The sun was shining over the Baku Street Circuit this afternoon as qualifying for the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix got underway.
Q1 began with two brief yellow flags when Hamilton and Hulkenberg both ran off-track before rejoining the circuit, with Stroll also having a brief scrape with the wall.
A red flag came out just moments after the chequered flag fell on Q1, with Williams’ driver Robert Kubica clipping the wall at turn eight and hitting the barriers. Kubica was okay, but Williams were left with a huge repair job on their hands.
The first session ended with Pierre Gasly in P1, followed by Charles Leclerc and Lewis Hamilton. The five drivers knocked out of Q1 were Stroll, Grosjean, Hulkenberg, Russell and Kubica.
After a delayed start due to the recovery of Kubica’s William’s, Q2 finally got underway, but the red flag was brought out again within minutes when Charles Leclerc crashed into the barriers at turn eight – the exact same place where Kubica crashed in Q1. Leclerc was uninjured but was left understandably frustrated as he made his way back to the Ferrari garage.
After yet another half-hour delay, Q2 finished without further incident. Max Verstappen topped the time sheets followed by Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton in P3. The five drivers out in Q2 and lining up from P11-P15 on the grid for tomorrow’s race are Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo, Alex Albon, Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly, who didn’t set a time in Q2 due to his penalty for missing the weigh-in yesterday in practice. He will start tomorrow’s race from the pit-lane.
Q3 was relatively uneventful with nine out of ten drivers out on track in a bid to get pole position. Despite having crashed out in Q2, Leclerc set a competitive time and will start tomorrow’s race in tenth place.
Valtteri Bottas set a sensational lap time of 1:40.495, placing him on pole position for tomorrow’s race. Hamilton completed the front row with Sebastian Vettel behind in P3 next to Red Bull’s Max Verstappen. The rest of the grid consists of Perez in P5, Kvyat in P6, Lando Norris in an impressive 7th, with Giovanazzi, Raikkonen and Leclerc rounding out the top ten.
If today’s dramatic qualifying is anything to go by, tomorrow promises to be a very interesting race in Azerbaijan!
When it seemed like nothing else could go wrong for Williams after missing the first two days of pre-season testing, the team has just been beaten twice a week before the season kicks off in Australia. Despite the big effort they are putting in to find solutions, the end of what has been one of the most successful teams in Formula One history appears to be nearer than the turnaround they need to be fighting at the top again. After a terrible 2018 in which they was completely off the pace, the team claimed that they had identified the problem and it would be solved in the upcoming year. The truth is that we are already in 2019 and they have the slowest car on the grid and showing no signs of recovery in the near future.
The first troubles showed up quite early this year as the filming day planned at Silverstone got cancelled in order to ‘make the most of the time left before heading to Barcelona’, an inconvenience given that teams are only allowed 100km of running with special tyres, so the main purpose is to check every system to be ready to hit the track once the light goes green at Montmeló.
It was at this point that we realised they had suffered major setbacks. The car wasn’t ready, it wasn’t even in the circuit and their first laps wouldn’t take place until Wednesday afternoon. This was a complete disaster considering that private testing is forbidden nowadays. In addition to this, the legality of the mirrors and the front suspension has been questioned in the last few days. Some experts explain that the front suspension isn’t easy to redesign, so it may cause a new headache before Australia. Furthermore, Williams’ technical chief Paddy Lowe is taking a leave of absence which could lead into his departure after being pointed out as responsible for the team issues.
For some, the two main reasons that have placed Williams on the edge are money and the team’s attitude, both discussed in the following lines. Despite the team denying that the delay was related to issues with external suppliers or a lack of financial resources, it is hard to believe what they stated because of their well-known struggles to keep going through the last few years. Even if they got ROKiT (a telecommunications company) as new title sponsor and Orlen (an oil refiner company and Kubica’s personal sponsor), these brands aren’t expected to match the vast amount of money brought by Lawrence Stroll (Lance’s father) and Martini which left the team at the end of last season.
Having said that, the horizon doesn’t look really promising due to the fact that when you have the slowest car, you want is to develop it as quickly as possible and you need a lot of money to do so. We may have a look back at the beginning of the hybrid era, when the Mercedes engine brought some success to Grove. At that moment, they even managed to afford a big upgrade of their wind tunnel aiming to fight on top again, but their work didn’t pay off and not much more has been said about what was described as a massive step forward in terms of development capability. Since then, they are in freefall praying for the budget cap to come in on time to save the team. Examples like this one make us realise how difficult it is to reach the top and how easy it is to go back to the midfield when you don’t spend the budget correctly or simply don’t have it.
Secondly, the team is missing a captain who steers the project in order to get out of the hole in which they are in. With Sir Frank Williams out of the picture, it is his daughter Claire who actually leads the squad. She seems tired or at least that is the impression given every time she faces the media. Claire has mentioned many times that she doesn’t want to be the person who ends’ Williams long history, but when there is no passion there is nothing to do.
Moreover, Robert Kubica’s attitude towards the team isn’t helping, for sure. The Polish driver, who is coming back to the sport after a long period recovering from the injuries suffered in a rally crash in 2011, has criticised his team harshly over the last days as a consequence of the poor pre-season done. ‘The car was too tired to continue’ and ‘I only know 20% of the things I should know before Australia’ were some of the comments made by Kubica. Most likely, he expected too much from a team which is suffering the worst streak in their history. On the contrary, George Russell is doing exactly what Williams needs: he is always encouraging his guys on social media and making positive statements when he talks to the media. It might sound useless, but the atmosphere you create around you is very important get good results.
Taking all this into account, I have to confess that I fear Williams could not make it to the end of the season as I feel they are digging their own grave. The large number of issues they are facing, added to the lack of leadership and the fact that they remain adamant in their idea of building the whole car on their own and refusing to buy some parts to manufacturers, could mean the end for a team that has been competing in the championship since 1977.
Featured image courtesy of Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images
Williams have revealed their all-new livery for their upcoming season and announced telecommunications company ROKiT as their new title sponsor, replacing previous sponsor Martini after their five-year partnership came to an end.
The livery, displayed on a 2018-spec car, features a white, blue and black colour scheme and sports the RoKit logo on the engine cover.
The announcement was made at an event at the team’s factory in Grove, Oxfordshire, ahead of the expected launch of the 2019 car before the start of pre-season testing on Monday.
Speaking at the event, deputy team principal Claire Williams said, “We are delighted to welcome ROKiT to our team as our title partner for the 2019 season and beyond. We share many similar values and aspirations with ROKiT; primarily putting engineering and innovation at the core of everything we do in our pursuit to be the best – the perfect platform from which to start a partnership.
ROKiT is on an exciting journey in their world of telecommunications, as we are at Williams as we build the team for a successful future. Taking that path together will make us both stronger in our endeavours and so I can’t wait to get started.”
Alongside the new livery, for 2019 Williams will also have an all-new driver line-up comprised of Robert Kubica and George Russell. The Australian Grand Prix will be something of a momentous occasion for both drivers – for Russell it will be his first ever start in F1, while for Kubica it will be his first race back in F1 since he suffered severe injuries in a rally crash back in 2011.