Charles Leclerc stole the show today in qualifying, thumping both championship front runners as Ferrari notch up their second pole position the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, their second in a row.
Let’s crunch the numbers from the qualifying session and figure out what was really went on Saturday at the Baku City Circuit.
Development Progress: Year on Year Battles (2021 v. Fastest previous Qualifying Lap)
Charles Leclerc and Ferrari surprised everyone by exceeding expectations by grabbing a highly unlikely pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, and the ninth for the young Monegasque.
Ferrari showed supreme pace in the most recent race, the Monaco Grand Prix, but with Monaco being somewhat of an outlier due to its extremely tight and twist layout, today’s result is a convincing and believable measure of their progress.
Ferrari suffered a significant loss of pace in 2019 but in the last two qualifying sessions Leclerc has convincing led Saturday albeit both shortened by red flags, on what is becoming a season of rejuvenation for the Italian outfit after mostly struggling in the early races of this year.
The progress chart above shows comparisons from each team’s fastest lap today to their respective fastest lap in previous years. Alpine led the charge in terms of development over previous years, perhaps a little unrepresentative as Renault had a terrible 2019 Azerbaijan qualifying session.
McLaren’s unprecedented development gains since 2018 continue to shine with a second-best result today. A surprise return to form for AlphaTauri seeing third-best progression of all.
Red Bull, and as was the case in Monaco, have shown a slip in performance and once again Ferrari have pounced on them. Red Bull has lost half a second since 2019 here in Baku, and have maintained a delta of half a second to exist between themselves and Mercedes mirroring that of Monaco.
Red Bull and Max Verstappen came into Baku on a high leaving Monaco leading both championships. This circuit has never been favourable to Verstappen and admittedly not one of his favourites, but despite this, the quality of car at his disposal this year, his performance today was not enough to move the needle in terms of development numbers and leaves today’s result feeling somewhat squandered.
Mercedes “Shake N’ Bake” approach to qualifying was enough to help Hamilton ascend the order after lukewarm results so far this weekend. Mercedes is in a position no different than where they were at the beginning of the season at round one in Bahrain, getting front row starts despite extreme performance losses.
The Baku City Circuit has always been a circuit suited to Mercedes challenger but the punishment of the new regulations introduced this year continues to show their profound effects.
Once again if not for Haas using 2021 as a learning year for their drivers while all development is focused on working towards their 2022 car, Mercedes would be the worst developed car at Azerbaijan compared to previous years. Mercedes were ninth today losing 0.955s a lap compared to 2019.
- -0.656 | Hamilon DEF. Bottas
- -0.557 | Norris DEF. Ricciardo
- -0.400 | Russell DEF. Latifi
- -0.358 | Leclerc DEF. Sainz
- -0.080 | Schumacher DEF. Mazepin
- -0.078 | Alonso DEF. Ocon
- -0.069 | Gasly DEF. Tsunoda
- -0.067 | Verstappen DEF. Perez
A Game Of Hundredths
Charles Leclerc led the field home by a quarter of a second. The fight for second between Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen, Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz was separated by 0.126s or two car lengths at the line.
Historically this year Ferrari have fallen behind on Sunday’s race pace of Hamilton and Verstappen, usually the better part of a second a lap excluding Monaco where Carlos Sainz met Verstappen’s race pace.
It will be crucial for Hamilton and Verstappen to jump Leclerc on the first lap to avoid losing time. Leclerc starts well, he knows how to get the job of lap 1 done, and he does not concedes position easily.
In terms of direct teammate battles, the gaps were marginal. Eight drivers were separated to their respective teammates by 0.080s or less while Hamilton led all with the highest delta to a teammate of 0.656s when comparing each driver’s fastest lap of the session.
Sebastian Vettel, who admitted to making an error in turn 5 and flat spotting his tires, missed out on Q3 by 0.029s to Alpine’s Fernando Alonso.
- Nikita Mazepin said today was the worst day he’s ever had in an F1 car.
- Kimi Raikkonen said Q3 was attainable after losing his best lap to the red flag at the end of Q2.
- Drivers who lost time in Q3 vs. Q2: Yuki Tsnunoda +0.577, Valtteri Bottas +0.553, Sergio Perez +0.287, and Fernando Alonso +0.132.
Qualifying Order – Teams Pace Battle
- +0.000 | Ferrari
- +0.255 | Mercedes
- +0.230 | Red Bull Honda
- +0.554 | AlphaTauri Honda
- +0.274 | McLaren Mercedes
- +1.140 | Alpine
- +0.963 | Aston Martin Mercedes
- +1.063 | Alfa Romeo Ferrari
- +1.483 | Williams Mercedes
- +2.612 | Haas Ferrari