Sergio Perez emerged the winner from a chaotic end to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after Max Verstappen suffered a late, high-speed tyre blow-out and Lewis Hamilton made a rare error, finishing 15th. It’s the Mexican’s second F1 win, after the Sakhir GP last year, and his first in his new Red Bull colours.
After the turgid Monaco GP, this was more like it, with incidents throughout the race and excitement right to the end. Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel was a sensational second (after qualifying 11th), with AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly third. Poleman Charles Leclerc was fourth, with Lando Norris having another fine race to finish fifth.
Hamilton snatches defeat from the jaws of victory
The damage limitation looked good for Hamilton, all the way up to the last two laps of the race.
After struggling in practice, the driver and his Mercedes team performed a miracle in qualifying, running an ultra low-drag set-up that allowed Hamilton to grab second on the grid.
He passed pole-sitter Charles Leclerc for the lead on lap three and, although he subsequently lost P1 to Verstappen after a slow pit-stop, he was at least set for a podium finish, behind the two Red Bulls. Verstappen’s tyre blow-out, and the subsequent red flag and then race re-start, meant he was even in with a shot of the win.
But it wasn’t to be another Hamilton miracle, as he accidentally flicked a brake bias switch for the start of the final two lap sprint to the flag, causing his front tyres to lock-up after he passed Perez at the race restart. He slid down the escape road, recovering to finish 15th.
Hamilton’s team mate, Valterri Bottas, had another weekend to forget. After his appalling luck at Monaco, Bottas was nowhere to be seen in Azerbaijan, qualifying 10th and finishing 12th.
The next race is at a more traditional circuit, Paul Ricard in France – Mercedes must be hoping they can turn their season around after the disastrous last two races. They’re now playing catch up to Red Bull, not a position they’re used to.
Red Bull looking good
Verstappen was understandably angry after his tyre woes, but he remains at the top of the drivers’ table, and the team and driver are now in the pound seat in the championship. Verstappen looked comfortable all weekend – although he qualified third, it only felt like a matter of time before he would lead the race. And when he did, it seemed very easy for him, operating well within his window.
And with Perez coming on-song, Red Bull can finally maximise their tactical situation at each race, with two drivers mixing it at the sharp end. In previous years, the weaker driver in the second car meant Verstappen was effectively fighting Hamilton with one hand tied behind his back. Now though, Red Bull is looking good. Ironically, it’s just as Mercedes is struggling to get Bottas into an effective supporting role for Hamilton.
With two high-speed accidents following tyre failures, Pirelli are in the headlines. Initial reports from the tyre manufacturer point to both failures being caused by debris, rather than wear-related, but both Verstappen’s and Lance Stroll’s accidents were at such high speeds that it’s a relief no-one was hurt.