There’s something about Baku that repeats each year just like groundhog day. The Formula One Azerbaijan GP was one of the least interesting races in recent memory and the Mercedes boss believes the FIA may need to look at ways of ‘spicing up’ the action.
I was of course in Baku last year when Wolff ad Russell began their campaign to persuade the FIA to change the car design regulations for 2023 because of the serious bouncing the W13 had displayed on the street circuit.
Less overtakes than in Sprint
Following those car design regulation changes, it appears the F1 challengers for 2023 are finding it more difficult to follow another car closely and overtake.
Yesterday, the Red Bull cars emphasised how much better they are in race trim than the rest of the field as they headed off into the distance.
Further, there were just 13 overtakes recorded during the Grand Prix, five fewer than in the previous day’s Sprint which of course is just one third of the distance of the F1 weekend’s main event.
There were moments when excitement threatened to break out as Lewis Hamilton closed in quickly on the rear of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari.
Hard tyre lasted too long
But Hamilton’s charge was stalled once he was around half a second behind Sainz and he was forced to drop back and conserve tyres.
Starting from the pit lane Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg were to blame for another traffic train which prevented much of the mid field battling.
The pair had started the race on the hard tyre which looked as though it was good for more than the 51 lap race distance. Of course when the starts on the medium tyres pitted for hards, Ocon and Hulkenberg gained track position and held up Norris et al until the closing seconds of the race.
Reflecting on the race, the Mercedes boss agreed the entertainment value was low to zero.
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Overtaking nigh on impossible
“There was no overtaking today, even with a big pace difference,” Wolff said.
“It made it not great entertainment. I wouldn’t know today between Aston Martin and Ferrari and us who is quicker because you’re stuck where you’re stuck and that’s pretty much it.
“But at the end it all comes down to racing. It needs the tough battles and I think the highlight you could see yesterday was George and Max being able to battle it out. And today there was none of that.
“Even if you were within 0.2 seconds it was nearly impossible to overtake unless the other driver makes a mistake.”
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Wolff concluded “We need to look at it and how we can make it better, how we can avoid just a boring race.”
A number of commentators believed this was a nudge from the Mercedes’ boss in the direction of the FIA for something to be done about Red Bull Racing’s dominance.
Yet the problem evident in Baku is a result of years of mistakes made on modern Formula.
Firstly, the cars are just too big.
F1 2005 🆚 2022, cars compared 👀 The size difference is definitely noticeable!
🎥 @_theintercooler pic.twitter.com/R4FQukXQFa
— Autosport (@autosport) April 5, 2022
Safety car forced strategy
During the Sprint race as Verstappen and Russell battled side by side through turns two and three there was barely room for the drivers to place their cars side by side without touching.
Secondly, Formula One has become dependent on tyre degradation to create exciting races. In yesterday’s race the safety car robbed us of the spectacle where different teams were suffering different levels of degradation as the first pit stop approached.
As soon as the safety car was deployed most of the field pitted for the hard tyre which they then ran to the end of the race.
It could be argued Pirelli got their compound selection wrong for Azerbaijan but the Italian rubber manufacturer actually selected the three softest compounds in their 2023 range.
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Herd mentality of the F1 teams
The problem was in the herd mentality of the F1 teams.
Clearly during the Sprint as the tyres degraded overtaking was indeed possible and to this end Red Bull Racing did themselves no favours.
Whilst Perez and Verstappen never had enough of a gap to pit for a second time and return to the race without losing positions, their tyre advantage would have seen them easily repass the likes of Alonso, LeClerc and Hamilton.
A bold two stop strategy from Red Bull may well have taken with them other sheep from the herd and created something of a spectacle as the different cars on different strategies battled for supremacy.
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A two stop strategy means the drivers can push full out and don’t have to worry about conserving tyres and running for too long in dirty air.
The IndyCar race in Barbour last night was the perfect example of this. The Penske cars committed earlier to doing an extra stop and their drivers raced flat out from start to finish.
This strategy proved to be too much for those trying to stop one fewer times and eek out the tyres to the end of the race.
The difficulty Red Bull have is had they put one of their drivers on a two stop strategy, then accusations of favouritism would have ensued whatever the result.
Red Bull wary of attracting FIA attention
Further, such is the dominance one the Red Bull car that on fresh rubber they may well have lapped the majority of the field leading to further accusations they should be nobbled to even up the racing.
Apart from spending a decade reversing many of the car and engine design decisions they’ve made, the FIA can do very little in response to Toto Wolff’s suggestion.
Of course shortening the DRS section by 100 metres proved to be the wrong decision by the FIA and they could mandate that the teams must make two stops per race to prevent a single safety car event forcing the teams onto a single strategy.
Yet given the size of the cars, the cooler temperatures together with the herd mentality of the F1 team strategists, it was just a perfect storm that blew over Baku.
And next time out in Miami everything will be different and Azerbaijan forgotten for another year.
READ MORE: Verstappen calls for Red Bull team review
Contact at Turn 2! 💥#AzerbaijanGP #F1 pic.twitter.com/yLIIKhpikC
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 30, 2023
Whatever Wolff wants done has only one aim – hog tie RB or noggle it by any means. The present suggestion is also of the same kind.
Can’t recall Toto complaining about ‘boring races’ when it was HIS team winning them! Just sour grapes