Max Verstappen leads Formula One title race with a renewed focus on Red Bull’s rear wing

Verstappen Red Bull wings
Sam Bagnall/Getty Images
1 Comment

BAKU, Azerbaijan — Max Verstappen heads into his first race as Formula One leader looking for his first podium finish at a previously troublesome circuit, and with the focus on his Red Bull car’s rear wing.

The 23-year-old Dutch driver has been a potential championship contender since he made his debut in 2015 when he was only 17. This season, he has a car capable of challenging seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton for the title.

Winning the last race in Monaco put Verstappen four points ahead of Hamilton heading into the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan - Previews
Max Verstappen (Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Some rivals, particularly Mercedes, have argued Red Bull’s rear wing flexes too much at high speed and reduces drag. That would be a particular benefit in Azerbaijan, which has the longest straight of any circuit on the calendar.

Governing body FIA is introducing new tests to measure how rigid wings are. However, they only take effect from June 15, ahead of the French Grand Prix.

Hamilton was vocal last month of what he called the “bendy” Red Bull wing and previously said it made the rival cars faster at the Spanish Grand Prix, which he won.

“Regardless of what I think, it doesn’t really make a difference,” Hamilton said Thursday. “The fact is they passed the tests that are given for this weekend so we proceed in the way things are. Of course, it is an advantage on the straight.”

Verstappen has struggled in Baku in the past, with no podium finishes and two retirements in his four races. The low point came in 2018, when he tried to block then-teammate Daniel Ricciardo at the end of the long straight. The pair collided and both drivers were out of the race.

Verstappen said he believes Mercedes still has a faster car overall.

“I do think they are still on normal tracks ahead of us but I think for us, so far this season, we’ve had a great start compared to the other seasons and we just need to keep it up,” he said.

McLaren driver Lando Norris is third in the standings – already 49 points behind Verstappen – and leads a chasing pack that includes Mercedes rival Valtteri Bottas, the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez and both Ferraris.

Bottas has shown flickers of pace with a pole position and two fastest laps this season. But the Finn has yet to finish higher than third in a race and has less than half of Hamilton’s points tally.

His weekend got off to a bad start when flight delays left him stuck Thursday at the airport in Finland as other drivers walked the Baku track.

SUPPORTING OSAKA: Lewis Hamilton speaks out on tennis controversy

Still, Bottas has been something of a Baku specialist in the past. He won the last race in 2019 – the Azerbaijan GP was canceled in 2020 amid the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic – and was on course to win in 2018 before a puncture ended his race.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc is coming off disappointment in Monaco when he qualified on pole position only for his car to break down before the start of the race because he crashed in qualifying. He said Ferrari will struggle to repeat its “one-off” Monaco pace, given Baku’s long straight.

“Even though there are quite a lot of slow-speed corners,” Leclerc said, “I believe we will be back to the normal competitiveness that we had before Monaco.”

Ken Roczen signs with HEP Progressive Ecstar Suzuki for 2023

Roczen Progressive Ecstar Suzuki
Align Media
0 Comments

ANAHEIM, California – Ken Roczen will make the move from HRC Honda to H.E.P. Motorsports with the Progressive Ecstar Suzuki team, ending a long and eventful offseason that saw his split from his longstanding team after he committed to running World Supercross (WSX).

“H.E.P. Motorsports is thrilled to announce that the team has signed Ken Roczen as its premier rider for the 2023 season,” the team announced on Instagram. “Former AMA Motocross champion Roczen will be aboard a Suzuki RM-Z450. Roczen, who won his most recent championship on a Suzuki, will be reunited with the brand and bring his exciting style, determination, and grit back to the RM Army.

“Ken Roczen will compete in the upcoming 2023 Supercross and Motocross Championship series which is set to start on January 7 at Anaheim Stadium in Southern California.”

For Roczen, it is a return to the bike of his youth and on which he had some of his greatest professional success.

“This thing has been going on for weeks and weeks and weeks in the making, but there was so much uncertainty,” Roczen told NBC Sports during Monster Energy Supercross Media Sessions. “It was a very unique situation. I just finally signed two nights ago, so it’s really only legit once the ink hits the paper. It’s been in the works for a long time, but there were just a lot of questions and a lot of input from a lot of other teams too.

“Good things take time, and I’m okay with that. I grew up riding Suzuki. Ot’s like a homecoming. It’s a special feeling”

Roczen won the 2016 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship on a Suzuki before making the move to Honda. That year he won nine of 12 Nationals and finished no worse than second as he easily outpaced Eli Tomac by 86 points. He finished third in his next Pro Motocross outing in 2018 after sitting out the outdoor season in 2017.

“I am beyond excited to reconnect with Suzuki for the 3rd time in my career. We’ve had a lot of success in the past and I’m looking forward to seeing what we can accomplish together in our future.” Roczen said in the Instagram post.