The team continued its points-scoring run in Monaco last time out. Attention now turns east to the unique challenge of Baku where, in the past, surprises often occur. Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer reflects on Monaco and looks ahead to this weekend's Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
How is the team preparing for Baku?
Otmar Szafnauer: It's been a busy past couple of weeks for the team with the challenges of both Barcelona and Monaco back-to-back. Now, we look ahead to another double header, this time between two continents and two unique and challenging circuits. Since its introduction to the calendar a number of years ago, Baku has always provided, above all, unpredictability, as that is the pure nature of the circuit. It's a track that brings thrilling racing with overtaking opportunities aplenty, areas of risk and reward for the drivers and there's always potential for big opportunities there, which, we must aim to be in a position to take. We have a couple of circuit-specific modified aerodynamic upgrades for this weekend before activating the next batch of upgrades as part of our 2022 development plan.
What are the main challenges of the circuit?
OS: Baku is a tricky challenge for setting up the car as it's important to have a high top-speed to be competitive on the long straights. The middle part of the track has some slow-speed corners, so it's a tough balance to find. The aim will be to qualify as close to the front as possible, remain sensible and patient in the race, and be in a position where we can take any opportunity that might spring up ahead of us.
What are the main talking points after Monaco?
OS: We had a competitive race weekend in Monaco at a track where the characteristics probably didn't really suit our package. That said, it was a good weekend for learning, and we can take forward this knowledge to further improve our car at different types of circuits. Again, our car qualified well with both drivers showing potential of being in and around the top six. We're yet to execute an optimal weekend from start to finish - Friday to Sunday - and show our true potential. We're looking forward to racing this weekend and the target is to come away from this double header with four points-scoring finishes, if not more.
Esteban Ocon narrowly missed out on more points in Monaco after a chaotic Grand Prix around the Principality. Despite the result, Esteban will be looking to replicate his early season form in Baku, that sees him still sit ninth on 30 points in the Championship Standings.
How do you reflect on your Monaco weekend?
Esteban Ocon: The weekend didn't get off to a good start, but the team did a great job to be ready for Qualifying and we really showed some good pace on Saturday afternoon. Sunday was a different story with very tricky conditions for most of the race, and in the end receiving a penalty and ending outside of the points. The result doesn't reflect where we were as a team last weekend. However disappointing, we left Monaco with our heads held high knowing that we had a good car which was able to compete well inside the top 10. We are taking forward our learnings, some of which will be related to Baku, another street circuit.
Baku next. What are your thoughts on this street circuit?
EO: It's a street circuit I enjoy, and we know that anything can happen there. Unlike Monaco, there are plenty of overtaking spots and you'll find significantly lower downforce because of the long straights and high-speed sections. We'll be seeing wheel to wheel action down the straights which is very exciting for a track like this, but we will need find a balance between the straight-line speed for the straights and not taking too much downforce off the car to allow good lap-time through some of the slower corners. A good set up will be very important.
What are your personal expectations ahead of the weekend?
EO: Of course, the goal will be for the weekend to be as smooth as possible. Go through our programme during the Free Practice sessions and being as ready for Qualifying as we can be. We need to ensure we are in a good position for Sunday to be able to bring home some good points for the team after the disappointment in Monaco. I am personally looking forward to racing there given last year I could only complete three laps before having to retire the car with a mechanical issue. So, I am definitely excited to get our Baku GP weekend started.
Fernando Alonso will look to score points for a third race in a row when he visits Azerbaijan this weekend for his fourth appearance around the fast and twisty street circuit. Having scored his best result of the season in Monaco, the Spaniard is full of optimism as we approach Formula 1's next double header.
Seventh place in Monaco and another points finish. How was Monaco for you?
Fernando Alonso: It was a good weekend for us and we deserved to come away with points. We found some pace from Friday to Sunday, and we delivered a good race overall to ensure we scored. Usually, the race in Monaco is quite predictable, but with the mixed weather and tyre choices it really created a chaotic race. I had to manage the tyres at the end as we fitted the Mediums for the restart, but once I could push, we managed to create a good enough gap to Lewis behind. I'm looking forward to Baku and where we want to make it three points finishes in a row.
It's another street circuit weekend in Baku. Do you enjoy racing on the streets?
FA: We have a lot of street circuits now in Formula 1. I do enjoy them as there is really no margin for error. Baku is a track where overtaking is very possible. In my last three races there I've managed to gain a number of places during the race, so it's very different to Monaco in that respect.
Tell us about the circuit from a driver's point of view?
FA: It's a fun track and one where overtaking is possible. There is a mixture of high speed and low speed corners and a very long straight, so setup wise you have to be prepared for this. It'll be interesting to see how the 2022 cars find this circuit. I can't really compare it to a track we've already raced on this year. Also, Saturdays don't necessarily decide your race there too, and a Safety Car can completely shake up the order. I think it'll be a fun one and for sure I'm excited for the challenge ahead!