Azerbaijan GP 2021 - Alpine F1 preview
While the team scored points in Monaco, it has been a disappointing weekend. This weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix presents the next opportunity of securing a good team result. Executive Director Marcin Budkowski explains the post-Monaco feeling and previews the demands of the Baku City Street Circuit.
What’s the mood in the camp post-Monaco?
After two promising races in Portugal and Spain, Monaco has put a brief halt in our progression. It was generally a poor showing, and there’s no hiding from that as a team. While we managed to score points, we’re not satisfied with our relative performance compared to our main competitors. Some of the teams we’ve been fighting closely with recently were clearly more competitive than us and took a big reward for that. We’ll take forward our learnings, some of which will naturally be related to Baku, another street circuit with the same compound of tyres as Monaco. We’ve used the days in between to regroup at Enstone and Viry, to learn and move forward.
What are the main reasons the team was not as competitive as previous circuits?
We didn’t manage to realise the performance of our car package and of the tyres. On the streets of Monaco, everything needs to come together to give the driver confidence and extract the lap-time. Admittedly, we managed to find some pace in qualifying with Esteban, but it came too late in the weekend to make the most of it. A big part of the success is in the preparation and we did not get that quite right last weekend.
How is the team preparing for Baku?
Baku is also a street circuit, but with a significantly lower downforce level than Monaco because of the long straights and high-speed sections. We have a small upgrade package, as per our development plan, so it’s been a busy week at the factory to have everything ready. All the while, we’ve conducted rigorous analysis and simulations to make sure we go to Baku with the best possible understanding of what our issues were in Monaco to ensure they don’t affect us again.
We’ve seen some eventful races in Baku in the past, so it’s important to be able to make the most of any race events and capitalise on them. The aim is to be as close as possible to the front to benefit from any kind of attrition.
How pleasing is it to see the Alpine Academy success in Formula 2?
It was good to see Formula 2 racing in Monaco after a long break since Bahrain. The drivers did a solid job, especially Zhou and Oscar who are now the top two in the championship, courtesy of further trophies being added to their season collection. Baku will be demanding for them, but the signs are there for another strong weekend for the Alpine Academy drivers.
Esteban Ocon made it four consecutive points-scoring finishes after his ninth place in Monaco. Baku is next – a street circuit, which boasts some very unique features, where Esteban targets to add more points to his season tally.
What’s it like racing in Baku?
I like racing in Baku. It’s a very unusual circuit where, as we’ve seen in the past, anything can happen. It’s an interesting layout with the long straights, followed by some very challenging and closely spaced corners in sector two. We go from one street circuit in Monaco, a short lap and difficult for overtaking, to Baku, another street circuit, which is almost opposite as it’s long with plenty of overtaking spots. The atmosphere at these city-based street circuits is always great. Everything feels really close to the track and you can feel the sensation of speed even more.
How challenging is the Baku City Street Circuit?
It’s a circuit where you can see three or more cars go wheel to wheel down the straights, which, on a street track, is incredible. That’s what makes the race in Baku so exciting as there are opportunities to make some places. It’s a bit tricky on finding the right balance between straight line speed for the straights while not taking too much downforce off the car to allow you to make up lap-time through some of the slower corners.
What are your post-Monaco thoughts heading into this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix?
I left Monaco feeling reasonably pleased. We’ve made it four points-scoring finishes in a row, and we want to keep that going. Monaco underlined some areas we need to improve. We had expected to be more competitive than what we achieved, so we go to Baku aiming to put ourselves higher inside the top ten. I’ve not been to Baku for a couple of years and, like last weekend, I’ll build up my confidence in the car through the practice sessions.
This weekend Fernando Alonso heads to Azerbaijan for only the fourth time in his Formula 1 career. The Spanish driver will look to make it three points finishes in a row in Baku, when he tackles the streets of the capital this weekend.
You’ve had some good races here before, most famously in 2018, do you enjoy racing in Baku?
I always enjoy racing here in Baku. It’s a good circuit with lots of challenging corners and overtaking opportunities. After two races in a row – where it was quite tough to overtake – it’s nice to have a race where it’s more possible. I’ve qualified outside the top ten in my past two races here but gone on to finish inside the points. It shows anything can happen in what is usually a very unpredictable weekend. The circuit has a mix of areas where the priority is top speed, with the middle sector more dependent on downforce and mechanical grip. It’s a challenging weekend for both car and driver and finding a good balance with the setup will be very important.
It was a challenging weekend in Monaco, what are your feelings looking back?
We came into the weekend hoping for more from our package, but we just couldn’t find performance all weekend. The starting position was key and, unfortunately, we didn’t do well in qualifying, so it made the race extremely difficult. We have a lot of data to look back on and see if we can identify areas of improvement ahead of Baku. Despite the result, I enjoyed being back racing around the streets of Monaco, it’s always a special feeling.
We’re now five races into your Formula 1 return, how do you rate your season so far?
I’m feeling more and more confident with each race. I think we can see that it’s taking a bit of time for those in new teams this year to adjust and for me it’s the same. It’s a process and we’re always learning and trying to find ways to improve the car. But we are aware that 2022 is going to be an important year and this is in some ways a preparation year. The car has felt good in races like Portimão and Barcelona, so we are confident we can build on these performances and lessons to score more consistent points to fight with the teams around us in the championship.
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