After a month off Formula One returned to Baku this weekend for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Coming off an unpredictable race in Australia the fourth race of the 2023 Formula One World Championship went exactly as expected.
Sergio Perez took out top honours winning both the Sprint on Saturday and Race on Sunday becoming the first driver to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix twice, with Red Bull also taking out it's 25th 1-2 finish.
Last week's rankings are in brackets.
1. Red Bull Racing (1)
It was another banner weekend for Red Bull Racing with Sergio Perez taking home wins in both the Sprint on Saturday and the Race on Sunday, while Max Verstappen walked away with two podiums and a head full of steam following a frustrating weekend that left him feeling out of his element for periods.
As always the Red Bulls dominated throughout the weekend with both cars in the top three in all five sessions, with only Charles Leclerc managing to best the pair, albeit only in Qualifying and the Sprint Shootout.
When it came to race pace both cars were just too good with Verstappen still finishing in third in the Sprint despite a hole in his sidepod due to an entanglement with George Russell and Perez, flew past Leclerc more than once within the first three laps of having DRS on the Monegasque driver.
2. Mercedes (3)
The tussle for top spot at Mercedes gets interesting in Baku. While George Russell was able to best Lewis Hamilton in both the sprint shootout and the Sprint, it was Hamilton who had a better handle during qualifying and the feature race.
Hamilton's strong and stable showing suggests that he is now getting along better with his car. Meanwhile Russell opted for a more daring attack in the starting lap of the sprint race, trying to make the most out of the opening laps to get the jump on the Red Bulls, overtaking Verstappen, damaging the Dutchman's sidepod in the process.
With upgrades promised to be on the way for Imola, and the some shifting of staff during the spring break, Mercedes is clearly trying to tee up some better results. Baku proved to be a good start, with both drivers managing to get some good pace out of the W14, best exemplified when Russell managed to snatch fastest lap off the Red Bulls in the final lap of the feature race.
3. Aston Martin (2)
It was an odd weekend for Aston Martin in Baku who couldn't replicate the form of the opening races due to intermittent issues with DRS that saw Fernando Alonso and Lance Stoll unable to use it for the majority of Friday and Saturday.
However even without DRS both cars were able to put solid laps in to reach Q3 with Stroll's AMR23 at equal pace with Oscar Piastri in the McLaren to set an identical lap time of 1:41.611.
The issues seemed to have sorted themselves out for the Sprint and Race with both cars finishing in the points in both events, and Alonso maximising the potential of the car to easily get by Mercedes and steal a place from Ferrari while hunting down the final podium spot. Had Alonso had five additional laps to close in on Leclerc it's likely he would have gotten the job done however, he had to settle for fourth on Sunday solidifying his position of third in the championship.
4. Ferrari (6)
The start of the week showed promise for Ferrari. Despite prior poor performances, Charles Leclerc looked on top of his game as he posted lap times that were merely hundredths of a second off Verstappen during the free practice session. His strong lap times resulted in a third and a fourth pole in Baku, beating out both Red Bulls in the sprint shoot out and qualifying respectively.
However, any hope for a first place finish was quickly snuffed out as the Monegasque driver was overtaken by the Red Bulls in the early laps of the both races. Damage to Verstappen's sidepod made it possible for him to hold onto second place in the Sprint Race, however both Verstappen and Perez managed to outpace him comfortably on Sunday, putting a 21.217 second gap on Leclerc.
Leclerc's prowess only managed to highlight teammate Carlos Sainz's solid but unremarkable showing. Sainz managed to put up a good fight behind the Red Bulls, at times leading the battle for the top five against the Aston Martins and Mercedes.
5. Alpha Tauri (5)
If there's one thing Alpha Tauri will do it's give Formula One fans something to talk about following the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. In a weekend where everything that could go wrong did go wrong, Yuki Tsunoda managed to haul the unremarkable AT04 into points territory with a P8 in qualifying.
The weekend got off to the worst possible start with Tsunoda's right rear wheel getting a puncture causing further damage to the car as he attempted to limp home to the pits in Free Practice, while Nyck de Vries had his best performance of the weekend in the session only to lock up doing into turn three in qualifying to end his session.
Saturday wasn't much better for either driver with both cars eliminated in SQ1 followed up by a brief battle between the pair that ultimately saw Tsunoda retire the car on the second lap due to damage and De Vries only managed to climb up to P14. On Sunday the Dutchman was once again in trouble retiring the car on lap nine while Tsunoda didn't get off to the best start but managed to stay in the points and finish 10th for the second race in a row.
6. Williams (7)
It will still be a while until we see what kind of impact new team principal James Vowles will have on Williams, however this week's performance shows that he has a lot of good elements to work with.
The packed schedule of the Sprint weekend took more of a toll on rookie Logan Sargeant, exacerbating his inexperience with the car and peculiarities of Baku. The American driver reached Q2 for the first time in Formula One on Friday. His luck ended there, as a late crash in SQ1 forced him to withdraw from the Sprint Race.
Alex Albon proves to be on a good trajectory, not at all disheartened by his disappointing DNF in Australia. He makes it into Q2 on Friday and SQ3 on Saturday, and just misses out on points finishes in both races. His ninth place finish in the Sprint race is particularly impressive, earning him the label of Best of the Rest.
7. Alpine (4)
Any hope for Alpine to show the promise they did in Australia was dashed 16 minutes into the Free Practice session on Friday with the recently upgraded car of Pierre Gasly catching on fire, causing damage to the engine and the carbon fibre, giving the engineers a busy three hours to get the car right for qualifying only for Gasly crash into turn three in qualifying and retire the car.
Esteban Ocon fared better in qualifying reaching Q2 for an expected P13 start only to be sent to the pit lane for both the Sprint and Race due to the team having to adjust the suspension whilst the car was under Parc Fermé. despite a poor showing in the Sprint Shootout Gasly was the better of the pair in the Sprint flying under the radar to finish in P13 while Ocon was the victim of a poor call choosing to pit for soft tyres during the virtual safety car which could not last on the high temperatures of the Baku circuit.
Neither driver put a foot wrong on Sunday however with a P17 start for Gasly and a pitlane start for Ocon it was a tall order for either driver to get in the points, with Alpine splitting the strategies deciding to rely on Gasly's confidence around Baku to take on other drivers, while relying on Ocon's ability to maximise the life of the tyres and hope for a late safety car or red flag to save point positions. Unfortunately for the all French line up it didn't pay off with both drivers finishing outside the points despite solid Raceday performances overall.
8. McLaren (10)
McLaren had clearly put their effort, and all their new soft tyres, into maximising their potential for points in the feature race on Sunday. Whether it is due poor strategy or low expectations, their poor tyre management probably did not pay off in the divdends that they had hoped.
After a good showing during Free Practice 1, both Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri got good results in Qualifying, making it into Q3. Norris was clearly disappointed to have only ended up in P7, only 0.265 seconds off of Sainz's P4 finish. Piastri finishes behind Lance Stroll's lap time to the thousandth of a second, merely due to the fact that he posted the time after Stroll.
However, despite managing to eek into SQ3 on Sunday, Norris found himself unable to participate as he had no more sets of new soft tyres. His disappointing Saturday is rounded off as he falls seven places to finish 17th in the Sprint race. A ninth-place finish puts him in the points for Sunday's race, while Piastri just misses out, finishing in eleventh.
9. Haas (8)
While Haas has been performing better in 2023 the Azerbaijan Grand Prix continues to be a faithful nemesis for the lone American team on the grid. With the car not catered to the low downforce track or able to keep up on the long straights with their rivals.
Neither car performed well in qualifying on Friday with the pair qualifying in 17th and 18th, however improvements were made heading into Saturday with both cars adapting to the medium tyre running in the sprint shoot out better to reach Q2 with Nico Hulkenberg out qualifying his teammate in both sessions.
However when it came to both the Sprint and the Race Hulkenberg was left behind, going back three places to finish in P15 on Saturday and adopting the same risky strategy as Ocon, but unable to squeeze a few extra laps of life out of the hard tyres and being forced to pit. Kevin Magnussen adapted to racing conditions better with a P11 finish in the Sprint and and P13 in the Race managing to hold off Gasly to finish ahead of both Alpines.
10. Alfa Romeo(9)
Alfa Romeo's greatest battle continues to be with their own car. Even a four-week break seems to have not been enough to figure out where they can find some additional pace.
The team had a relatively solid showing on Friday in Free Practice 1 and Qualifying, with Valtteri Bottas reaching Q2. However, any hope for a stronger result was curtailed by a weak Sprint race performance, resulting in a P12 finish for Zhou Guanyu and a P16 finish for Bottas.
Zhou was forced to retire the car early into the race on Sunday, due to concerns of overheating, while Bottas battled Gasly for P18.