The Dutchman had a puncture while leading with four laps to go but the Briton failed to capitalize on it by going wide in the restart
By Yuri Coghe
Sergio Pérez claimed a second career win on Sunday, his first for Red Bull, at an Azerbaijan Grand Prix marked by championship rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton not scoring points.
The 31-year-old driver, who said before the season he would need five races to get used to his new car, rose to the highest podium spot in the sixth round of the 2021 season. He is now tied with Pedro Rodríguez as the Mexican driver with the most F1 wins.
Verstappen was leading the race with four laps to go as Red Bull looked certain to achieve their first 1-2 since the 2016 Malaysian GP. The Dutch driver then suffered a puncture in his rear left tire, hitting the barriers, retiring from the race and causing a red flag.
The accident denied him a second win in a row that would see him extend his championship lead to 15 points, as he was also earning the fastest lap bonus point. He kept the fastest lap but didn’t take the extra point home, since it’s only awarded if the driver who claimed it finishes in the top 10.
Visibly upset, Verstappen kicked the punctured tire once he got out of the car. “Frustrating and very disappointing so close to the finish to retire with a tire blowout,” said Verstappen after the race. “It’s a big shame. Sometimes you can hate this sport – for a few hours, then I’ll be fine again.”
Luck seemed to be on Hamilton’s side at that moment. The Briton was in second place after Verstappen’s retirement and would lead the championship by 14 points had he retained the position at the end of the race. But the Baku street circuit still had more surprises in its pocket.
Hamilton went wide when trying to overtake Pérez for the win on a standing restart with two laps to go with all drivers racing on soft tires. He eventually finished 15th and looked very dejected while still in the car after the race and in post-race interviews. The mistake put an end to a 54-race streak of finishing in the points, started after a DNF at the 2018 Austrian Grand Prix.
“Today was a humbling experience,” Hamilton said on Twitter. “We worked so hard to put ourselves back in the top 10 today after a rocky week here in Baku. We gave it our all today and a small error caused the brakes to switch off. Sorry to the team, we’ll come back stronger for the next race.”
Hamilton was leading the race when he pitted on lap 12 but a 4s6 slow stop allowed Verstappen and Pérez to overtake him. The delay was caused by the Mercedes pit crew having to wait for Pierre Gasly to go through to avoid an unsafe release. The Dutch driver continues to lead the drivers’ championship by four points, with teammate Pérez now appearing in third place with 69 points – 3 ahead of Norris.
Vettel finished second, gaining nine positions on his way to being named driver of the day for the second race in a row. He has now featured on the podium for four different teams, with the Canadian-owned Aston Martin joining a list that has Toro Rosso, Red Bull and Ferrari. The German’s 122nd career podium gave Aston Martin’s their first top 3 finish ever.
“This is a great day,” Vettel said in the post-race interview. “This means a great deal. I’m over the moon, we did not expect a podium when we came here.”
Gasly had a steady race, starting fourth and capitalizing on Verstappen’s and Hamilton’s faiths to finish third despite being overtaken by Vettel on lap 36 after a safety-car restart caused by a big Lance Stroll crash. Charles Leclerc made a move on him at the standing restart, but the AlphaTauri driver managed to keep the position.
“Super intense last two laps,” Gasly said. “The car has been incredible all weekend. It feels incredible to get that podium. All in all a fantastic job (by the team).”
Pérez’s win was the first from a Red Bull driver other than Max Verstappen since Daniel Ricciardo took victory at the 2018 Monaco GP. The Guadalajara-born driver got his first career win at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix, during his tenth season in F1.
“I’m so, so happy for today. Normally Baku is pretty crazy,” Pérez said. “I’m very sorry for Max because he did an incredible race. He really deserved the win… At the (re)start, I had a poor start so (Hamilton) was alongside me but I was like ‘I’m not going to miss this’… I broke as late as I possibly could, he did the same and it didn’t work for him.”
But Pérez’s faith could have been much different. Red Bull team principal Christian Horner revealed after the race that the Mexican driver almost had to retire from the race due to a problem with the car.
“He was nursing a hydraulic issue that we were really concerned that the car wouldn’t get the end of the race, which is why he stopped after the checkered flag,” Horner said, “but he thought that we could only lose when we got the restart but, you know, thankfully it all worked out tremendously well and Sergio did a great, great job.”
Pole-sitter Charles Leclerc lacked the pace to stay ahead of Hamilton, Verstappen and Pérez. The trio overtook his Ferrari on laps 3, 7 and 9, respectively. Leclerc then tried an overcut by pitting on lap 10 but lost another position to Vettel on the lap 36 safety car restart. He finished 4th, four positions ahead of teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. The Spaniard came back from an early mistake at turn 8 that cost him some seconds and positions on lap 10, helping Ferrari move past McLaren for third in the constructors’ championship.
Lando Norris, who received a three-place grid penalty after the qualifying, lost another two positions at the start and dropped to 11th. He eventually rose to fifth place, one ahead of Fernando Alonso. The returning two-time world champion claimed his best result in the season. His teammate Esteban Ocon, on the other hand, endured his worst result in 2021 as he had to retire on lap 5 after a sudden loss of power.
Yuki Tsunoda, seventh, achieved a career-high result and a first points-finish since the season opener in Bahrain, helping AlphaTauri move past Aston Martin in the constructors’ championship. He neither gained nor lost positions compared to where he started.
Daniel Ricciardo followed in ninth. Kimi Raikkonen completed the top10, finishing ahead of teammate Antonio Giovinazzi and getting his first point of the season to double Alfa Romeo’s numbers in the standings.
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Stroll crashes, Bottas disappoints
Stroll had a big crash on lap 31 while running in fourth place due to a rear tire failure – similar to the one suffered by Verstappen later in the race. The Canadian, who also crashed in the qualifying, was yet to stop. The accident triggered a safety car deployment that saw cars in the lower part of the grid pit for fresh tires.
The weekend in Baku turned out to be another one to forget for Mercedes. After collecting only seven points in Monaco, the German team left Azerbaijan with none in the bag. They are now 26 points behind Red Bull in the constructors’ championship.
Valtteri Bottas started the race in tenth place and couldn’t move ahead in the grid, losing multiple positions on the lap 36 restart and eventually finishing 12th. The Finnish driver now sits sixth in the drivers’ championship with 47 points.
Nicholas Latifi finished 16th. The Canadian was handed a 10-second stop-go penalty due to a pit-stop miscommunication with the team that saw him go through the pitlane other than the main straight, like all drivers were instructed to, in order to avoid Verstappen’s crash scene. His Williams teammate George Russell retired on lap 50 with car issues to finish 17th.
“Not the Baku me or the team had hoped for,” tweeted Latifi. “It felt like the performance was there, and I was getting the most out of the package all weekend, but operationally there were a few areas where we need to be sharper. We’ll learn from it and bounce back.”
Haas saw their drivers Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin finish 13th and 14th, respectively. The German driver overtook his teammate on the last lap and wasn’t happy with the way the Russian tried to defend his position (see below).
See the full Azerbaijan Grand Prix results below