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The Baku City Street Circuit has provided some incredible races over the years. This season’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was not one of them.
However, while the race was dull, save for a slight bit of safety car drama, it did appear to confirm an all-Red Bull title battle could be in the cards.
Sergio Perez took his second Azerbaijan Grand Prix in three years, driving a virtually flawless race. Given the struggles everyone had with tire degradation, this was Checo’s race. No one nurses there Pirellis like him.
It didn’t hurt that the race’s only safety car — which came out after Nyck De Vries clipped a wall with his AlphaTauri and got stranded — completely hosed Perez’s only real competition, his teammate Max Verstappen.
It was a bit of a head-scratcher to bring Verstappen in to pit on Lap 10, given how inevitable a safety car seemed. Still, the Red Bull mechanics got the Dutchmen back on track in a good enough place that he only lost two positions. He quickly overtook Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to regain P2 where he stayed for the rest of the race.
Save for a late podium push from Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso that was about all she wrote at the sharp end of the field. Leclerc managed to hang on to P3 and joined the Red Bulls on the podium; Ferrari’s first of the season.
Perez nearly maximized his points haul having won the sprint race. However, Mercedes’ George Russell stole the point for the fastest lap on the final lap of the race.
Ferrari Will Be Pleased With What They Did In Azerbaijan
2023 has not been kind to Ferrari. However, their fortunes changed in Baku.
Charles Leclerc showed that he’s the best qualifier on the Baku Street Circuit, having taken pole in both the sprint and the Grand Prix. Of course, he was eventually swallowed up by the Red Bulls, but, frankly, that’s to be expected.
While the team would’ve certainly loved to have had Carlos Sainz finish in P4, taking P3 and P5 is a great result for Ferrari. Especially, when you consider Mercedes Lewis Hamilton and George Russell finished in P6 and P8 respectively.
That only puts a dent in their deficit to Mercedes, but it’s a step in the right direction. It also showed that Ferrari had a car — at least in Baku — that could hang with the Aston Martin, one of the raciest cars on the grid.
And speaking of those snazzy British Racing Green machines…
Aston Martin Was Solid Save For One Costly Error
Aston Martin continued to impress but failed to crack the podium for the first time this season. However, the team left some points on the table in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Aston Martin doesn’t qualify as well as some of their rivals, but they typically make up for it on Sundays. They did exactly that, with Lance Stroll firing off the line and picking up a couple of spots on the reopening lap. Fernando Alonso did the same and picked off one position after starting in P6.
However, Stroll made a mistake on lap 20 when he clipped the same wall that took out Nyck De Vries. While the Aston Martin appeared to have a more robust front left suspension than the Alpha Tauri, it seemed to affect his pace. He was passed by Lewis Hamilton, but still managed to cross the line in P7.
One of the most remarkable moments came from Alonso, who radioed some instructions to help his teammate with his brake bias. If you know Fernando’s history with teammates, that’s highly unusual. However, it speaks to how well the team is doing at the moment. That level of teamwork will pay dividends moving forward.
Maybe, Taylor Swift has softened him up a little bit…
Alpine Are Ready To Head To Miami
Alpine had one of the worst weeks a team could have at Baku.
It started when Pierre Gasly’s car caught fire during the lone practice session on Friday. Gasly qualified poorly for the sprint while Ocon started both the sprint and Grand Prix from the pitlane.
Ocon nursed his hard tires to the end of the Grand Prix. Of course, in a dry race, you have to stop at least once. So the team pitted him, but not before track officials allowed photographers into the pitlane.
Scary stuff, and a final piece of bad luck for what was a forgettable weekend in Baku for Team Endstone.
They’ll need to right the ship in a hurry, and will certainly hope to do that in Miami.
• McLaren had a solid Grand Prix. Both cars started with both cars in the top 10, but with George Russell behind them, one of them falling out of the points was almost inevitable. Lando Norris held on to take P9 to his spot, while Oscar Piastri fell out of the points and finished P11. However, given the Aussie was struggling with a stomach bug that was a good effort.
• The hard tires were definitely the tire to go with as the Mediums fell off in a hurry. If it weren’t for that pesky rule about using two tire compounds, Haas’ Niko Hulkenberg probably would’ve stolen at least one point in Azerbaijan.
• Williams’ Alex Albon had a strong qualifying session on Friday, and so did Logan Sargeant. However, the American had an unforced error that took him out of Q2 and caused him to miss the sprint race. Albon ultimately held his position in P12 while Sargeant dropped 2 spots from his grid position to finish in P16
Next weekend Formula 1 is headed stateside for the first of three US races.
It’s time to head to Miami, baby.
I’m not heading down to the race this year (and have some serious FOMO going on) but if you are, be sure to have a great time and drink a metric assload of water.
It should be a good one, especially because it’ll be a home race for Ft. Lauderdale native Logan Sargeant. I expect to see a lot of Red, White, and Blue in the stands.
With Perez trailing Verstappen by just 6 points, things are going to be juicy from here on out, starting in South Florida.
Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle