Sergio Perez secured his second Formula One win, as championship rivals Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton left Baku empty-handed.
Championship leader Max Verstappen was cruising to what would have been his third win of the season before he crashed out with five laps to go, handing his teammate Sergio Perez his second career victory and first as a Red Bull driver.
Charles Leclerc got things underway from pole, but by the second lap, even before DRS was enabled, Lewis Hamilton overtook the pole-sitter to lead the race. The Ferrari’s straight-line speed was horribly exposed as Max Verstappen didn’t have too much trouble passing Leclerc, as the championship leader set off after Hamilton. Sergio Perez and Sebastian Vettel had good starts, making up places within the first few laps.
The drama started to unfold when Hamilton was held up in the pits, waiting for the Alpha Tauri of Pierre Gasly to pass by; this meant Verstappen overtook him on the track and started to build a lead. Sergio Perez, who had put in a brilliant race up until then, was in-between the two championship rivals, doing exactly what Red Bull have wanted their second driver to do – take the fight to Mercedes together. Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, who started on the hard tyres, didn’t stop until the 35th lap, when his left-rear tyre failed, bringing out the Safety Car. This incident negated Verstappen’s gap between himself and Hamilton.
Under the Safety Car restart, Red Bull played it to perfection, going off right at the very end, leaving Hamilton having to fight Perez instead of attacking Verstappen. The race looked set and done; with what most definitely looked like a Red Bull one-two, helping them make gains in the Constructor’s Championship. Especially since Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was enduring a nightmare Grand Prix, languishing at a lowly placed 14th, well out of the points. Perez played the perfect team game and held his own against a seven-time world champion, holding up Hamilton from attacking Verstappen. But this was Baku, and you don’t leave Baku without something dramatic!
Just like Stroll’s, Verstappen’s left rear spectacularly failed him, seeing him crash out as the race leader on lap 47. Were the Gods smiling at Mercedes? Was Hamilton going to regain his championship lead? Could Sergio Perez hold Hamilton at bay for another few laps? All answers lay at the restart since the session had been red-flagged. It was the weekend’s fifth red flag!
At the restart, Perez led Hamilton from Vettel, Gasly, and Leclerc. Hamilton knew a chance like this to recapture his lead wasn’t one to throw away and attacked Perez right off the line, taking the lead just before going into Turn 1, but he locked up heavily, missing his braking zone and ran straight into the run-off area at Turn 1. This put Hamilton right at the back of the pack, giving Perez the lead back and Aston Martin’s lone-runner in the race, Sebastian Vettel, inherited P2, something he wouldn’t have dreamt of starting 11th on the grid.
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Behind Vettel, Leclerc attacked Gasly and went ahead into the final podium place, but the Alpha Tauri’s speed with Gasly’s calmness saw him retake third place and hold onto it for the last lap. Behind Leclerc, Lando Norris made up places to finish a solid fifth. Alpine’s sole runner Alonso had a brilliant final couple of laps, making up multiple places to finish P6 in a car that didn’t have the pace to fight for a top 10 finish. Alpha Tauri’s rookie Tsunoda finished behind Alonso, holding off Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz behind him. The Spaniard had locked up early in the race, which ruined his race, effectively putting him out of the points for most of the race. Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen wrapped up the top 10, with the Finn taking his first points of the season for Alfa Romeo.
Questions will be asked to Pirelli, with multiple tyre failures, those which changed the course of the race, and it will be interesting to see Pirelli’s response and improvement when we return for the European round of this season.
As we head into a two-week gap before the season’s first triple header, Red Bull leads the champions Mercedes by a decent 26 points with Verstappen and Hamilton staying on the points tally as it were after Monaco.