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Is Charles Leclerc the fastest driver in F1?

Is Charles Leclerc the fastest driver in F1?

If Charles Leclerc had turned all of his pole positions into victories in 2022, we were talking about him as the clear favorite for the title.

He was fastest in six in eight qualifying sessions this year (also on Saturday in Baku), while taking second place in the other two (behind Sergio Perez in Saudi Arabia and Max Verstappen at Imola).

Of course, the fact that Leclerc’s Ferrari is so quick over one lap, but more evenly matched with the Red Bulls in the race, is one of the reasons this year’s world championship is so open and exciting. Ferrari’s handling of its tires means it can easily get them up to temperature in a single lap, but managing them over a race distance isn’t always easy and has been a constant weakness for Leclerc compared to championship leader Verstappen.

But putting aside the quirks of each car’s tire management, Leclerc undoubtedly lays claim to the title of F1’s fastest driver over a single lap. His pole position lap in Baku was the latest example of his pinpoint precision and masterly speed, as he got close to the top hurdles and came out of almost every corner without ever spiraling out of control.

In a session that looked good between the four drivers of the two best teams in Q1, Q2 and the first run in Q3, Leclerc found almost 0.3s more than his closest rival when it mattered, and did so without the advantage from a slipstream on Baku’s long straight. The advantage he had was mainly in the tighter second sector of the track, with Leclerc’s best attempt to thread his Ferrari between the castle walls giving him a 0.327 second lead over second place Perez in that sector alone. Red Bull gained lap time back on the straights, where the RB18’s lower drag came into its own, but by the time his Ferrari entered the pit lane, Leclerc had time left after his intense flirting with the walls earlier in the race. round.

A remarkable lap in a car in front is always easier to spot than an equally impressive lap in a midfielder or car behind, and there are some drivers who often get the most out of their machines, just like Leclerc only did on Saturday. to be halfway down the grid. George Russell, for example, would also be a contender for the best qualifying race in F1 after outperforming the man with the most pole positions in F1 history in the past three events, Lewis Hamilton, and taking his Mercedes to fifth. towed on Saturday.

But Leclerc’s total dominance this year over team-mate Carlos Sainz, who is anything but slow, and his ability to consistently set the fastest laps while facing the pressures of a title fight means he has a perfectly legitimate claim to the F1’s title. best qualifier. this year. All he has to do now is turn that one-lap pace on Sunday into wins.

— Laurence Edmondson

Did the car problem cost Perez pole?

There was some confusion at Red Bull ahead of the final timed laps of qualifying. As Max Verstappen went out as planned, he soon found that he had gone ahead of teammate Sergio Perez.

Verstappen asked why, given that he would get a “drag” from Perez on his lap – the effect of the slipstream down Baku’s long straight is huge. Perez’s car was delayed in the garage as the team struggled to get it going, which team boss Christian Horner later explained as a problem with the car’s refueling.

Perez would give Verstappen the tug, but if he was in sync with other drivers, Red Bull had also planned that he would benefit from towing another car. It turned out that Perez had to run his lap out of sync and in clean air, which probably cost him a small fraction of the lap time.

The final gap from Perez to Leclerc was 0.282s.

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

“Looks like when Ferrari put it all together they are 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 principal Christian Horner downplayed the suggestion that the problem cost the team pole.

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

Pole or not, Perez again outperformed Verstappen on Saturday. He narrowed the championship gap to 15 points by winning the Monaco Grand Prix last time, and if he finishes ahead of Verstappen again on Sunday, he will make the fascinating dynamics of teammates 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 appeared that Mercedes had narrowed the gap to Ferrari and Red Bull and that Lewis Hamilton and George Russell would be in the running for wins in the coming races. But just two bumpy road courses later, and the fastest of the two silver cars found themselves battling Red Bull’s junior team AlphaTauri for fifth on the grid on Saturday, while a staggering 1.3 seconds off pole position – the biggest dry weather qualifying margin Mercedes has had forward this season.

So was the performance in Spain just a false dawn?

Not exactly. Although progress was made at the Spanish Grand Prix, it came on a purpose built track with a smooth track surface and a succession of mainly high and medium speed corners. Across the bumpy street circuits of Monaco and Baku, Mercedes has discovered driving difficulties that weren’t apparent in Spain, as well as a return of the dreaded bouncing – or “porpoises” – on the fast straights in Baku.

The bounce, which hampered the Mercedes’ performance during 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 cutting edge when it comes to healing of the problem, but also that the time spent fixing the bounce wasn’t as well spent as the engineers had hoped. For every hour the team’s factory has worked to resolve the bounce, it has lost the same amount of time developing the targeted performance upgrades it planned to improve the car’s base performance. Meanwhile, rivals Red Bull and Ferrari have continued to develop their own, widening the gap up front, meaning the return of the bounce in Baku has dropped Mercedes even further from the pace.

“We have made a very good step in Barcelona,” team boss Toto Wolff insisted on Saturday evening. “On a track with a smooth surface, less bumps, we’re good.

“We had a good car and we were able to get the performance out of it in the race, but in qualifying we were a bit lacking. It’s easy to explain, because we’ve now had two months where we’ve tried the porpoises on and not being able to add basic performance and that bites us a bit.

“For us, we understand what’s going on. We understand what we need to do and it means in a way… Montreal (the next race) is a really good race for us next week because Montreal is bouncing, it’s high – kerb riding. After Montreal I expect to have better visibility.”

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

“I think we know what is causing our problem, but we don’t have the answers yet on what the best solution will be,” Wolff said. “And we are currently experimenting with that.

“I still think there is a short-term solution that will make us much more competitive, but it may not explain everything. I want to get the car in the right position in the second half of the year and also for next year. ” year. So learning is more important than short-term optimization for a weekend.”

— Laurence Edmondson