F1 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix: FP1 & FP2 report – Red Bull dominates as Mercedes are nowhere to be seen
It’s been two years, but Formula One returns to Baku for Friday practice.
After Red Bull’s dominance over Mercedes in Monaco, it would be interesting to see if Mercedes could make up ground on the charging bulls, but it didn’t seem to be the case.
It was a dominant day for Red Bull, as they set the fastest laps in both sessions today. Mercedes were either having a horrible day or keeping their cards very close to their chest. So let’s see how today’s sessions played out!
Unsurprisingly, it was Max Verstappen who set the pace in first practice, but he had both Ferraris for company.
However, the talk of FP1 was dominated with the talk of flexi wings. The FIA were doing tests to measure how much various team’s rear wings flexed under high speed.
This debate has been going on for some time now, but the FIA are using this weekend to gather data and then give further guidance to teams.
Back to the on-track action and the mobile Russian chicane was having a field day of ruining people’s laps, including Max Verstappen’s first flying lap. Luckily for the Dutchman, he was able to put in a second flying lap which took him to the top of the timing sheets.
But it was far from plain sailing for the rest of the field as many drivers ended up facing the wrong way throughout the session as they wrestled with the windy conditions.
Yuki Tsunoda almost re-created Mahaveer Raghunathan’s embarrassing Baku moment as he struggled to find reverse after locking up at Turn 4.
It was Turn 15 that drivers were finding the most difficult with Lewis Hamilton, Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz all having their own moments.
Turn 2 had it’s own share of drivers using it’s escape road with Bottas and Norris using it at the same time late on in the session.
So, while Red Bull topped the time sheets, Mercedes could not find time to set a clean lap, so they ended up further down the time sheets. Lewis Hamilton was 7th and Bottas was 10th.
It was the two Ferrari cars who were just behind Verstappen, continuing to show their pace from Monaco and then closely followed by the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo, who is looking to put his Monaco performance behind him.
The second practice session continued as the first one ended.
Plenty of cars were taking to the escape road, with turn 15 proving to be a real problem for the drivers. For Charles Leclerc it was more than a small problem. Leclerc was on a fast lap before locking both front tyres going down hill and put his Ferrari in the wall.
Luckily, it was not as damaging as his crash at Turn 8 back in 2019. He was able to reverse out of the wall and drive back to the pits for a new front wing.
That incident was not the only stoppage of the session as Nicholas Latifi ran into engine issues which brought his session to end 20 minutes into second practice.
Juts like in Free practice one, it was Red Bull dominance once again with Sergio Perez topping the timing charts with Verstappen just behind.
Ferrari were again just behind both Charging Bulls and despite his crash, Leclerc still put his Ferrari in 4th.
Mercedes were in no man’s land yet again with neither driver breaking into the top 10. On a brighter note though, Mercedes showed that their pace on the medium tyres was very competitive with Red Bull’s pace on the soft tyre.
This could mean that tyre strategy in qualifying tomorrow could be key.
Tyres were a big talking point with both Ferraris complaining of graining on the soft tyres and Max getting vibrations the more laps he did on the soft tyre.
With all this uncertainty with the tyres on longer runs, we could see a mixture of tyre strategies for the race which could make this race very interesting.
Could Ferrari be a competitor this weekend?
In both sessions today Ferrari were asserting themselves as the second fastest team on the grid, only a few tenths off Red Bull.
If not for Leclerc’s crash in qualifying, Ferrari would have had an incredibly positive weekend in Monaco, and they are looking to replicate again this weekend.
Ferrari are showing very strong short-run pace which could cause some upsets in Qualifying so Red Bull will have to be very wary of the Prancing horses would are looking very fast behind them.
Grid Talk podcast
Can’t wait until tomorrow for more F1 content? Why not check out the Grid Talk’s Azerbaijan Prixview hosted by Ruby Price and this week is joined by George Howson, Steve Jackson from Formula Shakedown and Phillip Matthew from the Grid Strip podcast.