Seven things we learned from the Azerbaijan GP

Leclerc on pole is no problem for Verstappen, Mercedes and Hamilton may be lumbered with their porpoising issue and Alonso still shines at 40 after breaking Schumacher’s record… seven things we learned from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

  • Max Verstappen led home a Red Bull one-two at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
  • Title rivals Ferrari suffered a disaster with both of their cars retiring in Baku
  • Mercedes may not have fellow drivers onside in porpoising problem hitting them
  • Fernando Alonso hit a new Formula One longevity milestone in supreme drive 

Agony and ecstasy is the common phrase that can best describe the main talking points behind an eventful Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Much of the latter admittedly was for Red Bull, who took a commanding hold of both the drivers’ and constructors’ championships with a one-two finish led by Max Verstappen.

But there was devastation for their title rivals Ferrari after a double retirement, and there was literal agony for Lewis Hamilton who struggled to get out of his Mercedes at the end of the race due to the porpoising of his car shaking his back throughout the bumpy streets of Baku.

There was lots to get stuck into regarding the post-race fall-out as Sportsmail looks at the seven things we learned from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. 

The Red Bull team celebrate their one-two win in Azerbaijan to boost their championship leads

It is starting to become a regular theme. Charles Leclerc wins Saturday by sticking his Ferrari on pole position, but once the points and prizes are handed out 24 hours later it is all smiles for Max Verstappen.

Bad luck for Leclerc, and not for the first time this year, saw the Monegasque star retire from Baku with an engine failure and it enabled the world champion to effectively stroll to another victory at his expense.

Leclerc has now been on pole for the last four races and won none of them, the longest such streak in 20 years since Juan Pablo Montoya went five races without success for Williams.

But even more salt was rubbed into this wound. Leclerc has now converted just four victories from his 15 pole positions in F1… but Verstappen is the biggest winner from the Ferrari star starting first in a race having managed to steal victory on five occasions from his title rival.

As well as Azerbaijan, Spain and Miami this term, the Dutchman also triumphed at last year’s Monaco Grand Prix (when Leclerc failed to start from pole due to mechanical error) and also in Austria in 2019.

If Leclerc has any chance to wrestle the title away from Verstappen, it’s a statistic he will have to reverse sharply. 

Max Verstappen now has more wins from Charles Leclerc poles than the Ferrari star does

Hamilton porpoising pain may have no easy solution

One sight that appeared to dominate all others on Sunday was the sight of Lewis Hamilton very gingerly climbing out of his Mercedes after another race of violently bouncing up and down on his way to an otherwise credible fourth place.

Hamilton had complained over a bad back during the race, as a result of the severe porpoising issue – a phenomenon that sees the car shake vertically at high speed and has been a notable feature on the new era of F1 cars introduced for this year.

Mercedes believe they – with the support of many drivers – need a solution from the FIA to combat the issue in regards to protecting their long term health and safety.

However, not all are in agreement. Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff reportedly told German media over the weekend that only Fernando Alonso was against finding an issue which could come in the form of teams mandatory raising the ride height of the car so it does not run as close to the ground.

However, this comes at the cost of performance and Mercedes would be the likely benefactors of such an intervention. McLaren star Lando Norris has weighed in suggesting his team have already given up performance to run a higher ride height, and it is up to Mercedes to find a solution.

Lewis Hamilton is helped out of his Mercedes having complained of a bad back during the race

Norris told F1’s in-house post race show: ‘I’m not complaining. We had some porpoising, some bouncing. But it is what you have to deal with. It is the trade off trying to gain performance and we can quite easily go lower and gain performance but have more porpoising.

‘But we think where we are is just the correct amount. So I’m sure the Mercedes can have a much different floor and raise the ride height and it will be much nicer for them but they obviously don’t want to lose performance so I don’t think it is anything to complain about, it’s just people need to find ways to fix it themselves.’

Over to you Mercedes… 

Ferrari’s title chances are blowing up

The good news for Ferrari this season is that on pure pace they look a real match to take a decent title fight to Red Bull.

The bad news is that one of F1’s oldest cliches is very much working against them – ‘to finish first, first you must finish.’

For the second time in three races Charles Leclerc saw his Ferrari come to a halt on track while leading following a power unit issue in Baku. That’s a potential 50 points binned – with Verstappen going on to win in Spain as well as on Sunday adding to the collateral damage.

To add to the frustration, Leclerc’s team-mate Carlos Sainz also had to retire earlier in the race from fourth following a hydraulics issue. 

Following the third race of the season in Australia, Leclerc led the championship from George Russell by 34 points, now he trails Verstappen by the same amount after dropping third behind Sergio Perez.

Charles Leclerc was forced to retire from the lead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for Ferrari

More concerning for Ferrari is that the problems they are suffering do not appear to be team specific. Haas and Alfa Romeo are also powered by Ferrari and through power unit and hydraulics issues too, Kevin Magnussen and Zhou Guanyu were respectively forced to retire.

At a time of the season when Ferrari are just starting to lose grip with the title battle, reliability issues are the last thing they need. 

Red Bull still not convinced over Perez title charge

At the ultimate test of a driver’s skillset, Sergio Perez outperformed his Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen by triumphing at the Monaco Grand Prix.

When the Mexican then outqualified his team-mate on Saturday at Baku, whispers were soon going around over how Red Bull’s unofficial No 2 driver could potentially be a surprise contender for his team-mate’s world title.

This came into play during the race when Perez was leading from the world champion, as the duo attempted to pull clear of the threat coming from the closing Leclerc before the Ferrari’s star’s retirement.

However, any hopes Perez had of being able to put up even a tiny battle were soon dashed when he was caught by Verstappen then told over his team radio ‘no fighting’ effectively being told to let the Dutchman through.

Sergio Perez (left) lets Verstappen pass to take the lead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

In defence of Red Bull, the move was a sensible one. Verstappen’s race pace at the time was much quicker and he would go on to hold such an advantage throughout the race, in the end winning by 20 seconds from his team-mate.

Perez had the consolation of a fastest lap but given Verstappen was going as slow as he could without letting tyre performance drop in a bid to conserve his car, even that may carry a slight asterisk.

Perez is now second in the drivers’ standings and while he is still only 21 points behind Verstappen, Red Bull still appear to be putting all their drivers’ championship hopes with the world champion.

Russell emerging as top dog at Mercedes

While Hamilton was nursing a poorly back, his team-mate George Russell once again took the maximum realistically available to him by continuing his top-five finishing streak with his third podium of the season behind the out of sight Red Bulls.

As Hamilton’s new team-mate at Mercedes, Russell has settled in nicely to the team already despite their downfall in performance. His third place in Baku made it the seventh time in a row that he has beaten Hamilton on race day.

Admittedly, the seven time world champion has had his fair share of bad luck this term due to collisions with drivers out of his control as well as safety car calls going against him, and the performance difference between the pair looks exaggerated on numbers alone.

Yet, already Russell is 37 points clear of Hamilton and looks to have a much greater handle on what is otherwise a tricky Mercedes car to handle this season – and that’s before you get to the porpoising.

George Russell (right) continues to bank the majority of points for Mercedes this season

There is no title fight it appears looming on the horizon for 2022 so Mercedes will be mighty relieved they will not have to make a call to potentially ask Hamilton to perform a rear gunner role for Mercedes.

The real acid test comes when (or if) Mercedes finally overcome the porpoising problem though. If Russell maintains his slender advantage, there could be some tough conversations to come at the Silver Arrows… 

Alonso breaks Schumacher longevity record

We thought the days of Fernando Alonso being able to take a sledgehammer to Michael Schumacher records had long gone.

Yet the Azerbaijan Grand Prix brought up a significant moment for the two-time world champion, as he now holds the record for the longest F1 career at 21 years, three months and eight days.

Schumacher had previously held the record following his debut at the 1991 Belgian Grand Prix before finally hanging up his helmet (for a second time) at the end of the 2012 season at 43.

By then the seven-time world champion had long looked past his best following a below-average three years at Mercedes – yet Alonso is still going strong.

Like Hamilton, he too has been better than his results show this term and his back-to-back seventh place finishes ahead of team-mate Esteban Ocon in recent races are a reflection on just how high his ability still is at 40 years old. 

Even now it makes you wonder just how quick he could still go in title winning machinery… although sadly that has been the story for much of his career. 

Fernando Alonso now holds the longest career in F1 at over 21 years and is still going strong

Vettel gives struggling Aston Martin big boost

Speaking of top drivers from champions past, Vettel also used the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as an opportunity to show his incredible talent.

The four-time world champion turns 35 next month but produced his, as well as Aston Martin’s, best display of the season to claim a highly credible sixth place in Baku.

The German was quick throughout the weekend and could have even arguably finished fourth ahead of Lewis Hamilton, given he was ahead of the Brit when an ambitious passing attempt on Pierre Gasly saw him have to bail down an escape road.

While the error had cost him, his quick thinking allowed him to pirouette to face the circuit again and minimise the loss of time as he fought his way back up the field.

It’s possible that Vettel may have still finished sixth overall anyway given his car’s pace slight lack of raw pace compared with rivals around him, but with team-mate Lance Stroll having been toiling well outside of the points before he retired late on it underlined just how quick Vettel was.

The eight points gained from the race are significant for Aston Martin too – taking them level on 15 points with eighth placed Haas in the constructors’ championship.

Sebastian Vettel produced an excellent performance for Aston Martin on the streets of Baku

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