The Azerbaijan GP officially kicked off with the first free practice session. In what was an interesting sight, watching the new generation of cars snake their way through the twisty parts of the middle sector and storm through the long straight, we had Red Bull taking the initiative.
Sergio Perez ended the Azerbaijan GP FP1 at the top of the timesheets with a lap time that was around a tenth quicker than Charles Leclerc in second. Max Verstappen was 3rd with a lap time that was around three-tenths of a second slower than his teammate, while Carlos Sainz in 4th was half a second slower.
In its first foray, the track offered a lot of challenges for the new cars, with many drivers complaining about the porpoising effect. After the 1st hour of running, however, it was Red Bull that laid down the gauntlet.
So, what did we learn from the first free practice session of the Azerbaijan GP? Let’s find out!
#1 The porpoising effect is back!
The long straights and the bumpy track seem to have caught out almost every team on the grid (except Red Bull). The porpoising effect seems to be back and it seems to get exacerbated with the long straight.
Almost every car seems to be suffering from the excessive porpoising effect, with the most notable being the frontrunners Ferrari and Mercedes. Drivers like Charles Leclerc, Carlos Sainz, and George Russell made their frustrations known on the team radio as the cars suffered from excessive porpoising down the straight and caused discomfort to the drivers.
#2 Red Bull’s ability to master bouncing could be the difference-maker this weekend
As mentioned earlier, every other team other than Red Bull appears to be suffering from the porpoising effect. Consequently, the performance gap is quite visible on the timesheets as well. Sergio Perez topped the timesheets in FP1 and the significance of that lap was that both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz were concurrently around three-tenths of a second slower than Perez.
Red Bull’s ability to keep tabs on bouncing could play a significant role as the car looks much better around the track than any other car.
#3 Mercedes is in a familiar territory
Mercedes appears to be back to its usual position of being the third fastest car on the grid. One thing that was a bit disappointing, however, was the gap the German manufacturer had to the front. Both Mercedes drivers were around a second a lap slower than Sergio Perez and the gap here looks much bigger in contrast to the form shown in Barcelona.
Mercedes will, in effect, stay third-fastest until qualifying. It will be, however, very interesting to see what lap times Lewis Hamilton and George Russell can do on the long runs as compared to Red Bull and Ferrari.
#4 Mick Schumacher has a disaster start to the Azerbaijan GP weekend
It doesn’t seem to rain, but pour for Mick Schumacher. The young German had a disastrous start to the Azerbaijan GP weekend. He suffered a reliability issue at the start of FP1 due to which he lost the entire session.
In what appeared to be a water tub leakage, the Haas driver had to park his car early and stand frustrated as he saw the Marshalls for the Azerbaijan GP take the car away. On a weekend where he has to perform, this was arguably the worst possible start for the German.
#5 The picture in the midfield is still not clear
After Mercedes in third, the picture is just not clear for the Azerbaijan GP when it comes to the pecking order. McLaren has not shown its hand, AlphaTauri appears to be riding the bumps well, Alpine has brought a car that has a Monza-style low downforce rear wing, while Alfa Romeo is still keeping the cards close to its chest.
While initial impressions show that McLaren might be struggling with a straight-line speed deficit, it’s still early days. It remains to be seen, however, what kind of impact these different philosophies in the setup have on car performance and the race in general.