Winners and losers from Azerbaijan GP qualifying

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Ferrari's Charles Leclerc drives in qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, June 2022. Credit: PA Images
Ferrari's Charles Leclerc drives in qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, June 2022. Credit: PA Images

Qualifying in Azerbaijan saw a couple of drivers finish the hour covered in glory, while others are heading off with their tail between their legs. Who are the winners and losers from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying session?

Winners

Charles Leclerc

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc continued to show the pace that has made him the king of qualifying in 2022. His final qualifying run was imperious, with the Monegasque driver threading the needle through the castle section to open up an astonishing half-second advantage over everyone else.

Three years on from the infamous moment when he branded himself “stupid”, it is time to leave the youthful, exuberant but error-prone version of Leclerc behind and celebrate the mastery he is showing at the wheel of the Ferrari when the pressure ramps up in qualifying.

With Carlos Sainz sliding his way through his final run, Leclerc’s ability to step it up showed the difference between the ‘very good’ and the ‘excellent’.

After the disappointments of Spain and Monaco, where the team let him down, can he keep his head up and respond to Red Bull’s recent momentum?

Red Bull

Much of Red Bull’s recent form has come about as a result of their operational sharpness, with the team rarely dropping the ball when the chips are down. But Red Bull’s final run in Q3 was slightly compromised as Sergio Perez was unable to give Max Verstappen a tow as a result of him needing a fuel top-up before joining the track – a rare moment of sub-optimal preparation.

Capitalising on Sainz’s dodgy final run, Red Bull have managed to take second and third place and, crucially, appear to have set their cars up again with an eye to race pace. Now with the ability to attack Leclerc with a two-pronged approach, who would be brave enough to write off another victory for Milton Keynes on Sunday?

George Russell

Another race weekend and another strong performance from George Russell to keep him ahead of Lewis Hamilton – two tenths of a second was the gap at the conclusion of qualifying.

Much has been made of the possible reasons for Russell’s continuing internal winning streak, which is eerily reminiscent of Daniel Ricciardo’s first year at Red Bull alongside then-reigning champion Sebastian Vettel in 2014.

Whether Russell is simply more fired up than Hamilton over the prospect of a potential high of fourth or fifth place, there is no doubt that at this stage of the season Russell appears to be the benchmark around which the Mercedes engineers are operating.

Pierre Gasly

After having to deal with the disappointment of having the Red Bull door slammed in his face after Monaco, Gasly responded in perfect fashion in Azerbaijan.

With Yuki Tsunoda clearly performing much more strongly in 2022, Gasly will line up sixth for Sunday’s race – 0.2 seconds ahead of what Tsunoda managed.

Impressively, that is right on the pace of Mercedes and sets up a good fight to be best of the rest behind the Ferraris and Red Bulls for Sunday.

If it is another crazy race, could Gasly replicate his podium finish from 2021?

Sebastian Vettel

Aston Martin’s drivers did their best to replicate their disastrous Australian GP qualifying but on this occasion, Sebastian Vettel managed to give his side of the garage a reason to smile.

While Lance Stroll crashed his car twice in 30 seconds, Vettel proved to have top-10 pace throughout the entirety of the qualifying hour and took the chequered flag with a time good enough to give him ninth place on the grid.

Vettel’s track record in Azerbaijan is very impressive – he has finished in the top four on every occasion since the Baku circuit first held a race in 2016. Coming home third in 2019 and second in 2021, wouldn’t it be a fairytale if he managed to go one better and take the top step in 2022?

Lewis Hamilton drives through the narrow castle section. Baku June 2022 Credit: PA Images
Lewis Hamilton drives through the narrow castle section. Baku June 2022 Credit: PA Images

Losers

Lewis Hamilton

Continuing on from the points above, Hamilton’s mediocre weekend continued after qualifying as he was summoned before the race stewards for driving unnecessarily slowly through the castle section.

At the time of publishing, the stewards are yet to reach their verdict, but it is symptomatic of the greater malaise Mercedes and Hamilton have found themselves in this year as the seven-time former World Champion fell foul of a point emphasised by the race director in the Azerbaijan event notes.

Hamilton pointed out he felt he did nothing wrong when he spoke to media afterwards.

“I was off line. You have to be within a delta time and I was within my delta time,” he told Sky F1.

“I was trying to get a tow because we are so slow in a straight line, but the guys behind didn’t want to go by.”

But despite the possibility of a penalty that could drop him from his seventh-place grid slot, Hamilton said he has plenty to look forward to heading into the race.

“It’s a tricky and chaotic race, lots can happen and we are in the top 10,” he commented.

Valtteri Bottas

With the Finn having become something of a qualifying specialist since joining Alfa Romeo, Bottas looked out of sorts throughout Q1 and then Q2 where he was knocked out as the slowest man in the second part of qualifying.

Worse, Bottas was also beaten by his rookie team-mate Zhou Guanyu in both sessions, resulting in Bottas complaining about the feel from his brakes and a lack of grip from the tyres at the end of his day.

While Bottas struggled, it was to Zhou’s gain – the Chinese driver will line up in 14th and ahead of Bottas for the first time since entering Formula 1. Baku was one of the lowest points of Bottas’ 2021 season – could Zhou continue his strong weekend by beating the Finn on Sunday?

McLaren

Neither McLaren driver appeared to have many answers in terms of pace as qualifying progressed, particularly with the car struggling for straight-line speed. Norris finished Q2 in 11th, two tenths of a second ahead of what Daniel Ricciardo managed in 13th.

However, the drivers will take solace in the fact they were reasonably strong in the midfield on race day at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix – a track with reasonably similar straight-line demands to Baku.

Norris also picked up a stewards’ investigation due to his decision to slot in behind Hamilton as the Mercedes driver held back to try and get a slipstream to start another flying lap – the stewards are also yet to reveal their verdict into that summons.

Lance Stroll

While Vettel sailed his AMR22 into Q3 (albeit with a wall tap along the way), Lance Stroll spent his qualifying bashing his into walls. Having seemingly got away with serious damage from his first trip into the barriers in the second sector, Stroll opted not to stop for check-ups or fresh tyres and started a flying lap.

Unsurprisingly, the car was not in optimal condition and, encountering understeer, he hit the wall, brought out the red flags and gave his mechanics another headache to solve overnight.

The usual question applies: if Stroll was not the owner’s son, would he really be in that seat?

The article Winners and losers from Azerbaijan GP qualifying appeared first on Planetf1.com.

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