The overall picture is probably not very clear, we certainly won't be as fast as in Monaco, that's for sure. The Red Bulls are faster both in the long run and in qualifying. We have to work head-on to find even more speed".
The other Spaniard on the starting grid, Fernando Alonso, is also satisfied with the feeling he now has with his Alpine, being able to concentrate more on the work of the race strategy:
"It was a good Friday for us and it was good to be back driving in Baku. The car gave good sensations right from FP1 and it was not necessary to act particularly on the set-up. We only tested the various compounds, collecting important data to set up the race strategy. The start is excellent, but we know we have to improve for tomorrow because the competition won't stand by and watch".
Esteban Ocon is also quite satisfied, especially with long runs:
"The track was very dirty in the morning, in the afternoon I managed to improve significantly and above all the data collected on the long run is encouraging. On the flying lap, however, I still had to fix something, I didn't feel perfectly at ease with the car. We must continue with this momentum tomorrow too, today it is certainly positive to have finished with both cars in the top ten".
Similar impressions also come from Aston Martin, with Sebastian Vettel declaring:
"We completed a lot of laps and finished the day feeling satisfied that we did our homework. The track was in good condition from the start but obviously it improved a lot during the day. The circuit is difficult but towards the end of the sessions I was finding a good rhythm".
In practice, the qualifying simulation suffered a few hitches, but the Aston Martin driver is not lacking in confidence:
"During my laps on the soft tires I didn't maximize everything, I'm sure it was the same for the others also because there were a lot of yellow flags, especially this afternoon. So there is still a lot to do. The long runs have been a bit cleaner and I already have a good feeling with the car, let's see where we can improve overnight".
These instead are the words of the German driver's teammate, Lance Stroll:
"I think we made some good progress with the car today as we learned a lot about the set-up and I think we can make further improvements with the balance of the car. We'll go away tonight, review everything and try to take steps forward for tomorrow".
The tests were also encouraging for Alfa Romeo, thanks in particular to Antonio Giovinazzi's P7. The Italian driver can be confident, and he doesn't hide it:
"The car was fine from the start. FP1 didn't go too badly and we took another step forward in the second session, I'm happy with what we saw both in qualifying and in the race simulations. It's only Friday but I'm happy to be seventh in the standings, hopefully we can continue like this tomorrow too. There are still some little things to fix of course, but we can be happy so far".
Much attention is also placed on possible slipstream effects, to be exploited above all on the main straight:
"Tomorrow we will have to put everything together and make the most of the slipstream, because it will be fundamental. We will do our best and hope to have a good result".
Kimi Raikkonen is also happy with the feeling with his car, who however, as usual, does not indulge in too many proclamations:
"It was a good way to start the weekend, the car was good from the morning session but of course there is still a lot that can be improved. At the end there were a few interruptions with the yellow and red flags which broke the day a bit, but it's the same for everyone. We will see what we can improve on the car tonight: hopefully we can have a good day tomorrow".
Great performance also for AlphaTauri, which with Pierre Gasly moved into P5, right behind the Red Bulls and the Ferraris. The satisfaction of the French driver is therefore evident in his declarations:
"It was a really positive Friday for us with a sixth place this morning and a fifth this afternoon: at the moment, I feel really comfortable in the car. I can be quite aggressive and push to the limit, even if today I passed it on a couple of occasions. However, this is the only way we can get the most out of the car. I'm quite satisfied so far, above all because we set the time without using any slipstream, so we will probably be able to do even better tomorrow”.
Instead, there is a little more work to do for the Japanese driver Yuki Tsunoda, also penalized by the fact that he has never previously driven on this track, not even in the minor formulas. However, the car seems able to give him the necessary confidence to do well on Saturday:
"Here it's quite similar to Monaco: you have to find the rhythm and the confidence, especially in braking, as most of the corners here require hard braking. I went to the escape routes a couple of times, but it was a good way to find the limit and luckily I didn't go into the barriers. I struggled a bit this morning, but things went better in the second free practice session. There are still some areas I need to work on, but the pace is there this weekend and we just need to put everything together for tomorrow".
In the night between Friday and Saturday, the Alpine team, respecting the time limit established by the regulation, exploits, without receiving penalties, the first of the two possibilities granted by the regulation to carry out repair operations on Esteban Ocon's car, in which he gearbox component was damaged, forcing the mechanics to replace part of the hydraulic system. Saturday 5 June 2021 the Circus finds conditions almost unchanged compared to the previous day, 27 °C in air temperature and 53 °C as regards the asphalt, with the sky always remaining clear. The green light goes off at 1:00 p.m. and the first to take to the track are the two Haas drivers, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin. Followed by Valtteri Bottas, Lewis Hamilton and Fernando Alonso, all with Medium tyres, but still with high times. Finn is still the protagonist of an error in turn 3, confirming the lack of feeling that limited him in all the sessions disputed. Even Red Bull - with Hard tires - and Ferrari - with Medium tires - take to the track; despite the compound disadvantage it is Sergio Perez who sets the provisional best time. AlphaTauri, on the other hand, is the first team to send its drivers onto the track with Soft tyres: thus, first Yuki Tsunoda and then Pierre Gasly take the lead in the standings, followed by the two Ferrari drivers. Subsequently Max Verstappen climbs to P4, but with Hard tyre. Several riders complain about the lack of grip on the track, and it is the Dutch who pay the price, who collide against the wall in turn 15 and break the right suspension arm, also causing the session to be canceled by displaying the red flag. The leader of the World Championship is therefore forced to end his session early. After an interruption of almost 10 minutes, the session could resume, and most of the riders returned to the track with the Soft tyre, to carry out the last qualifying simulation. Only Valtteri Bottas, with a set of Medium tyres, and the McLaren drivers, with a set of Hard tyres, do not choose the softer rubber compound made available by Pirelli. While the Finnish Mercedes driver continues to experience problems even after some set-up changes, the Ferraris and Red Bulls confirm that they are competitive and set the best times, with Sergio Perez ahead of Charles Leclerc by 0.183 seconds. Good time also for Fernando Alonso, who moves up to P4. After a brief Virtual Safety Car regime, caused by a slowdown in the Williams of George Russell, slowed by problems coming from a malfunctioning power unit, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Pierre Gasly also completed their attempt. The Spanish Ferrari driver follows his team mate, immediately ahead of Lando Norris, while the French of AlphaTauri, with an extraordinary lap, even sets the best time, lapping in 1'42"251. At the end of the tests Valtteri Bottas he remains outside the top ten, positioning himself in P11, while Lewis Hamilton gives some signs of improvement, climbing to P3, thanks to the help of a slipstream offered fortuitously by Sergio Perez.
The final top-three of FP3 is therefore made up of Pierre Gasly, followed by Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton, who precede the two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso, Yuki Tsunoda, Esteban Ocon and Daniel Ricciardo. In the afternoon, at 4:00 p.m., qualifying is scheduled. The weather conditions change compared to the morning session, and when the green light comes on, a lot of traffic is immediately created on the track, underlined by Nikita Mazepin in a radio team:
"What a mess, guys".
The first driver to set a reference time was Charles Leclerc, but the session was soon interrupted with the display of the red flag as Lance Stroll crashed into the barriers at turn 15. The Canadian apologized to his team, opening up in a message via team-radio:
"I was wrong, guys. I am sorry".
The interruption allows the Williams team to complete the work necessary to prepare George Russell's car, on which the engine has been replaced. The Briton has not yet used up the replacement parts bonus fitted to the car, and therefore is not penalized on the grid. At the restart all the riders immediately try to set a good time, fearing that the session will be interrupted again due to some accident. This actually occurs: it is Antonio Giovinazzi who goes off again at turn 15. In the meantime, the two Red Bull Racings take on the lead in the time classification, ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr.. The session resumes at 4:30 p.m. the Mercedes team manages to enter the top part of the standings thanks to Lewis Hamilton who fits between the Ferraris, in P4, and Valtteri Bottas a little further behind. Track grip improved in the final part of the session, allowing Lewis Hamilton to put in the best performance. Even George Russell, albeit limited by the delay with which his car was ready, managed to enter Q2. In addition to the crashes of Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi, the two Haas drivers, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, and Nicholas Latifi were eliminated. At the start of Q2 Sebastian Vettel set a time of 1'42"224, beaten shortly after by 0.5 seconds by Carlos Sainz Jr.. The lead was later conquered by Sergio Pérez, while Max Verstappen moved up to P3, behind the Spanish driver of Ferrari. Lando Norris and Fernando Alonso also did better than Sebastian Vettel. Esteban Ocon hit a wall, but without causing damage to the car, while the two Mercedes carried out two tire warm-up laps, before trying to set a time Fast. This allows Lewis Hamilton to climb to P2, ahead of Charles Leclerc. With a new attempt, Max Verstappen sets the best time, 0.005 seconds better than the one set by Sergio Pérez , while Tsunoda fits into P4 Q2 ends early due to the accident involving Daniel Ricciardo, who screams the barriers in turn 3. The red flags block Q2 just over a minute from its regulatory end. Sebastian Vettel, Esteban Ocon did not enter Q3 , Daniel Ricciardo, Kimi Räikkönen and George Russell. Also at the beginning of the final session, many drivers face the track from the very first moments, to avoid unpleasant situations in case of personal accidents or those of their opponents. Only the AlphaTauri drivers decide to stay in the pits, preferring to opt for a single fast attempt, to be carried out on a clear track. The Mercedes drivers again complete two warm-up laps, while Charles Leclerc sets a time of 1'41"218, 0.3 seconds better than his teammate, Carlos Sainz Jr., and takes first place, also thanks to the slipstream provided by Lewis Hamilton, busy starting his fastest lap, before Max Verstappen slipped between the two Ferrari drivers, beating the Spaniard's time by a few thousandths of a second. Lando Norris, in P4, is 0.5 seconds ahead of Sergio Pérez. Shortly afterwards, Lewis Hamilton climbed to P4; Valtteri Bottas, the other Mercedes driver, made mistakes, finishing more than a second off Lewis Hamilton's time. Subsequently, the two AlphaTauri drivers opted for a game of team, with Pierre Gasly taking advantage of the slipstream offered by Yuki Tsunoda, and in this way he takes fourth place.In the final, the riders fighting for pole position, including those of the Faenza team, come out to make one last attempt, but this it was thwarted by the Japanese driver going off the track in turn 3.
At the same point, Carlos Sainz Jr. also ended practice early, going wide after locking up to avoid a collision with the AlphaTauri which had stopped on the track. With the session finally concluded with the red flag flying, Charles Leclerc took his second consecutive pole position, the ninth overall in his Formula 1 career. Lewis Hamilton completed the front row, placing himself ahead of the World Championship leader, Max Verstappen, and Pierre Gasly. Followed by Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris, Sergio Perez, Yuki Tsunoda, Fernando Alonso and Valtteri Bottas, in P10 with his Mercedes. For the first time since the 2016 Hungarian Grand Prix, the qualifying session saw the display of the red flag four times. At the end of qualifying, the British McLaren driver, Lando Norris , was summoned by the stewards for not having returned to the pit lane and therefore having crossed the finish line during the display of the second red flag in Q1. After listening to the British driver, the latter was penalized three positions on the starting grid and three points on the superlicence. Charles Leclerc thus obtains the second consecutive pole, somewhat surprisingly :
"I thought it was a crappy ride. It's been two or three races that I've made some mistakes, but I had a great slipstream from Lewis in the last sector which helped me a bit. Overall I thought I was going to be there, I didn't expect us to be so competitive. Before the red flag I was still improving, but that's okay. Another pole, I'm happy. I hope Carlos went well too, I didn't see his crash, I hope he's okay. Beautiful feeling. Too bad there's a red flag again. I hope to do it once with a normal situation. However, the Monegasque is not under any illusions ahead of the race, knowing that on long runs he doesn't have the pace to compete with the top teams. Competition? The car gave good sensations, buy Mercedes and Red Bull have something more than us, especially in the race. It will be difficult, this is not Monaco and it can be overtaken. I hope to keep the first position, but it will be difficult".
Laurent Mekies, Racing Director of Scuderia Ferrari, commented on the completely unexpected result as follows:
"Another pole from Charles, even more unexpected than the one two weeks ago in Monaco. We had arrived in Baku aware that it would be a much more complicated weekend than the previous one, however our performance level was higher than expected, right from the start of the weekend, even on a track which theoretically had less favorable characteristics for our car. The team and the drivers did a great job in these two days, improving the car session after session: the result of qualifying represents a nice reward".
In view of the race, however, the prospects inevitably change:
"Here the pole position is not as crucial as in Monaco, since overtaking is possible. We saw on Friday that Red Bull and Mercedes are very quick over the distance, tire degradation will be a very important parameter, especially in the first phase of the race. It will be essential to be ready to handle any eventuality, given that traditionally this is a race full of unexpected events and twists".
Even Lewis Hamilton is happy and surprised to start from the front row after the difficulties encountered during practice. With his words, the Briton does not fail to give credit to his team:
"Tour was good. We certainly did not expect this result. It's a fundamental result for us, we struggled all weekend and I think it showed. But we kept calm, we continued to argue in the background, challenging each other and questioning each other. Without ever throwing in the towel. We have changed many things chasing the right balance. It wasn't easy but it worked. The work we did between sessions tonight was fantastic from the team. Being with these guys is a huge motivation. Did a cooler trail help? No, I don't think so. Finding the right window for this car is very difficult. This is the biggest challenge in a long time now, trying to figure out what the needs of the car were here. To be here even with Valtteri in the top ten is a huge relief and we owe it to the wonderful team we have. Competition? Yes, it was much better than the qualifying pace. In the race pace we were much stronger and we don't understand why. I hope we will be in this same position tomorrow so we can fight".
The difficulties continue for Valtteri Bottas, far from the positions that count and also from the times of his teammate. Very honestly, the Finn admits - embittered - that his competitiveness so far has been far from what he would have expected:
"I've been struggling with the pace all weekend and ultimately I think something is wrong, because I'm at the limit but very far from the ideal pace. If I push harder, I'll hit the wall. We took turns and this weekend it was up to Lewis to choose who was up front. And so obviously he had my wake. In the second run I tried to slipstream from Leclerc but the red flag stopped my lap. Tomorrow will be a challenge, but I know anything can happen here. Never say never in Baku, for sure we will continue to work and I will try to put everything together tonight in view of the race. Tomorrow we will fight".
Andrew Shovlin, head of Mercedes engineers, at the end of the tests congratulated Lewis Hamilton in particular for his performance:
"We didn't expect to have a front row car, but Lewis made the most of what he had and was able to put in some pretty impressive laps in every session. He had managed to better understand the front in the morning session until qualifying and this is a great encouraging sign. Valtteri, on the other hand, had a tough weekend right from the start. We need to examine his car to try and understand where the problem is because he doesn't have the same grip as Hamilton, regardless of the set-up. The race should still be interesting: on Friday we did some good long runs and today we're playing on pace, tire degradation and starting position. It's also one of those circuits where anything can happen with a high probability of the Safety Car and red flags, but hopefully we can go ahead with both drivers".
The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, instead underlines the great work by the team, capable of improving the competitiveness of the W12 after a complicated start:
"The work that has been done in Brackley and Brixworth, and by the engineers here, is fantastic - they have come up with an incredible program which we have followed line by line. We did a series of experiments: some were useful, some weren't, but we managed to get answers to our questions and therefore put a car on the track that was good. Our long runs looked good on Friday and we had similar pace to the Red Bulls, so I think we have a good chance of getting a good result".
Max Verstappen opens the second row in P3, but is decidedly disappointed as he was once again penalized by a red flag during the last run. The Dutchman does not hide his frustration with the outcome of the qualifications, and declares:
"Silly qualifications, if I'm being honest. Anyway that's how it went. We have a good car. I think we can also recover from this position. Everything was going well, but then in Q3 this crap happens every time. Too bad, but in street circuits these things happen. Tomorrow I hope we can manage the tires and score good points. Looking to the next day however, his mood improves , aware that he has a strong pace and is starting from a good position anyway. Competition? We are always ahead, I would have liked to start further ahead, but everything is at stake. As you saw in qualifying, anything can happen. Maybe they can also happen in the race. Let's hope we start cleanly and then we'll see. Three different cars in front, it's always nice to have races like this".
Other Red Bull team driver, Sergio Perez, is equally disappointed, strong and competitive throughout the weekend, except in the decisive moment of qualifying, as has already happened on other occasions. The sensations of the Mexican are in contrast to each other, divided between regret for the qualifying result and the hope of being able to improve in the race:
"Today was a big shame because we showed all weekend that we have good pace, but today we didn't get the lap together when it really counted. There was so much more in our potential and we obviously expected more, but that was it. On my first lap in Q3 I had a lock up in turn 4 and then I was looking for the time for the rest of the lap. In the second run I was doing a great lap and then the red flag came out for Tsunoda's crash, and my hopes ended there. I don't remember there being so many red flags in one session, but tomorrow is the day that really counts: anything can happen at this track. I think there are a lot of positives to take from this weekend so far, the pace of every single session has been good and we have shown good progression, we can be satisfied with that. Tomorrow is a long race, we need to put our heads down and make sure we do well. I think we have a very strong car, so a podium must be the goal".
Carlos Sainz Jr. co-starred in the neutralization of the final stage of practice, but grabbed a good position on the grid. Nonetheless, a bit of regret remains as the driver from Madrid was improving his time:
"Mine was a particular accident. I started the lap a little too close to Tsunoda, but I was doing well being a tenth and a half faster in the first two corners. Then, when I saw that Yuki had blocked, I imagined he had crashed: I braked and saw the wall, I didn't know what to do to avoid it and I lost the car. That sequence of actions got me distracted. It's a shame, it's been two consecutive races that there's someone causing chaos up front and we can't exploit the potential of the car. We could have had two Ferraris on the front row today, we were stronger than we expected. As I said, in the last lap I was already a tenth and a half faster in the first two corners. Things have already happened two weekends in a row because of the street circuits, but the pace was there and I'm very happy with the car because it still gave me the chance to fight for pole. I'm just sorry that there's always something holding me back".
The Racing Director of Scuderia Ferrari, Laurent Mekies, regarding the episode involving the Spanish driver, said at the end of the tests:
"He was misled by the smoke caused by Tsunoda in front of him, these things happen, but it still had no influence on his result since, due to the yellow flags, he would have had to slow down at that point of the track anyway".
Fernando Alonso is also very upset by the display of the red flag, now frequent in these situations, which leaves no consequences for whoever causes the call:
"I find it a bit unfair that people who have crashed can fix their cars and leave holding their position tomorrow. All the other cars are in park until tomorrow and we can't touch the car. So why can they change all the components when they cause the red flag? Maybe one day we will be in that position and we can take advantage of the rule, but as I said let's see what we can do. Here half of the people on the grid need to calm down. They should be driving at 98% of their maximum in a street circuit. If you crash and then start last in the race, maybe you're not driving beyond your abilities. Today there were a lot of people who drove beyond their capabilities or that of the car. It was hard to get into the rhythm, but it was the same for everyone. I don't think we used the potential of the car, because every time we put on new tires we didn't use them".
It was a day to forget for Antonio Giovinazzi, author of an error in his first fast lap and therefore forced to start from the last position in Sunday's race. The Italian driver is embittered and apologizes to his team:
"I apologize to the team, I blocked mid-corner and in that situation it's a very difficult mistake to correct. It's frustrating to get it wrong when you have so much potential at your disposal. I apologize to the team, because we could have achieved a good result today. We had the speed to aim for Q2 and, why not, also for Q3. Luckily Baku is not Munich as far as overtaking is concerned and we have the chance to make up for today's mistake tomorrow".
Kimi Raikkonen, on the other hand, reaches Q2, but isn't completely satisfied with the result:
"Unfortunately it was a crazy qualifying and in Q2 we found ourselves without new soft tires after all the attempts made in Q1 and even when I was finishing a good lap with a good slipstream there was a neutralization. What makes us optimistic is that the car seemed to grow in terms of performance with each entry onto the track, this means that we are in the right direction. For tomorrow in the race it will be essential to stay out of trouble at the start and then see what happens".
Great performance for Pierre Gasly, who with his AlphaTauri qualified on the second row just 0.002 seconds behind Max Verstappen's Red Bull, confirming the great impressions shown so far. The Frenchman is enthusiastic and proud:
"Honestly, it was a truly amazing day. After finishing FP3 in front of everyone, I was thrilled to qualify. We clearly had the pace and were strong, we pushed all weekend and I was comfortable with the car here in Baku. I'm really happy with our performance in qualifying, I think we could have fought for the lead in the end, but fourth place was great and the gap to the front row was really small. The whole team has done a fantastic job and we can be really proud of the progress we are making. I tried to improve lap after here, session after session, pushing to the limit every time and I think I did it right. I managed to put everything together in Q3 and tomorrow we'll start from a great position. Obviously, Yuki's day didn't end as expected, but so far he's done very well here: he's worked hard to be faster and faster and today, for the first time, he managed to get into Q3 and he should be really happy with that".
Yuki Tsunoda's progress is also good. The Japanese rookie, despite the mistake in the final which caused the red flag to be displayed, conquered an excellent P7 on the starting grid. This is not enough to fully satisfy him, however, as can be seen from his words:
"Mixed feelings today: I made some steps forward during the weekend here in Azerbaijan and managed to get into Q3 for the first time. I think we had the potential to start even further today but I pushed too hard and it didn't pay off: obviously I'm disappointed and I want to apologize to the team. Tomorrow is another day and I think that, compared to Monaco, overtaking is much easier here. So, with a good strategy, it could be a good race for us".
George Russell, after having risked not taking part in qualifying due to the problem that occurred in FP3, managed to enter Q2: the British driver did not hide his happiness, warmly thanking his mechanics.
"First of all I have to thank the mechanics for the work they did between free practice 3 and qualifying. They replaced the engine in record time! I owe them a huge thank you. We hit the track when it really counted and I'm really happy with this Q2. It was the best result possible today. We took advantage of my colleagues' mistakes, even if in general the overall performance of the car was not bad. We are happy".
Nicholas Latifi, on the other hand, was unable to get past Q1, and at the end of practice he complains about the numerous interruptions that didn't help him complete a fast lap:
"All those yellow flags during Q1 didn't allow me to get the most out of the tires. In this circuit you know perfectly well that something can happen at any moment and in our case we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. We had the rhythm for a different result and so I'm a little disappointed, but Baku always offers great opportunities. Hopefully we can take advantage of it".
Sunday 6 June 2021 the sky over Baku is clear, and the temperatures are a little cooler than on the previous two days: the air temperature is 24 °C, the asphalt is 37 °C. 51 laps are planned, for a total distance of 306.049 kilometers. Before the race, a minute of silence was observed to commemorate the deaths of Mansour Ojjeh, a shareholder of McLaren since 1984 and of Max Mosley, former president of the FIA, who passed away the day after the Monaco Grand Prix. Christian Horner is ready for battle:
"It's a real shame to start from the second row, but we know that anything can happen in this race, the unexpected is the rule here".
While the poleman, Charles Leclerc , says before the start:
"I have to do the first two corners well, because then there's a long straight where I'm vulnerable".
Scuderia Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto is moderately optimistic, but well aware of the difficulties this race will present:
"Starting on pole is always nice, it offers a few more opportunities, Baku is daring, the first stint with the soft tires will be the most critical moment of the race for us. Hamilton, Verstappen and Perez are the most dangerous opponents".
A large part of the grid will play the first stint on the Soft tyres: only Kimi Raikkonen and the two Williams drivers, George Russell and Nicholas Latifi, opt for the use of the Medium tyres, while Lance Stroll is the only one to start on the Hard tyres. At the start of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix Charles Leclerc maintains the first position, preceding Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen, while Sergio Pérez passes both Carlos Sainz Jr. and Pierre Gasly. However, the Monegasque cannot support Hamilton's attack, who already takes first place on lap 2. Even the straight-line speed of the Red Bull Racings is higher than that of Leclerc's Ferrari who, on lap 7, is forced to give up second position to Verstappen, and on lap 9 third position to Pérez , thus slipping into fourth position. During lap 4 Esteban Ocon retired due to problems with the power unit. During lap 10 Leclerc returned to the pits to mount Hard tires, as does Yuki Tsunoda, followed the following lap by Sainz Jr.. The Spaniard, however, immediately makes a mistake in his out lap, probably due to the tires not yet up to temperature, and goes out in turn 8. The Ferrari driver engages reverse gear and starts again, but drops to P15. During lap 12, the two Mercedes drivers, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas, returned to the pits, together with Pierre Gasly. The arrival of the Frenchman, who then managed to complete the overcut on Leclerc, forced the Mercedes mechanics to send the British driver back to the track with a slight delay. Verstappen also made it shortly after his stop: the Dutchman returned to the race in P3, behind Sergio Pérez and Sebastian Vettel, who had not yet made their pit stop. Pérez' stop shortly afterwards, despite being penalized by an imperfect tire change, allowed the Mexican driver to rejoin the race ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Sebastian Vettel thus leads the race, followed by Max Verstappen, Sergio Pérez, Lewis Hamilton, Lance Stroll, Pierre Gasly and Charles Leclerc. Vettel, despite continuing with a good pace, decides to stop on lap 19, to return, after the stop, to P7, behind Charles Leclerc. In the following laps, Verstappen increased his advantage over Pérez , bringing it to over 6 seconds, and at the same time increased his advantage over Lewis Hamilton to almost 9 seconds. Almost at the end of lap 31, the left rear tire mounted on Lance Stroll 's car exploded in the straight line: the Canadian driver lost control of his car, hit the barriers on the right side of the roadway and was forced to retire.
Due to the position of the single-seater and the debris left on the track, the race direction sends the Safety Car onto the track. At the restart, on lap 35, the top three drivers held their positions, while Sebastian Vettel overtook Charles Leclerc. Subsequently, the Aston Martin driver unsuccessfully attacks Pierre Gasly. The German was forced to wait another two laps before being able to pass the AlphaTauri driver as well. Meanwhile, Carlos Sainz Jr. also tries to complete his personal comeback after the mistake made in the early stages of the race, and climbs into P9 overtaking Daniel Ricciardo. Instead, Valtteri Bottas collapsed in P14, in serious difficulty driving his Mercedes. In this phase of the race, the leading riders do not seem able to change their positions, but challenge each other by setting fast laps, with the intention of obtaining the additional point for the fastest lap. Then, with four laps to go, the left rear tire mounted on Max Verstappen 's Red Bull also exploded in the straight: the Dutch driver lost control of the car, and ended his race after crashing heavily into the wall. Fortunately, the Dutch driver didn't suffer any physical consequences, and as soon as he got out of his car, he looked at the exploded tire and gave it an angry kick. In this case, the race direction decides to stop the race, displaying the red flag. The race direction justifies this choice also due to the fear that other tires could give way as happened on the cars of Lance Stroll and Max Verstappen. Even though there were only three laps to go, the race was resumed, starting from a standing start on the grid, based on the standings at the time of the previous interruption. Sergio Pérez starts from pole position, flanked on the front row by Lewis Hamilton. The second row consists of Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly. George Russell is unable to restart, as there is a gearbox problem on his Williams. Before the second departure from Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes, smoke rises from the brake outlets. At the start, however, the British sprinted well and tried, at the first corner, to pass Sergio Pérez. However, the Mercedes driver, in an attempt to break his car, exits the escape route and is overtaken by the entire group following. The World Champion immediately realizes that he has probably made a mistake in the braking distribution setting between the formation lap and the race, and his race engineer Peter Bonnington confirms it to him moments later:
"Did I have the magic button on?"
"Yes. Yes it was just on. Yes, we'll look at each other in a bit".
"I thought I turned it off".
"Yes you did. But then you turned it back on with the shift. But we'll talk about it later".
Meanwhile Sergio Pérez leads the race and completes the final two laps, closing the Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly, who is pressured, unsuccessfully, by Charles Leclerc, who in turn has to be careful to defend yourself from the attack of Lando Norris, who rises to P5 thanks to an excellent start. Fernando Alonso does better than him, who even climbs four positions and conquers P6. Sergio Pérez wins for the second time in his career in Formula 1, after having triumphed at the Sakhir Grand Prix, in 2020, also conquering his third podium on the Baku circuit, after those obtained in 2016 and 2018 at the wheel from the former Force India team. Second is followed by Sebastian Vettel, who takes his 122nd career podium finish, his first since the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix. It is also the first podium finish for Aston Martin since the team changed name, and the first podium finish ever for the British manufacturer. Pierre Gasly finishes the race in third position. The French driver conquered his third career podium, the first since the victory obtained in the 2020 Italian Grand Prix. Followed by Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris and Fernando Alonso. Yuki Tsunoda conquers the seventh position, ahead of Carlos Sainz Jr., Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen, who gets the first point of the season. Followed by Antonio Giovinazzi, a disappointing Valtteri Bottas in P12, the two Haas drivers, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, and Lewis Hamilton, who paid heavily for the mistake made in turn 1. The Briton also loses the opportunity to regain the leadership of the World Championship standings, which therefore remains in favor of Max Verstappen, still with 4 points ahead of the seven-times World Champion. It was since the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix that neither of the two Mercedes had won world championship points, and even since the 2012 United States Grand Prix that this had not happened by bringing both single-seaters to the finish line; however, for the first time since the last two rounds of 2013, the Brazilian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix, the Anglo-German team has missed the podium for two consecutive races. At the end of the race, Sergio Perez obtained a prestigious result, on a track that had already seen him as a great protagonist in the past, redeeming himself from a difficult start to the championship.
"I am very happy for today's race. Here in Baku as always it was a bit crazy. I'm really sorry about Max, first of all. He had a fantastic race, he deserved to win and it would have been incredible for the team to score one double. We were close to retiring, but in the end we were able to finish the race. Getting to the end was difficult. Hamilton had a slower stop and I passed, then he put me under pressure until the end. I managed to hold on and then on the restart he came alongside me, but I said: I can't go wrong. I braked as late as possible, he did the same but went long. Luckily it was still a good day and for the team. This is a great confidence booster for myself and for the team".
Even the Red Bull Racing consultant, Helmut Marko, happily comments on the Mexican's result and performance, reiterating his strengths, without neglecting a good dose of luck in the restart episode:
"Thank goodness Checo had a spin on the restart. If he had started better, Hamilton would have hit him in full and put him out of the race. Regardless of the victory, Checo is very strong in terms of race pace, sometimes even faster than Max. Something similar happened in Monaco too. In the Principality, once he had clean air, he did laps at the same level if not better than Verstappen. It is thanks to this step that he was able to make the overcut in Monte-Carlo. He has also integrated very well into the team, he is a great team man".
The Austrian manager also spends a few words of esteem in favor of Sebastian Vettel, who has given so much to the Anglo-Austrian team, and who returned to the podium in Baku after a difficult period:
"Baku's Sebastian was the Sebastian we know. I'm very happy that it's back to this level in a relatively short time. He's Aston Martin 's number one driver, but Stroll senior probably won't like him".
Sebastian Vettel achieved a result as important as it was unexpected, thanks to a great pace and perfect management:
"This result means a lot to the team. We didn't expect a podium coming here. We had a difficult start, but this was a great race where we had great pace. This was the key. We started well, recovered positions at the start and then managed the tyres. When everyone else came back I had a good pace to be able to overcut. After the restart everything went very well and I recovered two more positions. We had cooler tires which helped us get them up to temperature. I'm over the moon and think it's great for the team. It took a while but we knew that by Friday, even though we were behind I was pretty relaxed. Yesterday I didn't manage to do something big, but today I did. In terms of strategy, it's better to start ahead, but the new tire certainly didn't hurt us, because the others had two more laps and this allowed us to manage the tires better. That was the secret, as well as the pace we had because the car was set up perfectly for the race. This was the key to continuing to come back".
The same can be said for the French AlphaTauri driver, Pierre Gasly, who crowns a great weekend with the third podium of his career:
"I don't know what to say. Incredible. Crazy and super intense race from lap to lap. The guys did an incredible job, we showed every second we were there . We didn't know we could keep this position, in the end we fought for the podium and even got on it. I've already done first and second place, I was missing third and I'm happy to have done it here. Leclerc? Yes, I had to stick my elbows out. For me it was very difficult. This race gave me problems with the engine right from the first lap, I lost speed on the straight and Seb managed to pass us in the middle of the race. We knew it was going to be difficult, but it was really exciting. I didn't know if I would be able to stop the car, but it was too important. Great points for us, I'm happy that Yuki also had a great race. Fantastic weekend, I hope we can all celebrate together tonight".
Charles Leclerc in the closing laps :
"The last two laps with Charles were really intense. I really had to fight hard to get that podium. From mid-race onwards we had an engine problem and started to lose some power in the straight. So I knew it was going to be tough until the end, but we managed to keep fourth position. After the restart I thought Charles would pass me on the straight, because we had lost the performance, but I saw the podium in front of me and tried everything. I wanted it so much. It was a tough but fair race, just the way we like it".
On the other hand, what happened to Lewis Hamilton is incredible, who after leading an entire race in pursuit of the Red Bulls, squanders the great opportunity presented to him with a small mistake with catastrophic consequences, which irreparably ruins the result of the World Champion on the Azeri circuit:
"I fought as much as possible today. I think when Checo moved towards me, I touched a switch that turned off the brakes and made me go straight. It's a difficult race to digest, I'm sorry for the men and women of the team. We worked so hard this weekend to get back into the top 10 and it looked like everything was going really, really well. I gave my all, then there was the restart episode. I had no idea I flipped that switch. I was unlucky and so was Max. This race was unlucky for both of us but we will try to regroup and put everything together for the next race".
The Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, takes the defense of the Briton, consoling him for the outcome of the race:
"Hamilton's cannot be called a mistake. He had got off to a good start and was setting the corner, then Perez arrived. He touched the button which changed the balance of the brakes and did not allow the car to brake. Lewis made no mistakes and that's what you have to remember. What if the smoking brakes when restarting have something to do with it? No, I don't think that was the problem. I think it was more of a simple finger and control issue. In Monaco and here we didn't have a very competitive car. We still have basic problems, at the start we can't get the tires to work at their best. Furthermore, after the stops, we made operational mistakes and we lost ground".
Valtteri Bottas' race was equally disastrous, as he never managed to resolve the numerous difficulties encountered throughout the weekend:
"Today in the race I lacked pace, but that's nothing new, I suffered from it all weekend. And it's hard to understand why. A big problem is the heating of the tires, especially the front ones. With the hard tyres, it took almost 10 laps to warm them up and on the restart we were at a clear disadvantage on the cold tyres. I tried everything I could, but something was wrong with my car this weekend. We need to work hard to understand why and move forward towards the next Grands Prix".
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff adds:
"As we could see today, we lost all our time in the old city. This is what also happened in Monaco. It's not like suddenly the car that won three races is gone. We know the weaknesses and these come up in certain circuits or areas. For example here from turn 7 to 10 it was a shock for us, while we were strong on the straights and 90 degree corners. Either way I have no doubt that this is a strong and angry team. And so much so that we will transfer the anger into a positive force: we will come back. Bottas? He was not favored by the car, which lacked grip. And when you have no grip on a street circuit, all confidence is lost. I can say that we will not appeal against Sergio Perez's victory. We have confidence in the new tests that the Federation has scheduled".
Then he continues:
"I think there are a lot of things that aren't going as smoothly as they have in recent years; operationally we have not been at our maximum level. There is so much we need to improve that I just want to focus on that to make sure that we will actually be able to compete for this championship. Because we can't keep losing points like we did in Monaco and here. It's just not acceptable to all of us".
With bitter irony, Toto Wolff also returns to talk about the pit stop performed in Monte-Carlo on Valtteri Bottas' car:
"A 36-hour pit stop is really not a great result, based on the standards we set for ourselves. It is unacceptable not to bring the car to a performing position after the start or after the pit-stops. We're wasting so many seconds getting the car into the right window. It takes too long".
Even more frustrated is Max Verstappen, who bears no responsibility for his retirement episode :
"Up to that moment we had had a strong race, trying to equalize the times they were behind. We lost a lot of points, we could have widened the gap in the championship. That this happens so close to the end of the race is frustrating".
Verstappen confirms he had no warning of the left rear tire puncture:
"I didn't hear a thing until the car suddenly swerved to the right. The tire flew off the rim. Not a nice impact to have. It's a dangerous spot to see a tire blow out at that speed. But everything went well".
And finally, the Dutch driver throws a dig at the sole tire supplier, Pirelli:
"Pirelli will most likely say that it was a piece of carbon, it was the same at Imola in 2020. I will certainly talk to Pirelli, but I already know the answer. It's hard to accept, but I will probably still be dealing with debris in the future. It is very strange what has happened, because we have not had any vibration, any signal that could predict what has happened. The stint with the hard tire was long, but I just checked what was happening behind me".
Even the Red Bull Racing team principal, Christian Horner, agrees with the thesis expressed by his driver:
"We had just checked with Max and everything was ok, the tire blew and we don't know why. It looked like the wear was all in good shape. As is evident, it may have been debris or something. That's a bad place to have an accident. Luckily he is fine. We were managing the tire quite well, everything was going well and then suddenly it went flat. Could it be debris from the earlier crash, we don't know. We need to recover the tire and look at it carefully. At that point it was as if the world had collapsed on us".
The explanation from Pirelli Motorsport Director, Mario Isola, was not long in coming, and it is exactly what the Dutch driver expected:
"The most probable hypothesis is that debris cut both rear left tyres, with no vibrations or other warning signs. In street circuits it is easier to happen: in the event of an accident, the carbon pieces of the cars remain on the track because there are no escape routes. It is no coincidence that Verstappen's tire collapsed a few hundred meters after Stroll's. In fact, I don't want to point my finger at this track: the asphalt has been cleaned several times in recent days, but there have been many accidents. We currently rule out that the accidents were caused by excessive wear. First of all, the rear left is not the most used tire in this Grand Prix. Then we checked other tires that had done up to 40 laps and that didn't show excessive wear or other problems. But there was another one with a six-centimeter cut, Lewis Hamilton's; he was lucky, because he risked the accident too. In any case, we will begin the in-depth analysis at the factory as soon as all the material is returned. We will complete the necessary tests within a few days".
On the other hand, the result obtained in the race by Lando Norris was excellent, arriving at the end of a difficult Grand Prix, but concluded in the best possible way:
"My first start was ok, once you get a track position in turn 1 things happen and the others can block you. Then I dropped back and the cars on the outside and inside were able to gain a position. After the penalty, finishing in fifth position is good for us".
The British driver also explains the peculiarities of the two-lap mini-race that he had to face after the red flag was displayed, together with all the other drivers:
"It was quite intense, I think one of the good things is that you have so much grip. There is little fuel and you have new tires. It's like having a race during qualifying. It went as we wanted and I gained two positions. I'm grateful for that".
Daniel Ricciardo also expresses similar impressions: the Australian also managed to recover some positions, but without reaching the results obtained by his teammate:
"There were moments today in the race where I hoped the Grand Prix would become more exciting. And suddenly it happened! We had some positive moments, but also some difficult ones. I screwed up a bit and so was struggling in the last few laps before the red flag, but it wasn't too bad before. On the restart I had good momentum, I took the outside line and it seemed to me the best solution. Unfortunately there wasn't much space, I had a couple of cars inside . We got into turn 2 and I heard a hit from behind. I couldn't do much, but we'll keep working and moving forward".
Therefore, the McLaren team principal, Andreas Seidl, appears satisfied, as the British team managed to limit the damage and achieve a good result, despite the initial difficulties:
"If after the first corners you are in P12 and P13 and then finish in fifth and ninth position, with both cars just behind the Ferrari, it is clear that we have limited the damage. In the end, we need to finish qualifying better, because we are better in the race. In Azerbaijan we had the pace to stay a few positions ahead. But if you find traffic there is little you can do here. Once again, the riders did a good job, while the team kept their composure in a difficult race. So we're quite happy that we only lost four points to Ferrari - it was a good result after a disappointing Saturday. Had it been a normal race, Mercedes and Red Bull would have escaped, but Ferrari could have suffered from tire degradation. It's really hard to say what would have been possible in a normal race, with good qualifying from us. But in the end, it doesn't count, we need to find 100% performance both on Saturday and on Sunday and this is what we have to work on".
Charles Leclerc, as expected, had more difficulties in the race than in qualifying, but he can be quite happy with the performance of his car:
"I think I managed it pretty well. I also like to look at the general situation and in this sense we are making progress. We must not be discouraged when we have one race that is more difficult than the others. If we look at the pace on the hard bikes, towards the middle of the race we weren't far from Mercedes and Red Bull. There is so much positive. We can't even be happy with fourth place though. I'm here to win and the whole team is here to win too. But let's give everything and I'm sure that the victories will come soon".
The performance of the Aston Martin, which together with Pierre Gasly prevented the Monegasque driver from getting on the podium, greatly surprised the Ferrari driver, who however is happy with the result obtained by two drivers with whom he maintains an excellent friendship even off the track:
"The big surprise on Sunday were the two Aston Martins flying in the race, we didn't expect that, we have to analyze how they operated to get such a high-performance performance in the race because it undoubtedly worked very well. I'm happy, however, for Vettel, because he deserves it. I'm also happy for Pierre Gasly, with whom I had a great fight. My main concern, however, was to keep Lando Norris, our real opponent in the standings, behind us".
Charles Leclerc could have taken a few more risks to secure a podium finish, but the driver of the Maranello team showed great maturity:
"Honestly, I saw a hole and tried to overtake without succeeding. I didn't want to take a lot of risks, even though I took quite a few looking at the last two laps. We must not forget that we are fighting with McLaren, there were big points at stake. I saw two opportunities and tried, but it didn't work out".
The performance of the other Scuderia Ferrari driver, Carlos Sainz Jr., whose race was compromised by an error during the out-lap after the pit stop, was less positive:
"It wasn't the race I wanted, I didn't have the same feeling with the car as in the rest of the weekend. When the tires were cold, whether on starts, restarts or after stops, I tended to lock them up and had problems with the brakes. This cost me a mistake that I paid dearly for and that compromised the entire race. In the end, I managed to get back in the points but I'm not happy with this result. We have to understand the reasons for these problems and try to solve them for the next races. Now we'll have time to go back to Maranello and work on it, so I'm sure we'll come back stronger in France".
Yuki Tsunoda managed to complete an excellent weekend, returning to finish a race in the top ten after having succeeded in his debut in Bahrain. The young Japanese, however, feels that he could have done even better, and therefore is not so satisfied on a personal level:
"I'm a bit frustrated with today's final result as I think the pace of the car has been strong this weekend. The start of the race was good for me and up until the red flag I think my performance was really good. Unfortunately I lost two positions during the final laps. I'm not sure if I could have done anything different, but I'll break it all down tonight so I can better understand for the future. Seventh place still means important points for the team. I want to congratulate Pierre on today's podium, the team really deserves it and it's a great result".
Fernando Alonso saves the outcome of the Azerbaijani Alpine weekend :
"I'm happy for the team, we took some good points from this weekend, I felt we deserved it after a challenging weekend. The last few laps were a lot of fun and we tried to attack and be aggressive to recover some positions. The weekend was solid enough for us but we lacked a bit of pace during the race. We need to improve on that, but I'm happy with the day and we'll try to repeat that in France".
On the other hand, Esteban Ocon is disappointed, whose race lasted a few laps:
"We had a power unit leak and had to retire the car very early. It's A shame because we got off to a good start, I was ahead of both McLarens and battling with those close to us. I was doing my race and it was going well, the pace was top 10, as Fernando demonstrated towards the end of the race. It hasn't been our weekend, that's clear, but let's turn the page and look forward to the French Grand Prix. It will be great for me, I can't wait to race there again".
The result obtained at the end of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix is the best this season for the Haas team, which takes advantage of the unexpected to move up some positions. Not quite enough, however, to get points. Right on the last lap, a challenge between the two drivers in the sprint risked causing a dangerous accident on the main straight. But the misunderstanding is quickly resolved, as confirmed by the Haas team principal, Gunther Steiner:
"There was a strange situation on the straight, but everything has already been resolved and we have clarified things. There was a misunderstanding, but we are all fine and continue to work in the same direction".
However, it was a far from easy race for Mick Schumacher, who was busy with high tire degradation and the restart to manage, but in the end the German driver obtained a decent P13, if compared to his ambitions and possibilities of the team:
"I think it was a difficult race for everyone. Tire degradation seemed to be higher than we expected. We decided to stop one more time to put on the Softs at the end and the car seemed to respond well, but then the session came red flagged by Verstappen's crash. The restart was far from easy to manage, but we still came close to the points: these are the kind of races we have to try and exploit to our advantage. We succeeded, we were fighting immediately behind the others and we can say that we finally saw a small light at the end of the tunnel".
Nikita Mazepin also navigated the various difficulties quite well, losing position to his teammate only in the very last metres, the latter a fact that prevents him from being fully satisfied:
"The race itself was not bad. It was a bit annoying because some situations made us waste time, but overall the pace was there. I had some problems with the brakes, which required a change of balance to prevent them from overheating. This led me to make a mistake in turn 4. I'm a little angry for losing position to Mick right at the finish line, but the final result is positive for the team also thanks to how the others raced".
George Russell was very unlucky, author of a good race, but forced not to start at the restart due to a technical problem on his Williams:
"Unfortunately we had a problem with the gearbox which forced me to retire before the restart of the race. I was getting on the grid and then I ran out of power, which is particularly frustrating after so much waiting before those final two laps. It wasn't fate. This is the racing world, sometimes. I was having a good race before. The car felt good and gave me a lot of confidence. So there are definitely positives to take away from the weekend".
Less positive was the performance of Nicholas Latifi:
"It was quite a lonely race for me today, before the red flag we were working on one-stop strategy and I was doing what I had to do to manage the tyres. In the end, the result didn't come and it's a shame because I felt I rode well all weekend. Operationally, there were some things where we needed to be brighter. Sin".
In Baku, Kimi Raikkonen manages to score his first point of the season by staying out of trouble and exploiting the developments in the race to his advantage:
"Not much happened in my race until the last two laps so it's good to bring home a point. Overtaking proved surprisingly difficult. We were able to reach the cars in front of us with relative ease, but were unable to attack them. The restart after the red flag was quite frenetic. We could have done better, but it could have also gone wrong, so we take that point. I don't think we could have done more in the end".
Antonio Giovinazzi's race was undoubtedly more eventful who, starting from the back, made a good comeback, which however ended only on the edge of the points zone. The italian driver is however happy with his performance, and at the end of the match he declares:
"I had a great start and that allowed me to fight for points right from the start. It wasn't an easy race because I had a small problem with the brakes which is not ideal on a track like this. But my pace was still quite good. We made an initial stop to undercut some of our rivals and then it was quiet until the red flag. At the restart I gained some positions in the first corner, but in the second corner I had contact with Ricciardo and my car went into an anti-stall. We got everything we could out of this race, especially starting last, and we came so close to the points. A lot happened today, it was quite a crazy race, but we have to be happy because we managed to score another point with Kimi. The second in a row for our team".
Instead, it was a day to forget for Lance Stroll, who was competing in a great comeback race, which ended prematurely due to a burst left rear tyre:
"I'm frustrated that I didn't finish the race, but I'm fine. We were well on our way to scoring good points by having a much longer stint before the pit stops and overtaking a lot of cars. This showed that it was the right decision to start on the hard tyres, as we had good pace throughout the first stint and the race starting to come our way. I'm not sure what happened to make me spin like that on the straight as there was no sign of any problems so we need to investigate. It has been a challenging weekend for me but there are positives to take, especially our race pace and of course Sebastian's podium. Huge congratulations to the whole team".
At the end of the race, the FIA announced that, among the top ten classified cars, the Alpine of Fernando Alonso is coming to carry out the technical checks. These appear to comply with the technical regulation. Despite Max Verstappen's retirement four laps from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix terminal, the situation in the standings is still in favor of Red Bull Racing, as the Dutchman manages to stay ahead of Lewis Hamilton, while Sergio Perez climbs into third position by overtaking Lando Norris, thanks to the 25 points won in Baku. Moreover, the Anglo-Austrian team increases its advantage in the Constructors' Championship over Mercedes, which does not score any points on the Azerbaijani circuit. It was also a positive weekend for Scuderia Ferrari, which overtook McLaren in third place, and for AlphaTauri, which with a great team performance moved up to fifth position in the championship, moving ahead of Aston Martin and Alpine. Now the Circus will move to Le Castellet, where the French Grand Prix is scheduled for Sunday 20 June 2021, which will be discussed on the Paul Ricard track, the first of an intense triptych of races which will be completed by the double appointment in Austria, on the circuit of the Red Bull Ring.