Formula 1: Azerbaijan Grand Prix results, drivers unite against salary cap

The top-20 F1 drivers will earn a combined $300 million in salary this year, which makes their bid to avoid a salary cap seem to be greedy - but there’s more to the story.

Formula one can be a fractious and divisive world, but all the backbiting and bitterness appeared to have evaporated in Azerbaijan yesterday (Friday) as the world’s leading drivers stood united in their opposition to the notion that their salaries should be limited.

The idea has been on the table for some time and seemed to acquire a certain logic with the introduction at the start of this season of an overall budget cap for the teams - at present set at $200 million - to make the sport more competitive. The suggestion is that a cap of $43 million across two drivers in each team would level the playing field even more.

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(L0R) Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari, Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren and Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing will earn a combined $80 million this year alone. Picture: Clive Rose/Getty Images
(L0R) Carlos Sainz of Spain and Ferrari, Lando Norris of Great Britain and McLaren and Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing will earn a combined $80 million this year alone. Picture: Clive Rose/Getty Images

But while most of us could just about manage on the smallest portion of that, the drivers could scarcely have looked more uncomfortable with the proposal had you sprinkled chilli sauce inside their fireproof underwear before free practice around the Baku track.

One after another they queued up to condemn the injustice of it all, arguing that the sport as a whole would be damaged by such a development.

Poor little rich kids? Well, yes, there was maybe a bit of that, perhaps even quite a lot of that, but there was a common underlying theme to their opposition that related to the way a driver gets into F1 in the first place. A fortunate few have starry-eyed parents to bankroll their way to the top; most others, however, rely on the support of sponsors and investors who, ultimately, will be looking for a return if and when their investment pays off.

“It is difficult enough to get into Formula One at all,” Lando Norris, the McLaren driver, said. “If you have the backing of an investor, they will obviously want their money back at some point. If it gets capped, it will be much harder and people will be less interested in investing in young drivers.”

Pierre Gasly, of AlphaTauri, echoed Norris’s sentiments. “We know it is an expensive sport to make it to Formula One,” the Frenchman said. “We’re talking big numbers. You need financial support. People need to take risks to invest in you. It is normal that these people expect returns.

“If we start to put a salary cap on, it is not going to encourage these people to help young drivers. I don’t think that by moving in that direction we’re going to give more opportunities to young talent without financial backing.

“We have got to be careful on that side. The knock-on effect it will have on the younger guys and young talents will not be beneficial for the entire sport.”

So much for noble opposition. There is also a degree of cynicism, rooted in the fact that the salary cap has turned up on the agenda at a time when interest in F1 has been piqued by the Netflix documentary series Drive to Survive and the economics of the sport have finally been knocked into a shape that allows teams a bit of breathing space.

Hence the wry comment of Sebastian Vettel, the four-times world champion who now drives for Aston Martin, who observed: “It is a funny coincidence that the first time teams can actually make money racing in Formula One something like the salary cap for drivers pops up. Isn’t that funny?”

Alfa Romeo's Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas steers his car during the second practice session ahead of the Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit in Baku. Picture: Atalia Kolesnikova/AFP
Alfa Romeo's Finnish driver Valtteri Bottas steers his car during the second practice session ahead of the Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit in Baku. Picture: Atalia Kolesnikova/AFP

Max Verstappen, the reigning champion, put it less cryptically. “From my side it’s completely wrong,” he said. “At the moment F1 is becoming more and more popular, and everyone is making more and more money, including the teams. Everyone is benefiting.

“So why would the drivers - with their IP [intellectual property] rights and everything - be capped, the ones who actually bring the show and put their lives at risk? It’s completely wrong.”

With a crisp new two-year contract with Red Bull, one believed to have lifted his annual wage by about dollars 3 million, Perez is certainly not fretting over the finances at the moment. The Mexican secured his first win of the season at Monaco a fortnight ago and he has looked in fairly good shape on the Baku track where he won this event last year.

Perez set the fastest time in the first free practice session, completing a lap of the 3.7-mile street circuit in just over 1min 45sec. He bettered that time by a couple of seconds in the second session, but he was still a couple of tenths down on Charles Leclerc, the Ferrari driver, who collected a couple of impressive wins early in the season but who has lost ground since through a combination of bad luck and race-strategy errors by his team.

“As a driver you want certainty, you want to get that stress out of the way, so the earlier the better,” said Perez known in the pits and amongst his fans as ‘Checo’ “It takes so much energy and so much focus to be a hundred per cent weekend by weekend, so you don’t need that thinking.

“So, it was good that we agreed so early on that contract. I feel like I’ve got a good opportunity (in the 2022 title race) but obviously the season is still very young so anything can happen from now.” Perez had to let Verstappen pass to take the win in Barcelona last month under team orders, but pointedly said that nowhere in his new deal did it stipulate that “I have to finish second”.

McLaren's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo is off the pace in Baku City. Picture: Ozan Kose/AFP
McLaren's Australian driver Daniel Ricciardo is off the pace in Baku City. Picture: Ozan Kose/AFP

Second is a position Daniel Ricciardo would gladly settle for as his difficulties at McLaren continued.

The Australian’s frankness and good nature and race skill have made him a hugely popular figure on the grid but his trademark smile is being tested by being constantly outshone by teammate Lando Norris.

He did not look comfortable filling 14th position, with Norris in 10th on this bumpy circuit boasting the longest straight on the calendar but also some of the tightest turns.

Practice was a messy affair for a number of teams with a succession of cars making

unplanned excursions down the track’s escape roads. For Lewis Hamilton and George Russell it was also an uncomfortable day, with their Mercedes cars suffering from the return of the “porpoising” issues - when the car bounces violently up and down on the straights - that afflicted them so badly in the first few races of the season.

“I’m a bit sore,” Hamilton, who was 1.65sec slower than Leclerc in the second session, said. “We were hitting serious speeds and it is bouncing a lot.

“I can’t tell you one specific area which is costing us the 1.3 or 1.6-second difference to the front - a lot of it seems to be on the straight, but we need to get our heads down and find solutions.”

RICCIARDO CLEARS AIR WITH TEAM BOSSES BUT FUTURE STILL CLOUDED

Formula One star Daniel Ricciardo has cleared the air with his McLaren boss Zak Brown as the Australian digs his heels in to save his future with the team in 2023.

Ricciardo and Brown both raised eyebrows about the Australian’s role with McLaren at the last Grand Prix in Monaco when quizzed about his contract status.

While Ricciardo was adamant he would be at McLaren in 2023, Brown later claimed there were mechanisms where that may not be the case.

Speaking ahead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix starting on Friday Ricciardo confirmed he had spoken to Brown about their conflicting version of contractual status and was adamant he would be at McLaren in 2023.

“We’ve spoke,” he said. “We’ve had a catch up. I think nothing needed to be kind of elaborated on it.

Daniel Ricciardo says says he’s spoken to team bosses about his F1 future.
Daniel Ricciardo says says he’s spoken to team bosses about his F1 future.

“I think sometimes we, and I’m guilty of it as well, get caught up in the media and not always make total sense of things. But it is clear for us moving forward.

“My contract’s clear with the team until the end of next year. I’m fully committed and I’ve certainly voiced that.

“It’s obviously now just on track, to show it and show these moments and these races that I know I am capable of. And I do truly believe that I have the full support of the team and we want to do it together. “

Ricciardo’s position will always remain under scrutiny as long as he is trailing teammate Lando Norris as he has in almost every session this year.

F1 experts from Martin Brundle to former Australian world champion Alan Jones all concede Ricciardo is unlikely to remain at McLaren, but being the subject of such ongoing media discussion is not weighing heavily on the 32-year-old’s mind as he prepares for a race where he has previously claimed a stunning victory.

Daniel Ricciardo was back in action at Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku. Picture: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Daniel Ricciardo was back in action at Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku. Picture: Clive Rose/Getty Images

“Maybe I kind of become a little bit immune to the media, I think being in the sport for so long,” he said.

“I know that some things are taken out of context. So I’m not really one to like go into it and read too much and try and understand it. At the end of the day, I guess I know the facts between us and what I have with the team.

“So, simply, I don’t get caught up with it. So no, I guess I’m not surprised with anything these days.”

Ricciardo had shown some promising signs early on at Monaco after significant car upgrades after Spain, but he crashed pushing the car too far in the second practice session putting him behind the eight-ball for the rest of the weekend.

With only a sixth-place finish to his name so far this season Ricciardo knows time is running out to ignite his year.

“It’s as simple as this. My results, I want them to be better. I know that it can be better,” he said. “And I want to enjoy that success with the team.”

Ricciardo again struggled in the first practice session for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, finishing 18th with a best time of 1min 48.810sec from 22 laps.

McLaren boss Zak Brown. Picture: Chandan Khanna/AFP
McLaren boss Zak Brown. Picture: Chandan Khanna/AFP

Perez fires title warning shot

Sergio Perez spoke up his title chances at Baku on Friday and followed that fighting talk by upstaging his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen in opening practice for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Perez arrived at the eighth round of the Formula One season as the man in form after his win in Monaco last time out lifted him to within 15 points of world champion Verstappen and six shy of Charles Leclerc.

The winner on this street circuit 12 months ago, Perez topped the times on a windy afternoon by the Caspian Sea with a fastest lap of 1min 45.476sec.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez posted the fastest lap in the first practice session for this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku. Picture: Ozan Kose/AFP
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez posted the fastest lap in the first practice session for this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku. Picture: Ozan Kose/AFP

Ferrari’s Leclerc, who has taken five of this season’s seven poles, was 0.127s behind, with Verstappen, who span right at the end of the session at turn 14, three tenths of a second away in third.

Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari took fourth ahead of Fernando Alonso’s Alpine and the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.

Two drivers who were barely able to put any laps in at this tricky circuit boasting the season’s longest straight but also Monaco-style tight corners were Mick Schumacher and Nicholas Latifi.

Schumacher had to retire his Haas on lap three with Latifi unable to get further than lap seven in his Williams.

Perez meanwhile had earlier told a press conference that the new contract he signed with Red Bull over the Monaco weekend had left his mind free to concentrate on his emerging challenge for the world title.

Sergio Perez is driving with confidence after signing a new deal at Red Bull. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Sergio Perez is driving with confidence after signing a new deal at Red Bull. Picture: Dan Mullan/Getty Images

“As a driver you want certainty, you want to get that stress out of the way, so the earlier the better,” said the driver known in the pits and amongst his fans as ‘Checo’.

“It takes so much energy and so much focus to be a hundred per cent weekend by weekend, so you don’t need that thinking.

“So, it was good that we agreed so early on that contract. I feel like I’ve got a good opportunity (in the 2022 title race) but obviously the season is still very young so anything can happen from now.”

Perez had to let Verstappen pass to take the win in Barcelona last month under team orders, but pointedly said that nowhere in his new deal did it stipulate that “I have to finish second”.

AFP

Originally published as Formula 1: Azerbaijan Grand Prix results, drivers unite against salary cap

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