Baku’s street circuit has a reputation for delivering the unexpected when you least expect it! Yesterday’s race was no exception. Grabbing a good result in Azerbaijan involves being competitive, keeping away from the walls and making the most of any opportunities that come your way. That’s just what our guys, Pierre Gasly and Yuki Tsunoda, managed to do, the car proving to have great pace right from the start of free practice on Friday, so that they were front-runners all weekend long.
Pierre especially felt comfortable in the car right from the off, the baseline set-up proving to be a good starting point, so that only minor set-up changes and fine tuning was required from one session to the next. On Saturday, he was even fastest of all in Free Practice 3, revealing that he had an ace up his sleeve that he intended to play in qualifying. Indeed, that’s just how things panned out: Gasly comfortably made it through to Q3 before securing fourth place on the second row of the grid with a lap that was just two thousandths slower than Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen in third. On Sunday, Pierre was fired up at the thought of fighting for a top place finish. He got away well when the lights went out and for a long time Pierre defended that fourth place, even though, from around half-distance, he had to deal with a small problem with the Power Unit, which was costing him a bit of time down the 2.2 kilometre-long main straight. At the restart, following the red flag brought out when, unfortunately, Max Verstappen had to retire at the side of the track, Pierre was still fourth but he could sniff out a possible podium finish, with third placed Charles Leclerc in his sights. Those last two laps were electrifying as the two friends engaged in a hard but fair fight, which ended with a thrilling counter attacking pass as Pierre crossed the line in third place, for a third career podium, all of them achieved with our team.
The icing on the cake was supplied by our Japanese youngster, Yuki Tsunoda, who came home seventh, scoring plenty of points which has helped Scuderia AlphaTauri climb up to fifth place in the Constructors’ Championship. This was Yuki’s very first visit to the Baku City Circuit, never having raced there before. He was therefore on a very steep learning curve. He began the weekend following his engineer’s instructions to the letter and by the second hour of free practice, he was already getting closer to Pierre’s lap times. In qualifying his talent shone through as, for the first time in his career, he made it through to Q3. With Lando Norris taking a grid penalty, Yuki lined up P7 on the grid and spent the first part of the race battling with Fernando Alonso. At the restart after the red flag, Yuki was sixth, but in the melee of those final laps, he lost a couple of places. Nevertheless, he was seventh past the chequered flag, securing his best ever result from his six Formula 1 starts so far.
An impressive positive trend thus continues for the Faenza team, renowned for discovering fresh talent and turning them into true professionals. The two podium finishes in 2019 (Kvyat 3rd in Germany and Gasly 2nd in Brazil,) Pierre’s triumphant victory in Monza in 2020 and his third place yesterday in Baku are all tangible signs of the progress the team is making as it cements its place as a team to beat in today’s Formula 1 midfield.