Baku Blowout

It has been a few days since the Baku Grand Prix, Mark Webber’s scream has gone quiet, although thinking about it still makes me smile. Its time to get my thoughts on the weekend’s actions.

Qualifying the Red Flag …

The usual qualifying set up was split up with 4 red flags and 5 accidents, it really did mix things up, the Baku track is 1m 44 seconds long (on a good day) with each session in Qualifying being less than 20 minutes, it would mean that the breaks in play will really effect the qualifying in a bigger way than in some other tracks, in the end drivers like Sebastian Vettel would be knocked out of the session after a red flag would stop his final run.

Lance Stroll surveys the damage to his Aston Martin after hitting the wall on the exit of turn 15

In all 5 drivers were bitten by the tight street circuit, turn 15 took a good few victims over the course of the weekend. Giovinazzi, Stroll, Ricciardo, Tsunoda and Sainz all had issues, with Stroll and Giovinazzi unable to set a time. Tsunoda and Ricciardo both out-breaked themselves into the wall, Sainz decided to crash out in sympathy to Yuki binning it during the last run of Qualifying. It was not all bad as the other Ferrari car took pole, Charles Leclerc made it 2 pole positions in 2 races.

Another Race, Another Ferrari Pole

Lewis Hamilton showed again why he is where he is, managing to put the slow Mercedes into second place, the car did not deserve to be that high on the gird, even Toto Wolfe accepted that the car would struggle in the twisty but fast street circuit.

The stop-start qualifying had put a few cars out of position, Stroll in the Aston Martin was at the back due to crashing at the Infamous turn 15 before a time was set. Vettel was also caught out, meaning that the 4-time champion would not make it to Q3.

The Blow – Out and the Race.

The Baku race was set up for a great race, Leclerc in first, Hamilton in second and Verstappen in third.

The first 30 or so laps were decent, it was beginning to look like a race for the purists, one that would be decided on strategy or a late passing manoeuvre. Until the cameras panned to an Aston Martin that was sliding down the main straight, wheels blown or not attached. It was an accident that took place at nearly 200mph, it was a crash that made you stop and watch, it grabbed your attention again.

“I’m sorry to tell you but you need a new tire …..

The crash also made me a tad nervous as Lance Stroll took his time to get out of the car, with the angle of the crash, the speed and the fact that the contact was made with a concreate walls, it was logical to think that Lance had take a bit of a knock, luckily Lance Stroll did get out the car and I could get back to try and understand what the hell just happened.

With help from the Formula 1 World Feed and Sky Sports, it was clear that the accident was due to a Left rear tire failure. The tire issue would rear its head again, this time it was the race leader, Max Verstappen was running at the front after a great race with the second Redbull sitting behind the Dutch driver in second. The same tire would fail on the Redbull in almost the same place on the track, what is going on?

Tires should not just fail, why have they failed? Pirelli need to sort this out. The initial answers were given by Pirelli…. It looks as though it was debris. When Max Verstappen was asked about the tire issue, he mentioned that there would be a chat with them, however we know the answer, it would be debris.

Pirelli will still have to do some damage limitation; they are in a no-win situation. Admit that the tire failed due to construction issues the Formula 1 community would take them to town or announce that it was debris, the Formula 1 would believe them.

“Every lap I drove in the same way in order to try to reduce as much as possible the possibility of the car behind me getting higher speed.

“I didn’t feel anything special until that moment, and telemetry didn’t show anything unusual either. ” “After these incidents, Pirelli will surely say that the tires did a good job and that the cause of the flat tires was actually a shard, so they will ‘cover up'”

Max Verstappen on the Pirelli Tires after his left rear tire failed while he was in the lead of the race

In all honesty the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. The Baku track is a long track, it is a street track. There will be some debris on the track, it does not take much to damage a Formula 1 tire during the race, with the forces that go through them at certain points on the track, it could be a recipe for disaster.

Luckily for Formula 1 and Pirelli both Verstappen and Stroll survived their accidents with no injuries. The tires also have a shelf life as in 2022 the new rules incorporate 18inch wheels and a new tire. Hopefully sudden, unexplained tire blow outs will be a thing of the past.

The race would come down to a 2-lap sprint race after the red flag was brought out to clear the stricken Redbull of Verstappen.

The lights went out and the race started again, for a split-second Hamilton took the lead … would Lewis take a win that he really should not? Well t was answered a few seconds later when the Mercedes braked for the first corner, he locked his inside front and disappeared down the escape road. After the race Lewis Hamilton explained that he had hit a button on the steering wheel that sent the Brake Bias 85% to the front, effectively he had no rear brakes.

*INSERT WEBBER SCREAM HERE*

Lewis crossed the finish line is an unexpected 15th, his teammate Bottas managed 12th ….

With Verstappen out, Hamilton out, Bottas floundering who would step up? Well, it was a Redbull. Sergio Perez kept the lead and took the win; second place was Sebastian Vettel’s in Aston Martin’s first Podium and third was Left for the talented Pierre Gasly.

Other mentions must go to Fernando Alonso, who took an impressive 6th in the Alpine and the ever-impressive Lando Norris who crossed the line in a great 5th.

2021 has thrown so many surprises, the sustained competitiveness of the Redbull team, the fact that with 6 races down Max Verstappen is leading the Championship… the best part of the 2021 season is we just do not know what is next.  

For me Baku reminded me why I love Formula 1, the race had incidents, drama, excitement, talking points. We leave Baku with more questions than answers.

Like what is the point of a magic button if you just disappear in a cloud of (tire) smoke ….