The Azerbaijan F1 did not fail to disappoint, living up to its reputation of dramatic moments and non-stop action at the Baku Circuit that no one could have predicted.
With Max Verstappen set to take his first-ever Azerbaijan Grand Prix victory, heading teammate Perez and Mercedes Hamilton to increase the vital gap on points, disaster struck for the Dutchman when his left rear tyre suffered a blowout on the pit straight, sending him straight into the barriers at around 200mph with only 5 laps to go.
The race leader was thankfully unhurt but out, leaving Red Bull without a first one-two in Baku and Verstappen without a chance to extend his championship lead. A brutal stroke of luck that left Verstappen stating, “sometimes you can hate this sport”.
Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll also suffered a left-rear failure at 180mph on the main straight and had an even bigger impact with the wall. The incidents have called into question the structural integrity of the Pirelli tyres.
Hamilton's Costly Error
Verstappen had dominated the race after passing Hamilton during pit stops, only for his hopes to be shattered following his blowout, giving Hamilton the opportunity to make up time and increase his lead. This was until disaster number two struck on the penultimate lap but this time for Mercedes as Lewis Hamilton went flying into the run-off zone at the end of the straight. No one could believe what they were seeing so near to the end of the race, with Hamilton seen sitting in his car devastated. A huge setback for Mercedes taking Hamilton from P2 to P15 and putting his 54-race scoring streak to an end. Hamilton’s last failure to score was back in Austria in 2018.
It is thought that Hamilton accidentally caught his steering wheel, hitting a wrong button by mistake and causing his brakes to lock. Later he said he believed it was a perfect start let down by a tiny imperfection. “Did I have the magic on?” Hamilton asked of the race engineer, Pete Bonnington, afterwards. Bonnington confirmed he did. The ‘magic’ button switches brake balance in the car forward to warm the front tyres during formation laps. It is then switched off for the start, but Hamilton confirmed he had nudged it on again by accident.
Hamilton’s teammate Bottas added to the nightmare of a day for Mercedes by also failing to make any progress from his 10th place on the grid in the first part of the race and then being passed by a series of other drivers who pitted for fresh tyres during the safety car period to finish in 14th place. With Mercedes failing to score with either Hamilton or Bottas, Red Bull now lead Mercedes by 26 points in the constructor’s standings.
Verstappen still leads Hamilton by four points in the standings, but it could have been 14 points had the positions remained when he crashed and Hamilton remaining in third.
No-one Saw This As A Podium Finish!
Following the twists and turns of the race, the day belonged to Pérez, who rightly celebrated standing top of the podium joined by Sebastian Vettel in second for Aston Martin and Pierre Gasly in third for AlphaTauri but for the two title contenders the margins remain as fine as ever. The pressure has just ramped up another notch after a memorable race that both will want to forget.
However, Sebastian Vettel admitted he was "over the moon" to deliver the first podium of his Aston Martin career after a driver-of-the-day performance in the Azerbaijan GP.
It is fair to say the Azerbaijan Grand Prix will undoubtedly go down as one of the races of the season. An action-packed race that confirms that anything can happen, and nothing is guaranteed when it comes to the F1 Grand Prix. With the two championship leaders being out of contention, the midfield battle for the F1 2021 World Championship is once again intensified because of the results of the Baku circuit and will no doubt continue to be action-packed in the races to come.
Next up is the French Grand Prix, which takes place over 53 laps of the 5.842-kilometre Circuit Paul Ricard in Le Castellet on Sunday, June 20.