Zhou, we’ll start with you. Welcome. You’ve raced here before in Formula 2. Podium, of course, last year, how different do you expect this track to be in a Formula 1 car?
Zhou Guanyu: Yeah, I think it will be different, but there won’t be any surprises compared to some other tracks I race, for example, in Bahrain, as tracks, Jeddah, for example. Of course, the speed will be massive difference. And also, you have to adapt a little bit the braking point also, because I think you are braking super-late and it’s very easy to make an error – as we saw last year in qualifying. So, it will be different but after experiencing Monaco, I think that just gives me… gained this experience and into these different tracks. I think this track probably more similar to Jeddah in terms of how you have to approach the circuit. I feel like there’s nothing special really, but FP1, I think, will be a session just to be adapting again and getting into the rhythm.
And what about performance? Do you think the layout will suit the Alfa Romeo?
ZG: I probably wouldn’t say too much here because I think expectation was very high in Monaco, obviously, I think, surprised us as well, as a team, that we didn’t really perform as much as we wanted with quite of lot of low speed in Monaco layout. This weekend, of course, the layout is a little bit differently: it’s more like hard braking. I think in terms of the layout, it shouldn’t be a big effect. And we have to say we already find the issues we were facing in Monaco that probably hold us a little bit back in terms of qualifying performance. We felt like this weekend we can do a better job than last time, and we have to just see, compared to the others, because here, anything could happen. In qualifying, with a massive slipstream, for example, like that. I think we have a good package and a good weekend.
Kevin, we’ll come to you next. You haven’t raced here for several years. What have you missed about Baku?
Kevin Magnussen: I think it’s an interesting race always. It’s usually quite eventful, with lots of Safety Car chances. In the past, there’s been loads of stuff happening. It feels like one of those races where you can hope for some special result. So of course, that’s what we do this weekend too. We are hoping that we can race well and then hope for some kind of surprise.
It was a double DNF for the team in Monaco. Is it important to get a clean weekend under your belts here, and get some momentum back?
KM: Yeah, I think so. We’ve had good pace, at basically every race – maybe Melbourne is the only one that stands out, where we were behind on pace, in terms of being in the mix in the midfield – so I think with, as you said, momentum, we need to kind of just get in there, get the ball rolling and start scoring points regularly, because I think our car has the pace.
And from your own performance point of view, haven’t been here for a few years. Is it the sort of place where you need to build up slowly?
KM: A little bit, I guess. It’s a street circuit and you kind of approach the street circuits a little different. But it’s a cool track. I think it’s different, it’s challenging. There’s some pretty unique parts where the track narrows, and then you’re using kerbs. It’s quite a cool track, I think: although it’s a lot of straights it’s still a big challenge.
Lando, coming to you. You’ve scored points in both of your previous visits to Baku. So do you come here full of confidence?
Lando Norris: I would say so. Just off how we’ve been doing lately, this year. Barcelona was a decent race, could have been a little bit better and Monaco was a strong weekend for us. So, I’m hoping so. We always hope for… In Baku, like Kevin said, many things can happen here. There’s always unexpected people on the podium and stuff like that. So, as long as we’re in that position, and at the end of the race, to kind-of potentially be in that position, that’s the aim.
What do you need from your car to be quick here?
LN: Good straight-line speed is always a lovely thing. I think you need a car which gives you good confidence, as always, especially with the braking. Braking, there’s always good time to find. So, that street circuit vibe, there’s less room for error than on normal circuits. So, being able to position the car where you want, being able to brake how you want, you need that confidence in the car to be able to find the limits and to gradually find that… know the walls and things like that, use all the track space. So just a good car with good confidence. Straight-line speed is the actual bonus.
Have you got that confidence in your car?
LN: I would say so. I think Monaco is always a real test of having that confidence. With bumpy braking, especially in this year’s car, I would say Monaco was probably a trickier race and trickier lap to deal with that it wasn’t in previous years. Maybe a little bit slower but the same time I thought trickier with the braking, with more bumps. So, I think that was maybe more of a test for the car and actually, what we got, and the confidence that it gives me, I was happy with that. So, I want to say that I’m happy coming here. But it’s also much lower downforce and things like that. So, it’s a new test for us.
And Lando, we’re a third of the way through the season now, Where do you see McLaren in the pecking order?
LN: It changes. So most weekends… I think there’s been weekends when Alfa Romeo been a long way ahead of us. I think realistically they’ve been probably a quicker car throughout the whole season. Haas have at times been quicker than us. I think we’ve just been consistently good, especially since Bahrain – maybe not in Bahrain – but since then, we’ve just had a package which performs decently at every track, which is always a good thing: to be there every time and to be in the points. I think we were probably ahead of Mercedes in Monaco. So around third, fourth, fifth, maybe sixth area. I think it’s a close group. So, as long as we’re towards the front of that, I’ll be happy.
Esteban, can I put that to you now? The pecking order question Where do you see Alpine?
Esteban Ocon: As Lando said, it’s difficult to tell, it’s a close group. Definitely, when we qualify in the top 10, and, we have the pace in qualifying, but it changes all the time, it’s very, very close. And, probably, we missed on some opportunities to score more with both cars. So, we’re probably a bit further away than where we should be, in terms of Championship position for the team. But, there’s good expectation for here. You know, there’s good opportunities to take every year, we have a very updated car to come here. So, that’s giving us confidence. Hopefully that will that will work for us.
And do you think you’re closing the gap to the leaders in terms of race pace with these updates?
EO: Well, that’s the aim. It’s always the aim, to get closer to the top. But we still have a long way to be able to do that. So, to get to the top of that close group is already what we should aim for. Get closer to Ferrari, Red Bull, it’s another task. We will push hard; we will try and fight and try to be on the right side of the opportunities this time.
Lando’s already said that you need a car that inspires confidence here in Baku. Do you feel you’ve got that underneath you?
EO: Yeah, he’s right. Yeah, you need definitely good confidence, on the brakes especially. We’ve seen a lot of mistakes in on the brakes in Monaco, in here last year. To attack all the corner entries after such long straights is what you need to get. So, that will take time. We have three practice session together right before Quali, so the time to push is Quali.
Max, you’ve yet to finish on the podium here in Baku, but you’ve come very close, particularly last year, how are you approaching this year’s race?
Max Verstappen: Like any other, to be honest. We just need to see through practice, what we can do with the car, see where we are at. And try to find the best balance and then hopefully, of course, we are going to be quick enough to try and win the race.
And when you have a failure, like you did last year, does that drive you to make a take more of a conservative approach when it comes to strategy this year?
MV: No, because it’s not our fault. So, there’s nothing we can do. We just have completely different tyres anyway, this year, so the tyres are going to behave anyway very, very different.
Where do you see Red Bulls main challenges coming from this weekend?
MV: Don’t know yet, to be honest. I think it’s important to just go out there and see what we need from the car and then just work from there.
Final one for me. Ferrari boss Mattia Binotto has said this week that Ferrari’s goal for 2022 is to be competitive, not specifically to win the World Championship. What are your thoughts on that? Does it give you – Red Bull Racing – a psychological advantage?
MV: No, I mean, we just have to focus on ourselves and they’re very competitive. It’s good for the sport, and from our side, we enter every weekend to try and win the race. But it doesn’t change if somebody else of another team says something.
Questions From The Floor
(Scott Mitchell – The Race) This is to Max and Lando, but if any of the other drivers have anything to say, please do. There’s been a bit of talk in recent weeks about the possibility of the driver salary cap, that’s been talked in the background a few times. The two of you did new, long-term deals earlier this year. So, just wondered, first of all, what your thoughts on, theoretically, your value potentially being limited? And second, do you know how it would work in terms of, if a cap came in, after you’ve introduced long term contracts? It’s not really been clear whether anything would have to change? Or if they’d have any way of forcing changes, if there were any way in which the restrictions impacted your new deals? Thank you.
MV: It’s still all a bit vague as well, right? I mean, I think no one really knows where it’s goping to go. But from my side, it’s completely wrong. Because I think at the moment F1 is becoming more and more popular and everyone is making more and more money, including the teams, Formula 1 – everyone is benefiting. So, why should the drivers, with their IP rights and everything, be capped, [drivers] who actually bring the show and put their lives at risk? Because we do, eventually. So, for me, it’s completely wrong. But also, not only that, because in all the junior categories, if you see how many of those drivers have a sponsor or backer, who eventually will have a certain percentage of their income in potentially Formula 1 or whatever, I think it’s going to limit that a lot, because they will never get there return, in money, if you get a cap. So it will hurt all the junior categories as well. And I don’t think you would want that.
LN: I think Max explained it well, really. Mainly because I’ve not had to think about it probably as much as him. So, I think what he said is correct, and especially with the investment part into young drivers. It’s difficult enough to get into Formula 1 at all, so as soon as you have the backing, where you have an investor, as a driver. They obviously want their money back at some point and you’re going to have to do that. If it gets capped, and so on, it’s much harder, and will interest people much less to ever invest into young drivers and invest into people having chances to get to Formula 1 in the first place. So, I think that’s probably one of the main points. But Max has probably has thought about it much better than me – and therefore his answers is better.
(Jon Noble – motorsport.com) Max, we’ve heard a lot, in the past few weeks, about Sergio being more comfortable with this year’s car, compared to last year. Are you less comfortable with the more neutral handling of this year’s cars? Are you chasing a more pointy front end? Or is it hard to do that without compromising kind of tyre wear and the race form?
MV: I definitely see, of course, Checo is a bit more comfortable than last year. For my side, yeah, I would like a bit more front end, that’s what we’re working at. I don’t say like I’m uncomfortable in the car but these cars are so heavy, and long, and wide that, with increased weight as well, you want a car, which turns better, because it just goes faster around a corner. And you can extract a bit more in qualifying when you really push it, which cannot at the moment, but it’s not all very dramatic. I mean, I still won four races. So, that’s more than I did last year at this time. So, it’s not that bad. It’s just fine-tuning little things.
Kevin, let’s throw that to you. You’ve had the longer break after a year out what’s been the biggest thing for you to get used to with these cars?
KM: I don’t know. I think it’s different. But getting used to it, I think. I’d agree with Max, that the cars have more understeer mid-corner; that the car doesn’t want to rotate as well as the old cars. I haven’t struggled with it. It’s very stiff and bumpy, of course – that’s the main thing that you notice when you drive these cars for the first time. You think, okay, this is different. It’s very harsh on every bump and every kerb. But, you know, it’s still a Formula 1 car, still good to drive, it’s still super-fast. I’ve been driving prototypes all of last year and coming back to this, probably I feel the difference less, because I came back into a Formula 1 car that is a lot faster than what I just got used to, in sports cars last year. So, it’s fun.
And Zhou, is the driving style actually quite similar to Formula 2?
ZG: I have to say, probably not too much, just because obviously, especially, this year’s tyres. In Formula 2, firstly, in the long distance, you have to manage it quite a lot of tyre, they’re pretty much dead after three or four laps, where here you can push a little bit more through. Sometimes in qualifying, like we saw in Monaco, or a track like Jeddah. In general, the downforce difference is a big jump. So, the way you have to approach the corner, and the way you have to prepare yourself, the radius of the corners is completely different, and so, yeah, it takes a bit of time to adapt. Especially in Barcelona, in Bahrain in T-01, T-02 [First pre-season test, second pre-season test]. It takes time to be knowing how to drive these cars fast, faster. And yeah, it’s a bit of change but still, the normal driving procedures doesn’t really change much. Just to adapting different cars. Of course, you have a power steering wheel that just changes a massive feeling of the tyres. So, that’s probably one of the main tasks.
(Claire Cottingham – Racefans.net) Question for Max, if possible, please, Max, obviously, you were the youngest driver to start in F1, at 17. Then they brought in an age limit. But in Le Mans this weekend there’s a 16 year-old that’s racing. I just wondered if there should be an age limit and that sort of thing or if the driver is good enough that there’s no need for a limit?
MV: Yeah, if he’s capable of driving, and I don’t see why not. You know, it shouldn’t depend on age. You know, if he’s 16 and he’s capable of driving and he’s not a danger to others, then I think it’s perfectly fine.
Esteban, can we get your thoughts on that?
EO: As Max said, I was asking Lando actually, I don’t know who it is exactly. But no, I mean if he’s proven that he can, that he’s capable. I don’t think age should be a limit. I’ve have arrived early in categories, in karting, arrived early into single seater as well. And everything we are looking at is the performance really, not your age and how mature you have to be, and act to be professional at early age. And that’s probably what he’s going to face now.
(Scott Mitchell – The Race) Max, just wondered, has there been much reflection on Monaco and whether anything could have been done different on your side to win the race. Your father was quite outspoken afterwards, sort of suggesting that maybe the team should have prioritised you as the Championship leader, but you didn’t seem too bothered afterwards that Checo had had won the race, you seem to think it was just one of those weekends that didn’t work out for you. On reflection, could anything have been done differently for you to win the race?
MV: My race was done on Saturday already after that red flag. Where I had to start fourth. And then that’s how it goes. Then in the race, you know, you’re the second car. So, you just follow the team’s orders. And I think we did extremely well as a team, to get the cars where they ended-up. I think we all got also a bit lucky, you know, with backmarkers holding up Ferraris, and stuff like that. But that’s fine. Monaco, you know, crazy things can happen. I was just a bit more disappointed about that Q3 Run where I couldn’t finish my lap. But that’s also Monaco. I mean, the same happened also, last year, Monaco but also here, in Baku, with a red flag. So, on a street circuit that’s really easily done. And it’s only one race weekend, we have so many more to go where normally you can overtake even if, let’s say, there is a bit of a disappointment in qualifying. So, yeah, Monaco is probably just a bit of an unlucky one, if you’re unlucky in qualifying, but it’s okay. I mean, we’re still leading the Championship. Of course, I retired twice already. So, to be even leading the Championship with the margin I have at the moment, I think is very positive. We just look ahead and a lot of things, good things, are coming, but hopefully it’s going to be enough.
Esteban, can we get your reflections on Monaco? Obviously, it ended in a frustrating way for you with the penalty. But do you take positives from the pace of the car?
EO: Yeah, we take positives. Definitely, for sure. The ending was not what we wanted, to be out of the points. But we were on for a very good lap as well, as Max said, when the red flag came, I was going to improve by quite a bit, and that would have changed completely the race weekend. But that’s how Monaco goes. Unfortunately. And the pace, you know, for the team. It’s been good. Lando got the fastest lap, but we were just behind. We had good pace. And, you know, we were fighting inside the top 10. So, all in all, it’s positive, it doesn’t reflect the end result. But, you know, we’re trying to make that different here.
(Jon Noble – motorsport.com) To Max. When you had your moment coming out the pits in Monaco, and cross the pit lane exit line, did you know you’re allowed now to cross the pit exit line in those circumstances? And do you think that’s a good thing in safety terms, that drivers can now flirt and ride this line, whereas opposed to before, you had to stay away from it?
MV: Well, that’s the thing. I didn’t cross it. I rode on it. It was close, but it was also wet in the corner, so I naturally drifted that way. I think normally, you don’t want to, let’s say, put yourself in a position but also most of the pit exit lines you don’t really need to. I knew it was going to be close. So, you have to, of course, use all the margin you have.
(Edd Straw – The Race) For Lando. You mentioned earlier that the car is kind of handily competitive in the midfield across a range of circuits. Is the car now a pretty good all-rounder or are there still specific limitations you’re trying to work on? Is it just more of everything? Or are there particular corner profiles that are still proving tricky?
LN: I think there are still some slightly tougher areas maybe. I want to believe in general we’ve probably improve the car like on average through all the tracks. I think there’s still a few which we were yet to go to which we struggled at a lot last season. And I think it’s different in terms of characteristics to a lot of the ones we’ve been to – so places like Zandvoort and things like that. So, we’re still yet to explore all of the ranges of types of corners and tracks and so on. But I want to believe, and I think have some confidence in saying, that we’ve improved the car throughout most of these areas. And what we need now is, in general, just a whole package upgrade. I think it’s handling reasonably well: there’s definitely types of characteristics that, personally as a driver, I still want more from the car and it’s just hard to go in that direction. It changes: every driver wants something different. I think from what Daniel and I want from the car is quite similar but there’s definitely differences in some driving styles and stuff and I sometimes bias my car more one way than what he does, kind of thing. So it changes – but it’s also down to personally how I feel I want to drive the car. And I believe there’s good lap time in going in that direction. But it’s just a hard thing to improve on, especially from one race to the next. But I think over the next races and next months and hopefully when we can bring some more bits to the car, then we can move in that direction.
Check out our Friday gallery from Baku, here.