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Assessing The Grid – 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

6 Mins read

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix continued is trend of five different race winners in the five times it’s been held plus was a treat of a race for the viewers at home. He had tyre drama, tactical pit-stops and some amazing overtakes. It surely was a good advertisement for Formula 1. Most teams had a great race but there were a few that still have some homework to do about the streets of Baku.

TOP OF THE CLASS

Sergio Pérez

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0:354s  | Race margin to team-mate: Team-mate DNF

Sergio Pérez raced a cool and composed race to claim his first victory in a Red Bull Racing car. The Mexican driver had been having a strong weekend in Baku, topping a free practice session and consistently lapping similar times to Max Verstappen

His weekend did take a tumble when he could only qualify seventh best. However, in race, he avoided any chaos on track and was able to capitalise on a slow pit stop for Lewis Hamilton

It looked as if Red Bull would be getting their first one-two of the season but that wasn’t meant to be when from runner Verstappen came into tyre issues with just five laps left and was forced to retire.

When Verstappen’s tyre failed, race control took the decision to red flag the race, to get Verstappen’s car off the track. The race was restarted with three laps left as a standing start. 

After the formation lap, just two laps were left for teams to go for it. Pérez, who was now in the lead, was beat by Hamilton off the line but Hamilton came into issues at Turn 1 and went off track, leaving Pérez to dominate the last two laps and claim another win under his belt.

Credit:Red Bull Content Pool / Getty Images

Sebastian Vettel

Qualifying margin to team-mate: Team-mate knocked out at Q1  | Race margin to team-mate: Team-mate DNF

No-one can argue that Sebastian Vettel rightly deserved the title of Driver of the Day. The German driver hadn’t been having the best of weekends and was only able to qualify eleventh.

His luck changed come race day. Vettel started on the soft tyres and was the last person to pit. As he took so long to pit, he was promoted to race lead. By the time he did pit, he found himself in seventh. 

After a few swift overtakes on Charles Leclerc and Pierre Gasly, Vettel climbed up to fifth. Once the red flag was over, Vettel was starting fourth but come the finish line he had risen up to second, his best finish for Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team and the team’s first F1 podium.

Pierre Gasly

Qualifying margin to team-mate: –0:646s  | Race margin to team-mate: –3.862s

Gasly finished off the podium with a third-place finish, also his first of the season. Gasly has been dynamite so far this season and his podium is a credit to the hard work he has been putting in.

He hasn’t let Red Bull dropping him in 2019 hinder his F1 experience, still determined to be the best he can. His weekend had already got off to a good start when he qualified in fourth and he pushed himself come race day to get on that podium.

A good weekend all-round for the Frenchman in Baku. That’ll give him good momentum going into his home race in two weeks’ time. 

Yuki Tsunoda

Qualifying margin to team-mate: +0:646s  | Race margin to team-mate: +3.862s

Yuki Tsunoda secured his best finish since joining the F1 family at the beginning of the season.

He’d already pushed his car to the limit, securing a double entry into Q3 of qualifying for Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda. Come race day, he managed to keep Lando Norris at bay and was unfortunate that the restart late in the race didn’t 100% go his way.

Albeit that, he’ll still be happy with a seventh-place finish, giving AlphaTauri a double points finish in Baku.

Fernando Alonso

Qualifying margin to team-mate: Team-mate knocked out in Q2  | Race margin to team-mate: Team-mate DNF

Fernando Alonso’s ninth place start changed into a sixth-place finish, his highest since his return to F1 at the start of the season.

Alonso was another driver who had been strong through-out all the practice sessions and translated that through to qualifying and the race.

He’s once said that Baku holds the title of one of his favourite races so the Azerbaijan street track continues to be a strong one for the Spaniard.

Credit: Alpine F1 Team

Charles Leclerc

Qualifying margin to team-mate: –0:358s  | Race margin to team-mate: –3.881s

Charles Leclerc secured back-to-back pole positions for the first time since 2019 with a fantastic lap on Saturday afternoon.

Although his Ferrari wasn’t able to hold up the charging Verstappen, Pérez and Hamilton, he still held his ground and fought for his positions.

On the race restart after the red flag, Leclerc was so close to taking the last podium place away from Gasly but the young Frenchman defended well. Leclerc maybe could have done it with a few more laps but he eventually had to settle for fourth.

HOMEWORK TO DO

Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team

It’s a rare thing for Mercedes-AMG Petronas Formula One Team to have a bad weekend but to have two in a row is practically unheard of.

During all three practice sessions, both Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas were less than impressive, floating around the middle or the bottom of the grid. Hamilton redeemed himself a bit with a second place start on the grid but Bottas was low down in tenth.

The race didn’t go any better than the duo. Hamilton had managed to get out into the lead but that was quickly taken away from him when his pit-stop was hindered. Hamilton had to wait a few seconds longer while cars passed in the pit lane and by the time he came out, both Red Bulls had jumped him, and he was now in third.

Come the red flag race restart, he started in second. He was about to beat Pérez at the first corner but had unfortunately managed to turn his brakes off and went flying down the runoff area. He was able to get back on track but crossed the line fifteenth.

Bottas wasn’t able to charge the grid from tenth. He was stuck behind Norris and could never find the pace to pass him. Instead, he went even further down the grid and crossed the finish line in twelfth. 

Credit: LAT Images

THE REST OF THE GRID

Despite neither Lance Stroll nor Verstappen finishing the race due to being casualties of tyre issues, their weekends in Baku weren’t bad. Stroll had set a good stint before he was going to pit to put him in contention for some points and Verstappen was just five laps away from winning. I’m sure they’ll both still want to put the weekend behind them.

Normal business resumed for McLaren F1 Team with a double points finish but both their drivers had a bad spell over the weekend. Daniel Ricciardo sent his car into the wall at Turn 3 during Q2 in qualifying meaning it was two weekends in a row he didn’t make it to Q3.

He made up for it in the race, climbing from thirteenth to ninth.

Lando Norris had qualified in sixth but was given a three-place grid penalty for an infringement during a red flag in Q1 of qualifying. He was able to battle to fifth, but could he have done more without the penalty?

It was a quiet weekend for Carlos Sainz Jr. after his podium heroics in Monaco. He qualified fifth but went tumbling down the grid to fifteenth when he locked up and went into the runoff area on Lap 11. He was able to redeem himself, coming in eighth.

Esteban Ocon was an early casualty of the race when he retired after just one lap. His car had a “boost pressure loss” and was unable to continue.

Kimi Räikkönen claimed his first point finish of the year with tenth. His Alfa Romeo Racing ORLEN team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi came just behind him in eleventh.

Mick Schumacher secured thirteenth for Uralkali Haas F1 Team meaning they overtake Williams Racing in the Constructors Championship for ninth. Nikita Mazepin followed him in fourteenth.

George Russell was forced to retire in the dying stages due to a gearbox issue and Nicholas Latifi was given a thirty-second time penalty for not going through the pit lane during Verstappen’s crash clean-up. A harsh penalty for what was a team, not driver error, when he was wrongly told to stay out.

Credit: Red Bull Content Pool / Getty Images
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