F1 2022, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, qualifying, Baku, results, analysis, Ferrari, Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, Mercedes, George Russell

Currently, Formula 1 has two in-form drivers, and they share the front row of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Charles Leclerc could hardly have squeezed more out of his qualifying lap to take pole in Baku, having built a thunderous crescendo through the treacherous streets to dominate the afternoon.

Meanwhile, Sergio Perez is riding a wave of confidence that shows no signs of breaking. Red Bull Racing’s fastest driver all weekend, had he been given a wake he might well have given Leclerc a decent run for his money when the flag fell on the session.

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Is the Leclerc-Perez rivalry just a street circuit blip, or is this the next chapter of the 2022 championship that no one saw coming?

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix, already one of the sport’s most notoriously unpredictable events, could have a crucial chapter to add to this year’s championship campaign.

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LECLERC ON ANOTHER LEVEL

It’s been easy to forget over the past month that Charles Leclerc was in almost perfectly sparkling form.

His first qualifying performance in Baku earned him his fourth straight pole and his sixth of the eight-race season. He also made himself the first driver to win more than one pole position in Azerbaijan, a somewhat murky piece of history he can look back on.

As has happened so many times this season, there’s no doubt he made the difference on Saturday.

The Ferrari was fast but not in a class of its own, and the SF-75 wanted to be pushed around before rewarding its driver with a lap time.

Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz recorded their share of ragged corners throughout qualifying, but only one of them had a clean lap for his final race in Q3.

Sainz passed the car in the first sector and wasted his chance to even improve, leaving him fourth.

Leclerc’s lap was sublime and, ultimately, untouchable.

Photo by HAMAD I MOHAMMED / POOL / AFPSource: AFP

After being snatched from victory by engine failure in Spain and then strategic errors in Monaco, conversion is now his only concern.

“I just want to finish the job,” he said. “The last two weekends, I’ve already said this on Saturday and it didn’t happen on Sunday.

“We don’t need to make it work, but it would be great if we made it work tomorrow. Let’s see how it goes in the first laps, then I’ll try to keep the lead. »

The main obstacle in Leclerc’s way is the fact that Red Bull Racing is the fastest machine on the speed track. Perez was 6 kilometers per hour faster at the end of qualifying, which will probably be a decisive difference in the race if Leclerc cannot make an early break in the field.

“If he’s strong enough against Red Bull, we’ll see that tomorrow,” he said. “I think since we got the new package we have tried different things, and from my feeling I feel better in the race.

“But we still have to confirm that tomorrow, so tomorrow we’ll have an answer to that. The feeling is there and it’s good, so I’m optimistic for tomorrow.

Photo by NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA / AFPSource: AFP

PEREZ CONTINUES TO PUT PRESSURE ON HIS TEAM

Red Bull Racing is the overall threat, and no savvy driver would ever undo Max Verstappen, but Sergio Perez has worked hard to become the main threat as Leclerc gets his campaign back on track.

Perez and Leclerc traded best times all weekend, and it was ultimately the Mexican who came closest to the Monegasque’s best time, 0.282 seconds behind.

But Perez felt there was time on the table, having lost the opportunity to catch a wake when a fuel issue kept him in his garage too long at the end of Q3 to catch up with the main field of cars. embarking on their finale. short.

It might not have been enough for pole, but it would have brought Leclerc closer and continued what had been until the end of qualifying a very finely balanced fight.

“I think when you think about it, winning three tenths is probably too much,” he admitted. “But I was on my own and it seemed quite costly here, especially on the backstretch, without having to be towed by the cars in front of me.

“But P2 we can still race from here, we should be strong tomorrow in the race and hopefully we can keep Charles under pressure.”

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

Verstappen, meanwhile, starting from third place, said he was “constantly a bit behind” in qualifying, although he was optimistic his car had the race pace to take the lead from Ferrari. sunday.

Both teams have comfortable running pace to sprint away from midfield, which means it will be a straight fight between them, and with the one-stop easy run, both will have two shots in the barrel, one with each car, to nail down the pit window.

How could Red Bull Racing play if they see an opportunity to maximize Verstappen’s points? Only two rounds ago he didn’t hesitate to give priority to the Dutchman, albeit in a race with a less predictable strategy.

“From a team point of view, our objective is to beat Ferrari,” said Christian Horner. “At the end of the day, which driver was to come out on top, as long as it’s a Red Bull driver, that’s what matters.

“Ferrari [has a] Similar scenario with Sainz and Leclerc, so still a bit ahead in the championship. And Max has also had two DNFs to his name so far, so he’s only had a sample of some races.

“It’s quite simple from the team, you know, that we keep the pressure collectively on Ferrari – and Mercedes, because we haven’t taken them out of the championship either.”

We’ll wait to see how the race goes for a definitive answer on that.

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

RUSSELL SAYS ACCIDENTS ARE INEVITABLE WITH SEVERE KICKBACKS

Christian Horner may not have written off Mercedes yet, and it’s true that this weekend’s race and the previous round in Monaco take place on extreme road circuits, but it’s hard to envisage a return to the championship of the German brand after qualifying 1.3 seconds off the pace. .

George Russell again led the way, but only in fractional fashion, moving Hamilton from sixth to eighth, the gap being 0.2 seconds.

But while you get the feeling the team was anticipating a difficult qualifying afternoon ahead of time, Russell was unprepared for his car’s rebound not to improve between Friday and Saturday, and he again railed against what he described as an extremely dangerous situation for the pilots. virtually all were asked to endure some amount of porpoising in pursuit of support.

“I think it’s only a matter of time before we see a major incident,” he said. “A lot of us can barely keep the car straight over these bumps.

“We’re going through the last two corners at a low 300km/h – you can clearly see on the tarmac how close the cars are to the ground.

“I’m shaking to pieces, I can barely see where to brake at the end of a straight line so much we bounce.

“We’re now so close to the ground to get the maximum aero benefits, and it’s just brutal out there.”

On Friday, Russell argued for rule changes to address the rebound, but on Saturday he reiterated a previous call for the adoption of new technologies to help teams manage it without having to undertake months or even years of work. of development.

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty ImagesSource: Getty Images

“It’s kind of just unnecessary with the technology we have,” he said. “In today’s environment, it just seems pointless for us to be driving a Formula 1 car at over 200 miles per hour just millimeters off the ground.

“It’s a recipe for disaster. I don’t really know what the future holds, but I don’t think we can sustain this for three years or how long these regulations will be in place.

“For what it’s worth, we’re not as massively supportive of it as a team because with every race we do we learn more and more about the car, and any change is going to limit that learning. is clearly a safety limit.

“I don’t think we’re the only car. I think probably half the grid is in the same boat. Frustratingly, Ferrari is probably in the same boat, but somehow they seem to be making it work. Let’s see. Everyone is working very hard to try to resolve these issues.

The effect of the rebound will be extreme at the start of the race when cold tires combine with full fuel tanks and the disturbed air of a group of cars jostling for early position gains. Let’s hope Russell’s predictions don’t come true.

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