Max Verstappen looked set to take his first first-ever Azerbaijan Grand Prix victory before he crashed out from the lead with just five laps to go – giving Sergio Perez a second career victory, as Lewis Hamilton locked up on the penultimate lap to finish 15th in a hugely dramatic race in Baku.
For the first time this season, Charles Leclerc led away from pole, but he was passed for the lead by Lewis Hamilton with no need for DRS, so strong was the tow, on Lap 2. Verstappen then swept by the Ferrari man on Lap 7.
Verstappen took the lead after a crucial sequence of pit stops, Hamilton starting that sequence on Lap 12 with a slow switch for hards thanks to traffic in the pit lane. Verstappen pitted a lap later and emerged first, followed by Perez who split the championship rivals. And the Dutchman seemed to have victory in the bag, mastering a Lap 35 Safety Car restart after Lance Stroll’s terrifying accident, when the Aston Martin driver’s left-rear tyre appeared to gave way on the pit straight. That was until Verstappen himself, comfortably in the lead on Lap 47, spun and crashed after an apparent tyre issue of his own.
Race halted after Red Bull’s Verstappen crashes
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix lived up to its reputation for producing dramatic moments on Sunday, as long-time race leader Max Verstappen crashed out within five laps of the chequered flag.
The Dutchman was comfortably heading Red Bull team mate Sergio Perez and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton when his left-rear tyre suffered an apparent blowout on the pit straight, sending Verstappen into the wall at around 200mph.
Verstappen escaped the incident – which was similar to that which Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll suffered 30 laps into the race, albeit a little further back down the straight – uninjured, but was clearly frustrated at losing 25 points in the fight for the world championship, kicking out at the tyre in frustration as he walked back to the pits.
After a brief Safety Car period, the race was red flagged, with the drivers afforded the chance to change tyres before a two-lap race to the flag.
Perez would lead Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel, Pierre Gasly and Leclerc off the line for the re-start. Hamilton got away well, his nose seemingly ahead of Perez’s, but the Briton locked-up heavily and went into the Turn 1 run-off. He finished 15th, leaving Perez in the lead, Vettel second and Gasly – having held off a charging Leclerc in the final laps – to take the final podium place.
Vettel started 11th but finished a brilliant second as he pitted 18 laps later than anyone else, and emerged sixth. On the re-start after Stroll’s crash, he took P4 off Leclerc and Gasly, and was promoted to the podium by Verstappen’s retirement.
Leclerc finished fourth as his Lap 10 undercut attempt on Gasly didn’t pay off. While he tried to wrestle P3 off the Frenchman after the final re-start, his efforts were in vain and the Ferrari driver finished fourth.
Lando Norris shrugged off a three-place penalty and undercut his rivals having started P9 to take fifth ahead of Fernando Alonso, both movers in that final re-start, while AlphaTauri’s rookie Yuki Tsunoda started seventh and finished there having pitted early on Lap 9.
Rounding out the top 10 was Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in P8 – who bounced back on hard tyres after a huge Lap 11 lock-up that left him as low as 15th – Daniel Ricciardo, up to ninth from 13th, and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso in P10 having badgered the P9 McLaren driver throughout the race.
But the headline story was Verstappen’s retirement from the lead, and Hamilton’s shocking late lock-up that cost him a shot at re-taking the championship lead after this astonishing Azerbaijan Grand Prix finish.
EPA Reuters/ F1.com
Featured Photo -Mexican Formula One driver Sergio Perez of Red Bull Racing crosses the finish line to win the Formula One Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at the Baku City Circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, 06 June 2021. EPA-EFE/Maxim Shemetov / POOL