Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes, Baku City Circuit, 2017

Are Red Bull really quick enough to threaten Mercedes and Ferrari?

2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

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On pure lap times, Red Bull seem to be genuine contenders this weekend. But after two unusually disrupted practice sessions we should be wary of taking their pace at face value.

The raw data looks encouraging. Not only was Max Verstappen fastest in both sessions but team mate Daniel Ricciardo was in the top three both times too. Verstappen’s pace wasn’t confined to just one of the favoured race tyres either – he went quickest on the softs as well as the super-softs.

Sergio Perez, Force India, Baku City Circuit, 2017
Azerbaijan Grand Prix practice in pictures
Aside from the usual caveats about unknown fuel levels there seems to be much to like about Red Bull’s performance. But the spate of yellow flags, plus the red flag during the qualifying simulations in second practice, means we should treat these lap times with more caution than usual.

Many drivers had compromised lap times in second practice. In the first sessions cars were two seconds than they had been at the same time 12 months ago. But in the second the improvement was less than one second. Even Verstappen felt he could have found more time.

As a result the second practice result featured some results which are unlikely to reflect the true pecking order: Lance Stroll sixth, for instance, and Lewis Hamilton tenth, over a second off his team mate. Hamilton’s much better pace on the soft tyre suggests he may simply have failed to do a clean lap on the super-softs. “Valtteri’s time in FP2 looked promising,” he said, “so there is obviously pace in the car, which is encouraging.”

Nonetheless Red Bull have arrived with a car which is quick ‘off the truck’. The low-drag philosophy of the RB13 may be paying dividends here, and it’s interesting to note they and Toro Rosso have tweaked their gear ratios this weekend, potentially helping them further optimise their cars.

What is encouraging is that so far there’s no sign Mercedes enjoy the same kind of huge performance advantage they had at this track last year. When the engines get turned up in qualifying it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them lock out the front row again, but Ferrari should be within range and Red Bull could be closer than ever.

Longest stint comparison – second practice

This chart shows all the drivers’ lap times (in seconds) during their longest unbroken stint. Very slow laps omitted. Scroll to zoom, drag to pan, right-click to reset:

Complete practice times

DriverTeamSuper-soft bestSoft bestMedium best
Lewis HamiltonMercedes1’45.5481’44.525None
Valtteri BottasMercedes1’43.4621’46.115None
Daniel RicciardoRed Bull1’43.4731’44.1141’46.992
Max VerstappenRed Bull1’43.3621’43.8941’46.454
Sebastian VettelFerrari1’43.6151’44.967None
Kimi RaikkonenFerrari1’43.4891’44.875None
Sergio PerezForce India1’45.3981’44.306None
Esteban OconForce India1’44.4841’44.514None
Felipe MassaWilliams1’44.6091’45.9681’46.343
Lance StrollWilliams1’44.1131’45.597None
Fernando AlonsoMcLaren1’45.5151’46.024None
Stoffel VandoorneMcLaren1’46.1741’46.935None
Carlos Sainz JnrToro Rosso1’45.7331’45.801None
Daniil KvyatToro Rosso1’44.3211’46.868None
Romain GrosjeanHaas1’47.8351’46.837None
Kevin MagnussenHaas1’45.8311’46.721None
Nico HulkenbergRenault1’46.2831’46.003None
Jolyon PalmerRenault1’46.0611’48.525None
Marcus EricssonSauber1’47.3471’48.6991’52.786
Pascal WehrleinSauber1’47.1501’49.066None

2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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9 comments on “Are Red Bull really quick enough to threaten Mercedes and Ferrari?”

  1. Yes, Red Bull’s performance is back! How I know? They’ve introduced a (radical?) new rear wing that reduces drag just like you’d expect on circuits such as Monza, meaning they can equal Mercedes and Ferrari in top speed. But here’s the thing: they’ve also introduced lots of other new aero parts so they hardly lack any downforce. They’ve seem to hit the sweet spot with this update.

    Although I do think Mercedes is able to fight back, Ferrari might have more trouble.

    Let’s not forget RBR so far has managed to close the qualifying gap by .3 to .5 of a second each race. Last race they were .7 off the pace.

    1. LMAO you must have drank the red bull koolaid completely….
      a few facts to burst your bubble:
      old engines are used during practice by most factory teams…..
      The Renault pu is not a mach now and will not be a match this year for either Ferrari or Mercedes.
      come tomorrow Red bull will be at best 5th with Force india and williams challenging them when engines get turned up…
      you continue on with your eternal optimism… reality will bring you back down to earth by tomorrow : )

      1. Yes (@come-on-kubica)
        23rd June 2017, 22:24

        Nah Red Bull have got it sealed already.

        Remember last year’s free practice sessions and how they translated to the race.

        1. Ves is known for driving like a scolded cat from the get go of a f1 weekend…think we have already seen the bull pace, not so sure about merc and ferrari!!!

  2. Tweaked the gear ratios? I thought ratios were set once for the whole season?

    1. Maybe “tweaking the gear ratios” means they changed the gearing inside the differential.

  3. First out: Lance Stroll. It will be the fault of a wall for being where it is.
    Second out: Jolyon Palmer. It will be the fault of journalists who dared to mention his poor performances.
    Third out (if not first and/or second): Any Honda.

  4. I think RBR are looking genuinely competitive, but I really doubt they’ll be able to qualify on the front row or keep pace with Ferrari throughout the race. I think a podium for Max is definitely on the cards though. He could easily get the jump on Kimi and maybe a Merc driver to finish in P3.

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