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Baku Takeaways: A Red Bull conundrum?

Baku Takeaways: A Red Bull conundrum in the making?

Baku Takeaways: A Red Bull conundrum?

Red Bull were racing themselves in Baku on Sunday, as Sergio Perez took his second victory around its streets, Max Verstappen fruitlessly chasing, but will the Mexican’s form create a conundrum for his team?

Red Bull took their third one-two result of the 2023 Formula 1 season in Baku last weekend, but their de facto number one wasn’t the victor, as Sergio Perez bounced back strongly from his tough weekend in Melbourne to win both the Sprint Race and Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Ferrari gave it their best shot, Charles Leclerc imperious over one-lap pace grabbing pole position in both Qualifying and the Sprint Shootout, but the chronic tyre degradation problem remains for the Scuderia, as the Monegasque was a sitting duck for the Red Bulls in both races.

Keeping aside the fact that Carlos Sainz was AWOL all weekend long, Ferrari did not implode in Baku, and Leclerc can be satisfied that he maximized his potential; points-wise.

Mercedes will have nothing special to write home about, but Aston Martin seemed to have dropped back in the pecking order, their DRS problems playing a role in that, while it remains to be seen how powerful a factor the layout of Baku was in the Greens’ struggles. Miami is just next week so we can have a better idea.

The race was not stellar to be honest, but the intra-Red Bull-fight on track was intriguing, but what should be more fascinating is the aftermath of the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the energy drinks outfit, so let’s look into that in our first Takeaway from Baku.

Two roosters in the Red Bull hen-house?

There is no hiding the fact that Red Bull is Max Verstappen’s team, but that has been the case as he has always destroyed every teammate he has had over the years, starting with Daniel Ricciardo who ran away to Renault at the end of the 2018 F1 season.

But Sergio Perez has been the closest teammate to Verstappen since Ricciardo, as the Dutchman obliterated Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, but is he becoming too close for comfort?

As we stand, both Max and Checo have two wins each in 2023, and while the former still leads the Championship, the gap in points is nothing to be excited about. If Perez didn’t have an off weekend in Australia the standings would’ve been very different.

Perez has always expressed his target of winning the Championship with Red Bull, and he repeated those statements in Baku, but now they have more weight as he is even on wins with Verstappen, who on the other hand was peculiarly accepting of the defeat he suffered at the hands his teammate.

As for Verstappen, he had one of those weekends in Baku where despite fighting at the sharp end of the grid, he never felt “in the zone” and you sensed he was working hard to put in fast laps, not naturally as he usually does, and in the Grand Prix, he just couldn’t get close to Perez.

Max was strangely gracious in defeat, is maturity creeping in?

Getting beaten by Charles Leclerc is something but the pounding he received from Perez is something else, and he was strangely gracious in defeat, is maturity creeping in?

Or did Verstappen know something we didn’t? Was he having some particular issue which makes him accept his rough weekend in Baku as a one-off? Or because he wanted to pit early which cost him the lead? Was that why he was less aggravated after the race? Or was he truly rattled and bewildered by the form of Perez?

I can’t help but feel that Verstappen’s overreaction after George Russell “pushed him” into the wall at the start of the Sprint Race was his way of venting out his frustration.

Nevertheless, Red Bull now must think carefully about how to manage two roosters in the henhouse, provided Perez keeps his form over the course of the season. Don’t get me wrong, I am more than aware of the titanic talent of Verstappen, and that Perez’s flame may be put out as soon as Miami… But what if?

When asked after the race how to keep the peace within the Red Bull camp, Christian Horner insisted his drivers will be free to race until the team’s interests dictate otherwise.

The only thing we can say, and considering how things stand now, is that interesting days lie ahead for Red Bull.

Thoughts on the revised Sprint Race format

We at GrandPrix247, and I in person are not fans of the Sprint Race weekends F1 has implemented since 2021, especially when Qualifying doesn’t decide the Grand Prix grid, but I have previously admitted that the new format applied in Baku last weekend was a decent compromise.

The fact that the Grand Prix and the Sprint race are now two separate affairs is a good thing, and the idea of one practice session making it more difficult for the teams to dial in their cars also makes the weekend more interesting.

But as we saw in Baku, there wasn’t any major change in the pecking order. Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Aston Martin remained the top four teams, and while Aston Martin slipped back, that may be simply due to the track layout, or the DRS problem that plagued them all weekend. McLaren were a bit better, but they had an upgraded car for Azerbaijan and that may explain how both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri qualified in the top ten.

To be honest, unless the Sprint Race starts awarding as much points as the Grand Prix, it will remain a mundane affair, since teams and drivers will not throw everything at it as the focus will be on the Grand Prix where ten drivers get points not eight, and where the points haul is bigger.

As for the show and excitement, the first few laps of the Sprint were exciting, but once the drivers settled down in their positions, that was it. The main talking point after the Sprint Race was Max Verstappen and George Russell’s feud after their first-lap incident instead of being focused on Sergio Perez and Charles Leclerc who fought for the win.

But Stefano Domenicali recently told Formula 1 investors – worried about Red Bull’s dominance – that “new fans” didn’t mind it, and it seems that’s where F1’s current focus is.

What do we longtime, hardcore F1 fans know anyway?

Quick hits

  • Carlos Sainz delivered another substandard weekend for Ferrari, over eighth tenths slower than his teammate. We know he is a smart driver, but he should start using his brains to get himself out of the ditch he currently lies in.
  • Interesting how Fernando Alonso relayed some advice to Lance Stroll through the engineers regarding the brake bias setting he’s using, and how Lance Stroll almost immediately lost his AMR23 after that along with his position to Lewis Hamilton. Was that Alonso f@cking with Stroll’s brains, camouflaging it with the nice, helpful, mentoring teammate image? One can’t but wonder…
  • Lewis Hamilton had the upper hand on George Russell over the weekend in Baku, as the intra-team fight between these two continues to ebb and flow. However, and after 2022’s bouncing nightmare, both Mercedes drivers would appreciate that they walked away from Sunday’s race without the prospect of having to visit a chiropractor on Monday.
  • A weekend to forget for Alpine with Pierre Gasly’s reliability woes the his Qualifying crash, while Esteban Ocon couldn’t score any points after the team started him from the pitlane both in the Grand Prix and the Sprint.
    The French team is clearly not in a good place at the moment, and they don’t seem to be able to find their way out of the woods yet.