The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a race chock full of upsets and endearing moments. From Sergio Perez’s first victory in a Red Bull to Lewis Hamilton’s constant uphill battle.
What a weekend and what a race we had in Baku. This was certainly one of the most eventful races this season so far and I couldn’t be happier with the results and the weekend itself. This was racing pure and simple, nobody had it easy, everybody had to work for what they got.
At Red Bull it was a weekend full of highs and lows but during practice and qualifying, Red Bull had reason to be confident. Max Verstappen was frustrated with a P3 in qualifying but Mercedes, their main rivals, only had one car in the top 5 at the starting grid with Hamilton in P2 and Valtteri Bottas way down in P10.
Once the race had started, Red Bull were in a very comfortable position with Verstappen and Perez taking turns in the lead and for the most part, keeping P1 away from the World Champion Lewis Hamilton. But it came to a spectacular end for Verstappen when his left rear tyre exploded with only 5 laps to go! The frustration and anger were evident, especially considering that Verstappen hadn’t put a foot wrong the entire race. This triggered a red flag that would see 2 of the most exciting laps in F1 this year.
At this point, Hamilton had been on Perez’s tail for most of the race, but the Mexican had managed to hold him off. After the safety car restart, Hamilton made a daring move in an attempted overtake of Perez that saw the Mercedes’ brakes fail sending Hamilton flying towards the wall, ending his chances of a P1. Perez took home the prize in a well-deserved, if not bittersweet, win for Red Bull. It is some consolation that even with Verstappen out of the points, he still hasn’t lost his position in the championship to Hamilton, who also finished out of the points in P15.
Mercedes and street tracks don’t seem to agree with each other this season. Bottas especially, failed to achieve much of anything in either qualifying or the race. He started in the points and dropped two places to P12 by race end. While Hamilton seemed to find something that was working, it was a still a struggle for Mercedes all around.
Aston Martin, however, should be stoked with their results. Sebastian Vettel had a brilliant race all throughout and managed to take a shocking P2! This is Aston Martin’s highest ever position as Vettel still had bit to learn about the car earlier this season. It certainly seems like he’s figured it out considering his strong performance last week in Monaco and now at Baku. Vettel was awarded a well-earned Driver of the Day.
Vettel’s teammate, Lance Stroll, was also performing well staying up in P5 for quite some time. He was the last to pit and as he began to enter the pit lane on lap 30, his left rear tyre suffered a puncture that caused him to crash into the wall, ending his race. Tyre degradation has been attributed to this and fingers were pointed at tyre manufacturer Pirelli as Verstappen suffered a similar blowout on the left rear tyre.
Pirelli’s Head of F1 and Car Racing, Mario Isola, didn’t believe that to be the issue stating,
“I believe I can exclude the failures were due to tyre wear, because it’s not a matter of tyre wear… The rear-left tyre is not the most stressed tyre in Baku because… it’s obviously the rear-right. I don’t want to give any preliminary conclusions. But it seems that it is a cut due to debris, because as I said, it’s not the most stressed tyre… We had other cars with the same number of laps [on the] same tyres without any issue. So the preliminary investigation is that it is probably due to an external factor, or debris, or kerb or whatever.”
He seemed confident that this was the case with Verstappen, “For Max, it could be debris from Lance’s car. For Lance, honestly I don’t know.” There was no warning for the teams that the tyres had failed until it was already too late. The matter is being investigated by Pirelli.
It was a disappointing day for Ferrari as once again Charles Leclerc achieved pole position in qualifying but could not turn that advantage into a victory. Both Ferrari’s seemed to have the pace during practice but there seemed to be none of it on race day. Leclerc lost position to Hamilton and Verstappen by lap 7 and fell down to P5 by lap 9. The Ferrari’s simply lacked the pace on the long straights of Baku. A frustrated Leclerc could be heard over the radio. He did manage to keep P4, ahead of their rivals, McLaren, in P5. Both Ferrari drivers were ahead of McLaren which something positive Ferrari can take away from this race, considering that Ferrari’s real battle is for P3 against McLaren.
Carlos Sainz didn’t fare any better than his teammate. With an early lockup that caused him to slip way down the grid and out of the top ten. Sainz did manage to recover and finish in the points at P8, but this is nowhere near where he should have been. A disappointing race for Ferrari after a great practice and qualifying.
Alpha Tauri, however, performed well above expectations. Pierre Gasly managed to take P3 after a phenomenal struggle with Leclerc during the last lap. Gasly is great on street tracks as he managed to keep Hamilton behind him during the entire race at Monaco and now he can add Leclerc to the list of drivers who have struggled to get past the Frenchman.
Yuki Tsunoda really showed his potential at Baku. The rookie had recently moved to Italy in order to work closely with the team and improve his performance. This has immediately paid off, with one of Tsunoda’s strongest races to date after a disappointing start to his F1 career. He took P7, his highest position so far.
McLaren didn’t have a great race. Even though Lando Norris managed a P5 in qualifying, he did fall further into the midfield once the race had started. He held onto P5 by the end of the race, but it was hard work for the Briton and was helped in large part by the safety cars.
Daniel Ricciardo had a marginally better performance during the race than he did at Monaco. But with a crash in qualifying that left him fighting all the way from P13, questions about Ricciardo’s inability to come to terms with his car are everywhere. The Australian did manage to get into the points with a P9, but this doesn’t mean that Ricciardo had a great performance. What Ricciardo is struggling with at McLaren is anyone’s guess but here’s hoping he and the team figure something out soon.
Alpine also had mixed results. Esteban Ocon had gearbox troubles on lap 4 that left him out of the race. His teammate, Fernando Alonso, had a troubling start but managed to finish strong with a P6, helping Alpine gain some needed points in the constructor’s so as not to lose Aston Martin completely.
The Alfa Romeo’s struggled to stay in the points but after some fantastic driving from Antonio Giovinazzi, he quickly rose from last place after a crash in qualifying to P11 at race end. Kimi Raikkonen stayed in the points at P10. Alfa Romeo still don’t seem to be able to compete with Alpine, Aston Martin, and Alpha Tauri in the midfield.
Not much can be said about the Haas team, except that they didn’t crash, and they didn’t get in the way during a blue flag. They did finish higher on the grid than they usually do with Mick Schumacher in P13 and Nikita Mazepin in P14, ahead of Lewis Hamilton in P15. This might be the first and last time a Haas will finish ahead of a Mercedes.
Williams did indeed have a shockingly bad race, with George Russell failing to finish the race and Nicholas Latifi finishing even behind the Haas’s after a 30-second time penalty for failing to enter the pit lane as instructed during a safety car period.
2021 has been an exciting year for Formula 1 and I’m sure every fan is incredibly excited for the French Grand Prix on the 18th of June.