August 13, 2022

If Charles Leclerc had converted all his pole positions into victories in 2022, we would be talking about him as the big favorite for the title.

In eight qualifying sessions this year, he was fastest in six (including Saturday in Baku), while he took second place in the other two (behind Sergio Perez in Saudi Arabia and Max Verstappen in Imola).

Of course, the fact that Leclerc’s Ferrari is so quick over a lap but more even with the Red Bulls in the race is one of the reasons why this year’s world championship is so open and exciting. Ferrari’s treatment of his tires means he can easily get them up to temperature in a single lap, but managing them over race distance isn’t always so straightforward and has been a consistent weakness for Leclerc over the leader of the Verstappen Championship.

But setting aside the idiosyncrasies of each car’s tire management, Leclerc undoubtedly claims the title of fastest single-lap driver in F1. His pole lap in Baku was the latest example of his pinpoint precision and masterful speed, as he approached the barriers at the top and out of nearly every corner without looking like he was losing control .

In a session that had seemed closely matched between the four drivers from the top two teams throughout Q1, Q2 and the first round of Q3, Leclerc found almost 0.3 seconds over his nearest rival. when it mattered, and did it without the benefit of a wake. on the long Baku pit straight. The advantage he held was mainly in the tighter second sector of the track, with Leclerc’s best attempt to get his Ferrari between the castle walls giving him a 0.327 advantage over second-placed Perez in that sector alone. Red Bull gained lap time on the straights, where the RB18’s low-drag setup came into its own, but by the time his Ferrari entered the pit straight, Leclerc had time ahead of him after his intense flirtation with the walls earlier in the round.

A remarkable lap in a leading car is always easier to identify than an equally impressive lap in a midfielder or laggard car, and there are a number of drivers who often get the most out of their machine. the same way Leclerc did on Saturday only to line up in the middle of the grid. George Russell, for example, is also believed to be a contender for F1’s top qualifier after overtaking the man with the most pole positions in F1 history, Lewis Hamilton, in the last three events and hauling his Mercedes to the fifth place on Saturday.

But Leclerc’s utter dominance this year over anything but slow teammate Carlos Sainz, and his ability to consistently extract the fastest laps while dealing with the pressure of a title fight, means that he can rightfully claim the title of F1’s best qualifier. This year. All he needs to do now is convert that one-lap pace into wins on Sunday.

–Laurence Edmondson

Did a car problem cost Perez pole?

There was some confusion at Red Bull ahead of the final timed laps of qualifying. While Max Verstappen came out as expected, he soon noticed he was out before teammate Sergio Perez.

Verstappen asked why, as he had to be “towed” by Perez on his knees – the effect of the wake on Baku’s long straight is huge. Perez’s car was held up in the garage as the team struggled to light it, which team boss Christian Horner later explained was a problem with the car’s fuel supply .

Perez was due to give Verstappen the tow, but if he had been in sync with other drivers, Red Bull had also planned for him to benefit from the tow of another car. In the end, Perez had to do his lap out of sync and in clean air, which probably cost him a small chunk of the lap time.

Perez’s final gap to Leclerc was 0.282s.

“I think we definitely could have been a lot closer,” Perez said of the tow, although he admitted Leclerc might have been out of reach anyway.

“It seems like every time Ferrari puts it all together they take a good step forward in qualifying. We lost a few tenths, but maybe not the three tenths we needed to be on pole.

“It wasn’t ideal because we were out of sync on my lap.”

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner played down the suggestion that the issue cost the team pole position.

“With a tow it would have been close, but we still wouldn’t have had the pace to nail Charles,” he said. “[Ferrari] just had the upper hand on a single lap.”

Pole position or not, Perez outperformed Verstappen again on Saturday. He closed the championship gap to 15 points by winning the Monaco Grand Prix last time out, and if he finishes ahead of Verstappen again on Sunday he will make a fascinating team-mate dynamic even more complicated for Red Bull.

-Nate Saunders

Has Mercedes taken one step forward and two steps back?

At the Spanish Grand Prix three weeks ago, it looked like Mercedes had closed the gap to Ferrari and Red Bull and were poised to put Lewis Hamilton and George Russell in contention for victories in the races ahead. But only two bumpy street circuits later, and the quicker of the two silver cars found itself in a fight with Red Bull junior team AlphaTauri for fifth on the grid on Saturday, despite being 1, 3 seconds from pole position – the greatest in dry weather. Mercedes’ qualifying margin has had up front this season.

Was the performance in Spain then only a false dawn?

Not exactly. While progress was made at the Spanish Grand Prix, it took place on a specially designed circuit with a smooth track surface and a sequence of mainly high and medium speed corners. On the bumpy street circuits of Monaco and Baku, Mercedes discovered drivability issues not apparent in Spain as well as a return of the dreaded bouncing – or “porpoising” – on Baku’s high-speed straights.

The twist, which haemorrhagic Mercedes’ performance in the first five rounds of the year, is doubly frustrating for the team, as it not only shows that the car is still on the edge in terms of resolving the problem , but also that the time spent fixing the bounces wasn’t as well spent as its engineers had hoped. For every hour the team factory worked to fix the kickback, it wasted just as much time developing the planned performance upgrades it had planned to improve the car’s baseline performance. Meanwhile, rivals Red Bull and Ferrari continued their own developments and widened the gap up front, meaning the rebounding return to Baku left Mercedes even further off the pace.

“We have taken a very good step in Barcelona,” team boss Toto Wolff insisted on Saturday night. “On a circuit that has a smooth surface, less bumps, it’s fine.

“We had a good car and we were able to extract the performance in the race, but in quality we were lacking a bit. It’s easy to explain because we’ve had two months now where we’ve been trying to solve the porpoising and not being able to add base performance and it bites us a bit.

“For us, we understand what’s going on. We understand what we have to do and that means, in a way… Montreal (the next race) is a very good race for us next week because Montreal bounces, it’s high-rolling on the sidewalk.After Montreal, I expect to have a better view.

But if the team really understands what’s going on, why can’t they come up with a solution?

“I think we know what the root cause of our problem is, but we don’t have the answers yet as to the best solution,” Wolff said. “And that’s what we’re experiencing right now.

“I still think there is a short-term solution, which makes us much more competitive, but maybe that doesn’t explain everything. I would like to put the car in the right position for the second half of the season. year and also for the next.” Learning is therefore more important than short-term optimization for a weekend. »

–Laurence Edmondson