The Baku GP could have been a very difficult race for McLaren on the track at a time when the team was coping with tragedy off it. Nevertheless, the fightback shown by McLaren, which resulted in both of their drivers finishing in the points, was a perfect tribute to long-term friend of the team and the F1 Community as a whole - Mansour Ojjeh. In an interview after Sunday’s gripping race, with select media, including motorlat.com, Team Boss Andreas Seidl reflected on McLaren’s ‘tricky’ Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Having seen a 3-place penalty handed to Lando Norris for a red flag infringement in qualifying, the Briton would start the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in 9th. This compared to Scuderia Ferrari’s talismanic racer, Charles Leclerc, being on pole, meant that Andreas Seidl’s Woking-based outfit could have lost a lot of ground on their rivals. However, despite losing positions early on as the lights went out (for the first time) and been as low as 12th, The Azerbaijan GP reminded F1 fans that it is a very long and unpredictable race.
To recap, against all odds, when the race restarted with just 2 laps to go as a result of Max Verstappen’s red-flag -causing tyre blow out, Lando Norris was soon in the thick of things again giving McLaren and Team Principal Andreas Seidl a reason to smile. Lando Norris gained ground on the battle between Charles Leclerc and the eventual third place finisher Pierre Gasly. On the very last lap of the race, Norris had tried to find a way past the Monegasque racer but no avail. As such, Charles Leclerc crossed the line in fourth place with fifth for the Briton. Elsewhere on track, the image of a McLaren chasing down a Scuderia Ferrari was repeated with Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz crossing the line in eighth with Daniel Ricciardo just behind him for ninth.
An impressive feat seeing and as damage limitation goes this was rather successful as McLaren Team Principal Andreas Seidl made clear in his post-race press conference to select media - of which motorlat.com was in attendance.
“In the end we need to finish our lap on Saturday then our Sunday’s a lot easier because I think we had the pace today to run further at the front but sometimes we were in the train today…Again a good job from both drivers and the team to keep their head down and calm in a tricky race so we’re very happy that in the end we only lost four points to Ferrari today which was a good outcome after a disappointing Saturday.”
All of this meant that Scuderia Ferrari sit third in the constructors’ championship, two points clear of McLaren. Nevertheless, the crux of the issue is indeed McLaren’s Saturday pace and eventual starting position for Sunday. Particularly, as Lando Norris’ comments to Formula 1’s Post-Race Show, explained that the McLaren had a lot of speed during Sunday’s race:
“I think after yesterday, it’s definitely [positive] with Charles starting on pole and only finishing just ahead of us, and nice having Daniel in the points, just helping us out that bit more. It’s tough because they still got more points than us, but there’s still a long way to go in the year, so we’ll just keep it up and keep fighting.”
The dramatic final two laps of the Baku GP will last long in the memory of an F1 fan but the question was also posed to Andreas Seidl as to whether a red flag was the right call:
“I need to understand exactly what the reason was for the red flag I guess the Race Director together with Pirelli and the teams probably wanted to have time to understand if there was any issue with the tyres…I think we need to wait for the explanation from Michael Masi but if that was the reason I guess it was the right call to make and in the end it doesn’t matter if it’s 2 laps or 10 laps or 20 laps in the end…I don’t have an issue with that…most important thing is safety.”
So, would there be a chance of success in France – the next GP on the calendar – at a more typical race circuit than the streets of Baku? Andreas Seidl’s comments indicated there is reason to hope but also so much still unknown.
“I hope so, it’s difficult to judge, everybody is still developing the car as well. Everybody, I think also still is understanding cars better and better and therefore it’s difficult to draw any conclusions from earlier races of the season in terms of pecking order on specific tracks so it is difficult to say. We got closer to Mercedes and Red Bull in front of us in terms of pace which is encouraging because these are steps you have to make as a team.”
McLaren are indeed making big steps and one of the men who helped the team on that metaphorical journey for many years was Mansour Ojjeh.
On a weekend when McLaren was rocked by the passing of Mansour Ojjeh one of the driving forces behind the Woking-based manufacturer and a main shareholder since the early 1980s, Andreas Seidl remembered his good friend:
“Our thoughts this evening are with Mansour Ojjeh’s family after the sad news of his passing. Today, we were racing in honour of our long-term friend, supporter and fellow racer.”
The Baku GP was very much a race Mansour Ojjeh would have enjoyed. Although regarded as an understated member of the Paddock, his passion for the sport was unrivalled.
After such a tricky race, as described by Team Boss Andreas Seidl, Mansour Ojjech would be delighted by the damage limitation produced by his team. Now, he will no doubt be looking on at the success which comes McLaren’s way this year, next year and no doubt the many decades after that. A rich legacy indeed and he will be much missed.