Again, the Prancing Horse shot himself in the hoof. On paper, however, it had a real chance of winning thanks to its new rear wing. Explanations.
From theory to practice, there is almost always a step, a gap. Ferrari knows something about it, she who had a good chance of winning the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. On paper, at least.
In theory, the Scuderia indeed seemed to have found the right compromise on this atypical circuit, which requires little downforce in sectors 1 and 3 but a lot in sector 2. Last year, Red Bull decided to run with more charging than Mercedes and Ferrari. Qualified behind Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton, Verstappen was faster in the race before his left rear tire exploded.
This year, Red Bull made the opposite choice. The RB18 and the F1-75 were the fastest machines on the grid, but generated their performance in very different ways – following a well-known trend since the start of the season. Verstappen and Pérez’s single-seater, on which is mounted a rear wing generally less loaded than that of the Ferrari, was faster at the end of the straight.
An observation, by the way. If Pérez once again qualified in front of his team-mate, it is because he is less bothered than the latter by the more neutral handling of the RB18. Last year, Max was not disturbed by the oversteering behavior of the RB16B and the previous Red Bulls (whose rear axle tended to drop out suddenly). Over time, he had adapted his riding style to this particularity and managed to operate undriveable machines for his teammates (Pérez, Albon, Gasly).
Today, with a more neutral chassis, even slightly understeering, the Dutch rider is having a harder time, despite an evolution of the flat bottom introduced this weekend (see the images above), which would move the center a little forward pressure.
For its part, the F1-75, generating more downforce, was therefore faster in the slow corners of the old town and warmed up its front tires more quickly (Leclerc took 0.327 from Pérez in the second sector) . But it was equipped, for the first time this season, with a low-loading rear wing (which had been brought to Miami without being used).
Thanks to this, the red car lost less time than usual at the end of the straight (only 0.8 km/h in qualifying at the measurement point, located well before the end of the straight, so a little more at the end of a straight line). Thanks to its ability to accelerate harder, the mount of Leclerc and Sainz is faster than the Red Bull at beginning straight, but usually loses that advantage at the end – because it generates more drag and the Honda V6 deploys its electric power longer (the Italian V6 deploys it, and therefore exhausts it, sooner).
Except this time around the F1-75 was fast enough on the straight to hold off the Red Bull, as we saw during the Grand Prix when Verstappen couldn’t pass Leclerc despite help from the DRS.
… AND PRACTICE
So much for the theory. In reality, and especially in Baku (six different winners in six editions), a Grand Prix rarely goes according to plan.
In the hometown of Garry Kasparov, two events are derailing the theory. First, the activation of the virtual safety car on lap nine, caused by Sainz’s hydraulic failure. Beaten by Pérez at the start due to excessive spinning due to very hot asphalt just in front of his car, Leclerc took the opportunity to advance his pitstop and put on hard rubber, gaining about 10 seconds in the operation compared to a stop at the standard booth. When Verstappen and Pérez returned later, the Monegasque was 13 seconds ahead of the Dutchman and 17 over the Mexican (who had let his leader pass because he was slower, his tires having further degraded).
Would the Red Bulls be able to catch up with 43 laps to go? With their slightly sloping rear wing, would their tires be even fresher than their opponent’s (- 8 laps for Max, – 6 laps for Sergio) when they caught up with Ferrari n° 16 (equipped with new mirror supports)? Would the rubbers of the latter have lasted long enough to resist the onslaught of Verstappen?
Unfortunately, we will never know, because of the second event that disrupted the race: the engine failure suffered by Leclerc at 20e turn and which forced him to give up.
In clear progress compared to last year, the 066/7 block would be the most powerful on the board: 5 horsepower more than the Honda, 10 more than the Mercedes, and 15 more than the V6 Renault according to our colleagues generally well informed ofAuto Motor and Sport. In addition, the Italian engine would be distinguished by its flexibility, which would make it possible to adopt a better staging of the gearbox.
Lagging behind in terms of power since the “clarification” of the FIA at the end of 2019, Italian engine manufacturers have above all sought horsepower, even if it means sacrificing reliability. Because the power unit of Maranello accumulates glitches. In Spain, Leclerc had to throw in the towel because of a breakdown which destroyed the turbo and the MGU-H. In Monaco, Haas and Alfa Romeo experienced three MGU-K failures. In Baku, in addition to Leclerc, Magnussen suffered from a double failure (turbo and MGU-H) of his V6 Ferrari.
To date, the Scuderia do not know what caused the breakage of the V6 which powered the No. 16 and does not yet know which part will need to be replaced. If the incident concerns the thermal V6, the MGU-K or the MGU-H, Leclerc still has a copy of these three elements before receiving a penalty. If it turns out that it is the turbocharger that needs to be changed, he will receive a penalty, because he has already used three of them.
This is probably already compromising his title chances. Because of perfectible reliability (Barcelona and Baku) and a strategic error (Monaco), Leclerc today shows a deficit of 34 units over Max Verstappen, he who had a lead of the same number of points over his nearest continuing after the Australian Grand Prix. The reversal is cruel for the Scuderia, which can only blame itself. The fragility that affected Milton Keynes at the start of the championship has changed sides and is now penalizing Maranello.