Four down, 17 to go – and Spy is convinced there will be more dramatic races than the Azerbaijan Grand Prix this year.
Everything in F1 is a compromise. Baku’s 2.1km straight has been very well received: it’s created a street race where cars can overtake, with the added bonus for spectators of being a little bit twitchy because it’s not one to necessarily slam on every last gram of downforce. The downside, is that tyres get very cold when there’s 2.1km between the corners, and when the rest of the lap doesn’t have any long, high-speed turns, it’s very difficult to generate heat if you don’t already have it.
The virtual safety car towards the end of the race cooled everyone’s boots and left them struggling for grip. The tyres didn’t really want to turn back on, so everyone skated around to the flag, and we didn’t get the big grandstand finish the race seemed set-up for. It’s rather like listening to a symphony where, after a couple of hours of pleasant noodling, the orchestra decide they can’t be bothered with the finale and wandered off to the bar.
Usually, I’d get to whine about the VSC being the bad luck that denied Max a very good chance of attacking Seb for the final podium position – but given it was Pierre’s mechanical DNF that caused the VSC in the first place, probably best to leave that alone. Instead it was Max’s third fourth place of the year.
The usual F1 consensus is that we truly establish the pecking order in May at the Circuit de Catalunya but that notion is probably out-dated. Yes, it’s the most ‘normal’ circuit – but there aren’t many other ‘normal’ circuits any more, and there’s nothing in Spain that we haven’t seen already this year at one of the four venues. The order we have now is probably a realistic fit for how things stand at the moment. We are a little bit off in qualifying but reasonably competitive on race pace. The rest of the season is going to be about who does the best job with getting upgrades onto the car.
Race aside, the weekend in Baku was pretty lively. There are venues where you could comfortably get rid of FP1 altogether – but at a street race, the drivers really want to get the laps on the board, so losing the first practice session was a bit of a blow. Losing it to a badly-secured drain cover was unusual but in procedural terms no different to what would happen in heavy rain or fog. It was, however, kind of race control to cancel it nice and early. Usually they leave us hanging for most of the session.
Loose drains happen from time to time. They’re welded down but sometimes the welds don’t hold. There’s often a bit of finger-pointing, particularly if the venue is inexperienced with F1 – but then it’s happened in Monaco, and they’re hardly new to this. It does bring home how fiercely powerful the aerodynamics acting on an F1 car are: even without the welds, that’s still an iron disc weighing more than a large mechanic, being tossed around like a frisbee. George Russell reckoned it was 10-15mm off being a serious accident. That comment had half the team wondering what ride height Williams were running and the other half concluding that George has really big balls.
After that it was the usual bitty weekend with waved yellows on every lap, a regular procession of reds, chaos in the support races and the track marshals getting a lot of practice with their brooms. It’s almost like everyone got it out of their system before the main event.