Will a warmer race day help Ferrari fight Mercedes?

2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix pre-race analysis

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Mercedes delivered another blow to Ferrari hopes in qualifying for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The red cars swept all three practice sessions, but Mercedes locked out the front row of the grid. Had Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas been hiding their true pace all long?

There’s no doubt Mercedes don’t run their engines as hard in practice as Ferrari do – they’ve admitted as much. But the one-and-a-half second gap between them in final practice was unusually large. Max Verstappen’s Red Bull got ahead of them as well.

The warmer track conditions during the final hour of practice seem to have played a role. Ferrari thrived in these temperatures, but the Mercedes came good when the track temperature dropped in the late afternoon session qualifying. Two red flags meant Q3 started around an hour later than scheduled, giving the track more time to cool, which team principal Toto Wolff said helped their car.

“It was tricky for us with the track conditions, with the temperatures dropping,” said Vettel after qualifying. Although he lost most of his time to the Mercedes in sector three, where he lacked a slipstream, the SF90 also wasn’t as strong through the middle of the lap.

“Obviously in sector two you have more so the corners, so it’s quite normal when you struggle with the car and don’t have the confidence around here, the place you lose most is sector two.”

The good news for Vettel is tomorrow’s race will begin almost an hour earlier than qualifying started, which should mean warmer track conditions. He is also starting on the cleaner, right-hand-side of the grid, and will surely fancy a pop at Hamilton as soon as the lights change.

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Charles Leclerc, Ferrari, Baku City Circuit, 2019
Leclerc isn’t out of it after his crash
In the other Ferrari, and no doubt also hoping for a warmer race day, Charles Leclerc can count himself lucky to be starting as high as ninth on the grid after his crash in Q2. The interesting dimension to Leclerc’s race is that he will start on the medium compound tyres.

This was Ferrari’s preferred strategy initially – both drivers began Q2 on the harder rubber. He will get to run that tyre earlier in the race while the rest of the drivers who reached Q3 will have to do so later in the race when the track is cooler. That could play into Leclerc’s hands and prove his ticket back into contention in a weekend he had dominated until his crash. He also has the benefit of two fresh sets of soft tyres, whereas the drivers ahead of him have all exhausted their supply.

Don’t rule Max Verstappen out of the fight either. Red Bull’s half-second deficit to pole position is in the same order to what we saw in China, and their race pace on Friday looked good as well.

After a lacklustre inaugural race in 2016, Baku has cultivated a reputation for unpredictable races. However a change in the rules since last year may mean we no longer see those spectacular restarts where the field charges to the start/finish line down the two-kilometre run from turn 16.

This is because drivers must now wait until the start/finish line, instead of Safety Car Line One, before overtaking another car at a restart. This means the race leader at a restart can afford to wait much later before accelerating, as they are under less threat from the cars behind.

While not all the Formula 2 drivers appeared to have got the memo – Sergio Sette Camara was punted into a wall during one restart today – expect all the F1 drivers to be up to speed.

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Qualifying times in full

Driver Car Q1

Q2 (vs Q1)

Q3 (vs Q2)
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1’42.026 1’41.500 (-0.526) 1’40.495 (-1.005)
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1’41.614 1’41.580 (-0.034) 1’40.554 (-1.026)
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1’42.042 1’41.889 (-0.153) 1’40.797 (-1.092)
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull 1’41.727 1’41.388 (-0.339) 1’41.069 (-0.319)
5 Sergio Perez Racing Point 1’42.249 1’41.870 (-0.379) 1’41.593 (-0.277)
6 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 1’42.324 1’42.221 (-0.103) 1’41.681 (-0.540)
7 Lando Norris McLaren 1’42.371 1’42.084 (-0.287) 1’41.886 (-0.198)
8 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 1’42.140 1’42.381 (+0.241) 1’42.424 (+0.043)
9 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 1’42.059 1’42.082 (+0.023) 1’43.068 (+0.986)
10 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1’41.426 1’41.995 (+0.569)
11 Carlos Sainz Jnr McLaren 1’41.936 1’42.398 (+0.462)
12 Daniel Ricciardo Renault 1’42.486 1’42.477 (-0.009)
13 Alexander Albon Toro Rosso 1’42.154 1’42.494 (+0.340)
14 Kevin Magnussen Haas 1’42.382 1’42.699 (+0.317)
15 Pierre Gasly Red Bull 1’41.335
16 Lance Stroll Racing Point 1’42.630
17 Romain Grosjean Haas 1’43.407
18 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1’43.427
19 George Russell Williams 1’45.062
20 Robert Kubica Williams 1’45.455

Sector times

Driver Sector 1 Sector 2 Sector 3
Valtteri Bottas 35.359 (2) 40.400 (2) 24.736 (3)
Lewis Hamilton 35.384 (3) 40.253 (1) 24.698 (2)
Sebastian Vettel 35.326 (1) 40.473 (4) 24.764 (4)
Max Verstappen 35.482 (4) 40.462 (3) 24.985 (13)
Sergio Perez 35.688 (8) 40.928 (7) 24.836 (5)
Daniil Kvyat 35.648 (7) 40.761 (5) 25.091 (17)
Lando Norris 35.646 (6) 40.981 (8) 25.071 (16)
Antonio Giovinazzi 36.099 (12) 41.296 (11) 24.614 (1)
Romain Grosjean 36.391 (16) 41.580 (16) 24.982 (10)
Kevin Magnussen 36.100 (13) 41.386 (13) 24.884 (6)
Carlos Sainz Jnr 35.872 (10) 41.041 (9) 24.888 (8)
Daniel Ricciardo 36.014 (11) 41.348 (12) 24.984 (12)
Alexander Albon 35.784 (9) 41.261 (10) 25.001 (15)
Kevin Magnussen 36.100 (13) 41.386 (13) 24.884 (6)
Pierre Gasly 35.565 (5) 40.866 (6) 24.904 (9)
Lance Stroll 36.164 (15) 41.464 (15) 24.987 (14)
Romain Grosjean 36.391 (16) 41.580 (16) 24.982 (10)
Nico Hulkenberg 36.496 (18) 41.730 (18) 25.201 (18)
George Russell 36.696 (19) 42.304 (19) 25.564 (19)
Robert Kubica 36.930 (20) 42.361 (20) 25.982 (20)

Speed trap

Pos Driver Car Engine Speed (kph/mph) Gap
1 Carlos Sainz Jnr McLaren Renault 323.9 (201.3)
2 Sergio Perez Racing Point Mercedes 321.8 (200.0) -2.1
3 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo Ferrari 321.4 (199.7) -2.5
4 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo Ferrari 321.2 (199.6) -2.7
5 Romain Grosjean Haas Ferrari 320.0 (198.8) -3.9
6 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari Ferrari 320.0 (198.8) -3.9
7 Kevin Magnussen Haas Ferrari 317.2 (197.1) -6.7
8 Pierre Gasly Red Bull Honda 316.5 (196.7) -7.4
9 Lance Stroll Racing Point Mercedes 316.5 (196.7) -7.4
10 Charles Leclerc Ferrari Ferrari 316.4 (196.6) -7.5
11 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes Mercedes 315.5 (196.0) -8.4
12 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes Mercedes 315.0 (195.7) -8.9
13 Alexander Albon Toro Rosso Honda 313.5 (194.8) -10.4
14 Max Verstappen Red Bull Honda 313.4 (194.7) -10.5
15 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Honda 313.4 (194.7) -10.5
16 Nico Hulkenberg Renault Renault 312.8 (194.4) -11.1
17 Daniel Ricciardo Renault Renault 312.8 (194.4) -11.1
18 George Russell Williams Mercedes 309.8 (192.5) -14.1
19 Lando Norris McLaren Renault 309.6 (192.4) -14.3
20 Robert Kubica Williams Mercedes 303.8 (188.8) -20.1

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Drivers remaining tyres

Driver Team Hard Medium Soft
New Used New Used New Used
Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1 0 1 0 0 4
Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1 0 1 0 0 4
Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 1 0 1 1 0 3
Charles Leclerc Ferrari 1 0 1 1 2 1
Max Verstappen Red Bull 0 1 2 0 0 3
Pierre Gasly Red Bull 1 0 2 0 3 1
Daniel Riccairdo Renault 0 1 1 0 1 4
Nico Hulkenberg Renault 1 0 1 0 3 2
Kevin Magnussen Haas 0 1 1 0 1 4
Romain Grosjean Haas 0 1 1 0 3 2
Carlos Sainz Jnr McLaren 1 0 1 0 1 4
Lando Norris McLaren 1 0 1 0 0 4
Sergio Perez Racing Point 1 0 1 0 0 4
Lance Stroll Racing Point 1 0 1 0 3 2
Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo 0 1 1 0 0 4
Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo 0 1 2 0 0 3
Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso 0 1 1 0 0 4
Alexander Albon Toro Rosso 0 1 1 0 1 4
George Russell Williams 0 1 2 0 1 3
Robert Kubica Williams 1 0 2 0 1 3

Over to you

Will Mercedes keep up their run of one-two finishes in 2019? Which of the Ferrari drivers is best-placed to fight them? And can Sergio Perez snatch another Baku podium?

Share your views on the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in the comments.

2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Author information

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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16 comments on “Will a warmer race day help Ferrari fight Mercedes?”

  1. Why did they change the restart rules? :/

  2. The interesting dimension to Leclerc’s race is that he will start on the medium compound tyres.

    Isn’t that tyres already damaged? Is Charles has to use the same tyres or is he allowed to use new medium?

    1. @ruliemaulana
      No, they aren’t damaged, and, therefore, unusable, not even the front-right tyre, which, in the end, is the only one that got hit to the TechPro barrier.

    2. @ruliemaulana, if the tyres had been damaged to the point where they were unusable, the driver is then expected to start on another set of tyres with a comparable amount of wear to the set he would have used.

  3. Boy I hope so. If it’s another Merc dominating performance I may take a couple weeks off from following F1. The product is poor, boring, and predictable and I’m tired of devoting my Saturdays and Sundays to watching freaking Merc dominate boring races. I literally sit there and just hope they break or wreck so we can have some competition and unpredictability.

    1. @jblank Mercedes haven’t really been dominant, though, especially not in Bahrain. They’ve just maximized their chances better than Ferrari, that’s why they’ve taken three one-twos in as many races so far this season. Ferrari’s just thrown away points both for reliability and unnecessary team order tactics, that’s why the situation on the WDC and WCC standings is what it is at the moment.

      1. @jerejj, the upside, though, is that we might then not have to listen to the tiresome rants of somebody whose only interest in the sport is if he can complain about it (it would be about time if we didn’t have to hear once again about how Jason is obsessed with hating Mercedes).

        1. @anon Good point.

  4. Again the Pirelli rubbish will be decisive here. If Leclerc has to fight his way through the field, which of some are not really slow, he has to take care of his rubber or he will end up in the wall again or must have an extra pitstop. This guy is good but Ferrari has made a good decision by keeping Vet Nr 1 for now.

    1. This guy is good but Ferrari has made a good decision by keeping Vet Nr 1 for now.

      They havent

  5. Just to note, Leclerc isn’t shown on the sector times table, but Grosjean is showing on there twice.

  6. Just look at the effect of engine ‘Party mode’ that Mercedes and Ferrari engines have for their respective factory teams. Midfield teams improved their Q3 run by 0.2s to 0.5s … but Ferrari and Mercedes went 1s a lap faster than their Q2 run!!!

    Honestly, while Honda and Renault are making tremendous “progress” … neither of them are even remotely close to achieving a party mode close to Mercedes and Ferrari. There’s no way a Honda or Renault powered car will win a championship unless party mode is banned.

    1. @todfod to be honest, any team would use just the level of power necessary to qualify to the next stage and avoid unnecessary wear to the engine.

      The improvement gap is probably less for smaller teams as they have to resort to ‘party mode’ earlier on the session.

    2. F1oSaurus (@)
      28th April 2019, 10:39

      @todfod What Jeanrien said, but also, Verstappen didn’t do a second run and he didn’t get a tow. Perhaps that’s also 7 tenths in total lost?

      Gasly was faster in Q1 than Verstappen was in Q2.

  7. ”This is because drivers must now wait until the start/finish line, instead of Safety Car Line One, before overtaking another car at a restart.”
    – I thought this rule had been in place for a long time already? In Monaco back in 2010, Michael Schumacher passed Fernando Alonso at the end of the final lap after the SC had come in and got penalized for it because he had completed the move before the S/F line, which officially marks both the start and the end of a lap on any given circuit. Furthermore, overtaking moves between SC line 1 and the S/F line have never really happened before either anyway.

    1. @jerejj Schumacher’s penalty was for a different offence. The rule has always previously been SC1.

      There is a niche rule that says if the race is to end under the safety car, on the final lap the safety car is to pull into the pits, green flags are waved but cars are to cross the line without overtaking. This is presumably to avoid spoiling any finish line photographs.

      This was the case in Monaco 2010, but it caused a lot of confusion at the time. Had there been an extra lap, Schumacher’s overtake would have been legal.

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