Max Verstappen, Charles Leclerc, Sergio Perez, Baku City Circuit, 2023

Ferrari have the Friday feeling but know the race is their “weak point”

2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Friday practice analysis

Posted on

| Written by

For the first time since the Indianapolis 500 was last contested as a round of the Formula 1 world championship, back in 1960, starting grid for a grand prix is official well over 24 hours before the race itself begins.

The heavily compacted sprint weekend schedule means that the grid for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix has been set after a combined 105 minutes of track time – at least 20 of which were wasted under red flag conditions in the opening practice session. But before drivers take to the grid spots on Sunday that they’ve earned on Friday, there’s the Saturday sprint race sideshow for them all to enjoy first.

Heading into the fourth round of a 2023 season where Red Bull have almost been at liberty to turn up and simply cruise to victory, they head into an evening during a race weekend after being beaten in a competitive session for the first time this season. And it’s fair to say that the result was unexpected – not least of which by Ferrari.

“It’s a really big surprise for me – for the whole team, I think,” pole winner Charles Leclerc admitted after the session. “Coming here, we did not expect that. So it’s amazing to be starting on pole for Sunday’s race.

Pierre Gasly, Alpine, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Gallery: 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix qualifying day in pictures
“We must not get carried away because we know that our weak point is more the race, where we seem to be behind the Red Bulls. But it’s a very big surprise for us to be on pole anyway.”

But one person who was not shocked to see Leclerc secure his third consecutive pole position in Baku was the man who will start alongside him on the front row of Sunday’s grid – championship leader Max Verstappen.

“Not really [surprised] by Charles,” Verstappen said. “We know that he’s been really good around here. Otherwise you don’t get three poles in a row, right?”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

The reality is Leclerc was in contention with the Red Bulls from the opening practice session. He matched them for pace early on the hard tyres despite the Red Bulls setting their early laps on the mediums, before splitting both on softs at the end of the session.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Verstappen wasn’t surprised by Leclerc’s pace
What was striking was where Leclerc managed to find lap time against the Red Bulls. In practice, Verstappen and team mate Sergio Perez appeared to gain the most time through the mid-speed, 90-degree corners in the opening sector, but Leclerc started gaining it back again through the middle sector, from turn four up to the tight castle sequence of turns eight to 12 and then down the fast run to turn 15.

Ferrari had worked extremely hard over the winter on unlocking more straight-line speed from their new car for 2023 – a target they appeared to achieve at the start of the season when they were far closer to the Red Bulls in the speed traps. In Baku, the low-drag quality of the new Ferrari was on display again.

In practice, Leclerc exited turn 16 to enter the long back straight on his fastest lap around a tenth-and-a-half behind Verstappen on the stopwatch. Over the length of the straight, he ate into that margin, pulling ahead of Verstappen by the time he rounded the turn 19 kink with a top speed around 3kph higher than Verstappen’s. But despite being behind the Ferrari on track, Verstappen managed to claw back that time loss in the final kilometre with the help of Red Bull’s ultimate weapon – their super efficient Drag Reduction System.

In 13 seasons of DRS being active in Formula 1, it could well be that the RB19 possesses the most powerful version of the device ever designed. Both Leclerc and Verstappen gained 15kph by pressing their DRS button at the end of the straight, but the greater acceleration Verstappen enjoyed is what ultimately saw him cross the line sooner than Leclerc in practice.

That DRS advantage will be very helpful to Red Bull’s cause on Sunday, despite the main zone being trimmed by 100 metres. They might not even need it in tomorrow’s sprint race, as the entire field will be reset before then, taking on another three-stage qualifying session to determine how they will line up. And after losing out on pole for the start that matters most, Verstappen will likely take a different approach to preparing his tyres before his flying laps as he did at the end of Friday’s session.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

“I was just trying to put a bit more temperature in them,” he explained. “I think sometimes you’re not fully understanding what you want to do in qualifying.

Pierre Gasly, Alpine, Baku City Circuit, 2023
The teams will qualify again for Saturday’s race
“The first run was good, but it was still not perfect. So we tried, and I mean, it could have worked and then it looks amazing and that’s a bit what happened in Australia. And this time, I guess it didn’t work.“

Verstappen will not be the only Red Bull driver looking for a better result in the second qualifying session of the weekend. Team mate Perez will be eager to make amends on Saturday morning after being in a strong position in the opening sector of his final Q3 lap, only to lose three tenths of a second to Leclerc through the middle sector.

“I think in turn three I lost more than a tenth,” Perez later explained. “I went really deep. Just in general not putting a clean lap, with so many corners around.

“There’s always a combination if you don’t get one corner right – like turn six, then always turn seven can be a bit tricky. I think, certainly, I had more pace than what I’ve shown today. But I’m still in the fight. I think with this tricky qualifying and very little time to get ready for quali, it was just important to make sure that we are in a good position for Sunday.”

Based on what Red Bull have shown over Friday as well as the entire first three weekends of the season, there’s every chance normal service could be resumed on Saturday with Verstappen and Perez locking out the front row for the sprint before pulling away for an easy win. But even if that does end up as the case, just being able to start a race from the front of the field again on Sunday will be reward enough for Ferrari.

“It feels good,” Leclerc said about putting the Scuderia back on pole in a weekend when they have faced questions over his future, as well as the departure of another key member of staff. “I think the whole team needed it

“It’s part of our job in teams in Formula 1 you need to deal with rumours and pressure, but it’s obviously sometimes a bit more difficult to perform under those circumstances and we did really well. So, I think it’s good for the whole team.”

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Qualifying sector times

table id=’Qualifying sector times’ class=’brandedtable’>

PositionNumberDriverSector oneSector twoSector threeUltimate lapDeficit to ultimate lap116Charles Leclerc35.224 (2)40.191 (1)24.788 (6)1’40.203–21Max Verstappen35.277 (3)40.335 (2)24.667 (1)1’40.2790.112311Sergio Perez35.177 (1)40.365 (3)24.764 (2)1’40.3060.189414Fernando Alonso35.526 (6)40.645 (4)24.769 (4)1’40.9400.313555Carlos Sainz Jnr35.512 (5)40.689 (6)24.789 (7)1’40.9900.026644Lewis Hamilton35.702 (9)40.678 (5)24.767 (3)1’41.1470.03074Lando Norris35.461 (4)40.71 (7)25.006 (16)1’41.1770.104818Lance Stroll35.813 (12)40.77 (8)24.778 (5)1’41.3610.215922Yuki Tsunoda35.717 (10)40.835 (9)24.883 (9)1’41.4350.1341081Oscar Piastri35.636 (7)40.903 (10)24.925 (12)1’41.4640.1471163George Russell35.731 (11)40.933 (11)24.927 (13)1’41.5910.0631231Esteban Ocon35.7 (8)41.037 (13)24.893 (10)1’41.6300.1681323Alexander Albon35.84 (14)40.976 (12)24.988 (14)1’41.8040.014142Logan Sargeant35.858 (15)41.47 (16)24.825 (8)1’42.1530.0891577Valtteri Bottas35.825 (13)41.257 (15)25.079 (17)1’42.1610.0981627Nico Hulkenberg36.249 (17)41.152 (14)24.908 (11)1’42.3090.4461724Zhou Guanyu36.052 (16)41.578 (18)25.002 (15)1’42.6320.0101820Kevin Magnussen36.39 (18)41.541 (17)25.178 (19)1’43.1090.3081910Pierre Gasly36.504 (19)42.427 (19)25.115 (18)1’44.0460.8072021Nyck de Vries41.203 (20)47.497 (20)26.582 (20)1’55.282–

Qualifying maximum speeds

PositionNumberDriverCarEngineModelMax kph (mph)
118Lance StrollAston MartinMercedesAMR23324.4 (201.6)
255Carlos Sainz JnrFerrariFerrariSF-23321.7 (199.9)
314Fernando AlonsoAston MartinMercedesAMR23321.3 (199.6)
416Charles LeclercFerrariFerrariSF-23321 (199.5)
52Logan SargeantWilliamsMercedesFW45320.9 (199.4)
627Nico HulkenbergHaasFerrariVF-23319.6 (198.6)
711Sergio PerezRed BullRed BullRB19319.5 (198.5)
81Max VerstappenRed BullRed BullRB19319.2 (198.3)
931Esteban OconAlpineRenaultA523318.6 (198.0)
1022Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauriRed BullAT04318.4 (197.8)
1181Oscar PiastriMcLarenMercedesMCL60317.5 (197.3)
1224Zhou GuanyuAlfa RomeoFerrariC43317.4 (197.2)
1323Alexander AlbonWilliamsMercedesFW45317.2 (197.1)
1444Lewis HamiltonMercedesMercedesW14317.2 (197.1)
1520Kevin MagnussenHaasFerrariVF-23315.5 (196.0)
164Lando NorrisMcLarenMercedesMCL60315.4 (196.0)
1763George RussellMercedesMercedesW14315.3 (195.9)
1810Pierre GaslyAlpineRenaultA523315.2 (195.9)
1977Valtteri BottasAlfa RomeoFerrariC43314.8 (195.6)
2021Nyck de VriesAlphaTauriRed BullAT04301 (187.0)

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Browse all 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix articles

Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

Got a potential story, tip or enquiry? Find out more about RaceFans and contact us here.

One comment on “Ferrari have the Friday feeling but know the race is their “weak point””

  1. Indeed & as pointed out yesterday, Leclerc will probably get overtaken by both RBs in the race due to Ferrari’s inferior race pace.

Comments are closed.