The 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was not as wild as races on this track have been. It was the Formula 2 drivers who provided the chaos in Baku. Rather, the 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a more subdued affair, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen winning the race and showing unbelievable pace. What this year’s race will be remembered for will be more Ferrari failures and the physical toll on the drivers.
How the Race was Won
Verstappen entered the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the betting favorite to win the race. Verstappen qualified third, behind teammate Sergio Perez. Verstappen spent the first stint of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix pressuring Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc until he entered the pits during a virtual safety car. It seemed inevitable that Verstappen would pass Leclerc, then chase down his teammate, and run away with the win. Verstappen ran away with the race win.
Verstappen was never under any threat after Leclerc retired on lap 21. Without Ferrari on the grid, Red Bull was in complete control of the race, much like the 2021 edition of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Tire failure ghosts from 2021 were on the mind of the Red Bull pit wall, as they were debating with Verstappen about his target pace near the end of the race, over the radio. I’m sure you can guess who was favoring going faster.
After leading the race from turn 1, Perez struggled for rear tire grip and the pace to match Verstappen, who finished the race 20.823 seconds ahead. Perez did score an extra point for the fastest lap, a 1:46.046 on Lap 36.
Mercedes’ George Russell continued his string of consistent and excellent performances, finishing third. Lewis Hamilton finished fourth, fighting with Mercedes’s poor ride quality, describing his Grand Prix as painful and “the worst race ever.” At the end of the day, aside from the Red Bulls, no team benefitted more from Ferrari’s double DNFs than Mercedes.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly needed to have a good weekend in Baku for his possible Formula 1 future. Gasly has a very good weekend, qualifying seventh and finishing 5th in the race. If Gasly wants to leave the Red Bull system, continued strong performances will help create increased interest in his services for 2023 and beyond.
Ferrari’s Reliability Woes
Ferrari’s weekend ended horribly. Carlos Sainz was falling behind the leading trio when a hydraulic failure ended his race on lap 9. Leclerc was in the fight for the win when smoke s billowing out of the back of his Ferrari signaled an old-school internal combustion engine failure.
Reliability concerns continue for Ferrari and their engine customers. Technical minds and Formula 1 media speculate if the MGU-K on the Ferrari engine issues at Miami has been causing reliability issues for the other Ferrari engines on the grid, like Haas.
However, for Ferrari’s world championship pursuit and reliability woes, there is no quick fix. If Ferrari wants to keep in touch with Red Bull and keep ahead of Mercedes, they need to have a mistake-free weekend in Canada, while working to remedy their reliability woes.
Red Bull At the Top of Everything
Red Bull cruised to an easy 1-2 finish, earning maximum points and extending their leads in both World championships. This is the first time that Red Bull drivers have ranked first and second in the Driver’s World Championships since 2011.
Verstappen is leading the Driver’s Championship with 150 points. Perez is second in the standings with 129 points, 13 points clear of Ferrari’s Leclerc. Red Bull’s 279 points have given them an 80-point advantage over Ferrari. Red Bull has the best race car on the grid and two drivers challenging for the World Championship for the first time, in a long time.
The Physical Toll of the Race
Many drivers were physically “shaken”, to steal from Daniel Ricciardo’s post-race interview with F1 TV’s Rosanna Tennant. Ricciardo described the bouncing he experienced like Steph Curry bouncing his helmet like a basketball, and felt “like he had taken a few blows” after the race.
Lewis Hamilton was complaining of pain from Mercedes’s poor ride quality early in the race. At the end of the race, Hamilton was slow-moving to get out of his car, favoring his back. Hamilton and Ricciardo were two of many drivers who spoke about the physical punishment and their condition after the race.
The F1 Grand Prix Drivers Association is likely to continue to pressure the FIA to make adjustments making the cars less stiff, causing less short-term pain and long-term neurological consequences.
The Formula One calendar moves to week 9, then Circuit Gilles Villeneuve and the Canadian Grand Prix, in Montreal, Quebec, June 17-19, 2022. Leclerc will likely be the betting favorite to qualify first, while Verstappen will likely be the betting favorite to win.