Azerbaijan GP: Team by team analysis

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The Azerbaijan Grand Prix did not fail to impress in its second year. Red Bull's Daniel Ricciardo scored his first win at a race weekend when he did not have the ultimate pace, but his patience and faultless drive brought success.

Multiple safety car periods, red flag, a clashing Vettel-Hamilton duo, series of technical problems, first win in 2017 for Ricciardo, clashing Force Indias and McLaren's well-desired and much-awaited first points of this year’s championship were all among the ingredients which made the last weekend’s Baku race something truly special, spectacular and highly controversial.

Ferrari

Ferrari intended to bounce back from a Canadian GP which did not really bring the result the Italians wanted. The speed on the ultra-quick Montreal circuit was not missing, but a wild move of Max Verstappen meant that championship leader’s Sebastian Vettel’s race was heavily compromised due to serious front wing damage.

The 6003m long Baku street circuit did not played into the hands of Ferrari with its 2km long start-finish section. Ferrari was playing around with various aero configurations over the three practices, wanted to use the medium-downforce rear wing, but was then forced to mount the Montreal-specification spoon rear wing onto the SF70-H to keep up with the top-speeds of the Mercedes-powered machineries.

Vettel was dogged by technical woes in the final practice session and had to revert to a previous power unit which had already completed five (!) races. That was the first-specification 2017 unit.

The spoon rear wing proved to be a really heavy compromise for the qualifying session. Pirelli’s tyres were anyway difficult to switch on, but that lower downforce level meant neither Kimi Räikkönen nor Sebastian Vettel were able to generate enough heat into the rubber. The rumour had it that Ferrari’s power unit could not generate enough energy for that ultra-long Baku lap while Mercedes could fully recharge its batteries for the all-important qualifying lap.

Despite to the troubles, Vettel escaped the race with increasing his championship lead by two points in a highly controversial race on a Mercedes-favouring track with a ’superannuated’ power unit.

Mercedes

Mercedes approached the Baku race track with hopes and concerns. The Anglo-German team knew the circuit dominated by long straights would favour its power unit, its efficient energy deployment and its peak power advantage. On the other hand, the team was also concerened about possible tyre warm-up issues it faced previously on similar smooth surfaces of Sochi.

After struggling on the opening Friday, the team found remedy for its woes and took over the reign come Saturday. Its aero configuration enabled the team to be comfortable through the corners. Hamilton was more then four tenths faster in the first sector then the first non-Mercedes car Max Verstappen, that deficit was slightly over three tenths in the middle part of the track while Hamilton and Bottas dominated the action in the closing sector as well.

In the race, Hamilton had a slight advantage over Vettel who could not keep up with the Briton in the last sector due to his rather old power unit.

The Azerbaijan GP was a must-double-win for Mercedes with the reliability struggles of Ferrari and their power advantage. However, Bottas’ doubftul and desperate manoeuvre against Kimi Räikkönen was the first setback. The Finn could, however, use his great luck and capitalized on the safety car periods and the red flag and fought his way back to the second position. Hamilton who was desperate to hold Vettel up at the end of a safety car period, tangled with the German and had to settle for the fifth place.

Red Bull

Performance-wise, Red Bull caused for the biggest surprise in Baku. The 2km long start-finish section was to spoil the party for the energy drink-owned team, but the RB13 behaved surprisingly well especially with Max Verstappen behind the wheel.

Red Bull ran a lower downforce rear wing with a trimmed profile. Despite to that, both drivers could switch on the tyres for the first timed lap which the team complained about earlier in the season. Verstappen set the third best time in the first sector, the second in the middle sector during the qualifying session. The Dutchman was only ninth fastest in the last part of the circuit, but was only just over two tenths down on the best value set by Hamilton.

Max Verstappen was fighting for podium place finish while stuck behind Sergio Perez when a mechanical failure brought his race to a premature end.

Such was his disappointment, he decided to avoid speaking to any media at all after the race, with some sources saying he had left the track before the chequered flag. As drivers are obliged to fulfil post-race media appearances, Verstappen was handed a fine of EUR 25000.

Daniel Ricciardo who has been off the pace over the whole weekend, managed to capitalize on the misfortunes of the others and the safety car periods. The Australian was happy, but the extent of his happiness indicated he is still waiting for wins again which he takes on merit.

Renault

The French manufacturer left Baku, the biggest city located under the sea level, with zero point. Jolyon Palmer could not even take part in the qualifying session due to technical problems after a troubled Friday session.

Nico Hülkenberg qualified only 14th fastest and lacked of speed in every segment of the city race track. The German missed 1.1 seconds in the first sector, 1.4 seconds in the middle part of the circuit was half a second down in the last part.

In the race, things did not want to get better for the Enstone/Viry-based squad. Jolyon Palmer experienced a misfire on his way to the grid which got only worse later. He was then forced to retire when the drivability got seriously poor.

Hülkenberg was heading for a point-scoring finish after gaining from others’ misforuntes. His hopes were then dashed when he clipped his front wing, brushed a wall which caused a fatal suspension damage.

Renault plans a major upgrade package for the British GP. The team expects a big lift in performance from that developemt step.

Force India

Force India probably earned the title of the biggest loser in the race. Their car was behaving really nicely on the Baku race track from the first laps of Friday on. Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez went on to occupy the sixth and seventh places. Both cars were heading for scoring a good haul of points, partly on merit and partly due to the misfortunes of Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. Perez might have also had a chance to grab the team’s and his own first victory.

However, things made a U-turn after the last safety car period when the two team-mates carried on their in-team rivalry which they began in Canada two weeks ago. Coming to the second corner, Ocon was inside and did not want to yield and steered Perez into the walls. The Frenchman could continue, the Mexican had to drive into the pits. Even if the red flag gave time to Force India to repair the car, Perez was already a lap down.

McLaren

The Anglo-Japanese collaboration headed to Azerbaijan with the total resignation that their chances on the fastest street circuit are doomed due to their underpowered Honda engine. However, Alonso scored the team’s first points with his 9th position.

The two drivers were always going to start the 51-lap long race from the back of the field as Honda had to replace power unit parts again. Fernando Alonso had to use his fifth internal combustion engine, seventh turbocharger, seventh MGU-H unit and fifth MGU-K. As a reminder: drivers have an allocation of four power units for the entire season, so those numbers clearly indicate how miserable Honda’s reliabilty has been so far.

Honda’s peak power deficit has been evident all year long, but the speed trap at the end of the main straight highlighted their woes once again. Both drivers achieved a top speed of 318 kph which was 5 kph down even on the 18th highest value of Nico Hülkenberg. Further evidence for that is that Stoffel Vandoorne could not overtake the Saubers at the end of the race despite having a 1.5 per lap advantage because he did not get the necessary top speed despite to the help of the DRS.

Yusuke Hasegawa promised after the race that Honda is set to bring its third-specification power unit to Austria that was tested over the course of the Azerbaijan GP weekend and showed promising signs.

Toro Rosso

The Faenza-based team continued its diligent point-scoring work with Carlos Sainz in Baku. The STR12 however did not appear to have the outright pace, with the team seemingly opting for a very low downforce setting. Daniil Kvyat set the fourth best time in the fast last part of the track, but both drivers were pretty shy in the first two sectors.

Carlos Sainz meanwhile drew most of the attention with his avoidance of a possible incident on lap 1: "Soon after the start, Daniil locked the front-left tyre under braking. Therefore, he had to go a little bit wider and when he rejoined the track he caused some troubles for Carlos, who spun and went back to last because of this," team principal Franz Tost summed up the incident.

Kvyat was forced to retire when his car shut down. After avoiding an accident and spining, Carlos Sainz managed to drive without any mistake and finished the race in the eighth position which gave him further four points. The Spaniard is now ninth in the championship with 29 points.