Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Pérez took his first win in his new colours in extreme circumstances at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which saw two dramatic tyre failures one of which to championship leader Max Verstappen causing a red flag. The race directors decided to restart the race with a two lap sprint, resulting in an unpredictable podium as Aston Martin Cognizant Formula One Team driver Sebastian Vettel claimed second place, with Scuderia AlphaTauri Honda’s Pierre Gasly in third.
Red Bull capitalise on Mercedes pit-stop mishap
The grand prix began in surprisingly clean circumstances, pole sitter Charles Leclerc who actually managed to start the race, got a perfect launch off the line and kept the lead coming out of turn one. Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen followed close behind Leclerc, whilst Pérez went around the outside of Gasly at turn three, raising him into fourth on the opening lap. Further down the field both Mclaren F1 Team drivers went side by side around consecutive corners, with Lando Norris coming out on top.
Leclerc’s race at the front quickly disintegrated, by lap two Hamilton cruised past the Ferrari on the home straight, with his Mercedes W12 appearing imperious down the straight even without the drag-reduction-system. At the end of lap six it was then Verstappen’s turn to go by Leclerc, again down the main straight this time though with DRS in use. Pérez followed suit a lap later. Rookie Yuki Tsunoda also made ground early on, the Japanese driver overtaking veteran Fernando Alonso on the same lap in unsurprisingly the exact same place for seventh.
Alpine F1 Team’s Esteban Ocon was the races first retirement, a puff of smoke seen coming out of the exhaust identifying an issue with his Renault engine. Elsewhere down the field in the early stages many of the weaker teams pitted for the hard compound tyres very early on, with the C3 compound being predicted to be able to go race distance by Pirelli. The biggest drama from the opening laps saw Carlos Sainz Jr tumble almost to the foot of the field, as on lap eleven he locked up and went into the turn eight run off not long after putting for the hard tyres.
Pirelli cause race chaos and heartbreak
On lap twelve race leader Lewis Hamilton came into the pits, Mercedes appearing to have reacted to the Red Bull mechanics who made a dummy run to their pit stop positions. This proved costly for Hamilton as a pitting Gasly meant the world champion had to wait for the AlphaTauri to pass, before he could be released resulting in a 4.6 second stop. The following lap Verstappen pitted and in true Red Bull style it was flawless, elevating the Dutchman ahead of Hamilton. A lap later it was a flying Pérez who came into the pits, despite a slow stop he too came out ahead of the lead Mercedes.
From this moment the race calmed down with drivers reserving their tyres, only for it to spark into life on lap thirty-one as Lance Stroll who was yet to pit, had a terrifying crash down the main straight after a rear-left failure of the C3 compound tyre. The Canadian was helpless as his tyre failed, sending his car snapping left and into the wall at high speed. Driver ok. The crash causing the second retirement of the day brought out the races first safety car which came to a close four laps later.
Verstappen waited right up to the last moment before putting his foot hard down, with the slipstream being so powerful. Verstappen kept the lead at the restart, behind Hamilton had a sniff at Pérez but to no avail, unlike Vettel who overtook Leclerc for fifth into turn one, the German having the race of his Aston Martin career so far. This wasn’t all for Vettel as on the same lap he took fourth, overtaking Gasly down the 2.22 kilometre main straight and within touching distance of a podium. Further down Sainz who after his early mistake climbed his way back through the field and into the points, unlike Bottas who remained unseen all race.
Then the moment which changed the race, as on lap forty-six Max Verstappen who had controlled almost the entire race beautifully, saw his rear left C3 tyre suffer the exact same failure as Stroll did early on, only slightly further down the straight. This time however Verstappen who again like Stroll stood no chance of keeping control was sent into the barrier on his right-handside by the start/finish line at a ridiculous speed. Thankfully again driver ok. A third retirement of the race and a second caused by Pirelli’s tyres, with important answers needed from the tyre supplier immediately. The safety car was initially brought out only for the red flag to be flown moments later.
Hamilton gifts Pérez victory
With the track cleared and with only two laps remaining, a two lap sprint finish from a standing start saw Pérez on pole from Hamilton, with Vettel and Gasly lining up behind. As the lights went out it was a poor start by Pérez, Hamilton however who’s brakes were smoking heavily whilst waiting for the lights to go out, had a dream start seeing him pull ahead in the run up to turn one despite Pérez trying to cover. Drama then arose yet again though into turn one as Hamilton locked up and went straight on at the first corner, dropping him to the back of the field ending his run of fifty-four consecutive points finishes.
Red Bull didn’t have time for a sigh of relief, as Pérez then led a charging Vettel out of the first corner with only two laps to go. Further down the field everyone else barged their way through turns one and two, Sainz again locking up and dropping a couple of places in frantic circumstances. Whilst Pérez and Vettel drove away to start the last lap, Leclerc and Gasly battled behind. The Ferrari driver initially overtaking Gasly for third down the main straight, only for Gasly to fight straight back and dive down the inside at turn one to keep hold of third spot. The battle ensued down to turn three with Norris just behind in fifth trying to get involved late on.
As they crossed the line though at the end of lap fifty-one it was Sergio Pérez who claimed his first Red Bull victory and help extend Red Bull’s lead in the constructors standings. Behind a resurgent Sebastian Vettel crossed the line for second to take Aston Martin’s first podium in Formula One and his second Driver of the day in a row. Gasly held on for third to take another podium for AlphaTauri, with Leclerc fending Norris off for fourth.
A day full of drama and controversy see’s both title protagonists out of the points, and Pirelli with many crucial questions to answer, in a day which saw two high speed tyre failures (which thankfully didn’t end in a driver injury), a red flag and a surprise podium. The FIA Formula One World Championship moves away from Baku now and onto Circuit Paul Ricard, for the French Grand Prix in two weeks