Sergio Perez won an extraordinarily dramatic Azerbaijan GP for Red Bull after team-mate Max Verstappen lost a certain victory in a high-speed accident five laps from the end, and Lewis Hamilton botched the subsequent restart to ruin his own chance of success.
After Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll had already suffered an accident when his left-rear tyre suddenly let go at around 200mph on Baku’s long main straight, Verstappen’s afternoon suffered a similarly scary conclusion on lap 46.
Verstappen was headed for a key victory and to stretch his title lead over Hamilton to 15 points when his own left-rear tyre suddenly let go and the Red Bull slammed into the outside wall on the pit straight.
- Full Azerbaijan GP race result
- Updated F1 championship standings
Kicking the failed tyre as he exited his crashed car, Verstappen trudged away and seemed set to lose the points lead to Hamilton, who was now running second to Perez.
But there was one final extraordinary final twist to come.
After the race was red-flagged and the cars returned to the pit lane while the track could be cleared, the event was eventually restarted late into the Baku afternoon with a second standing start for the final two laps.
Hamilton, whose Mercedes brakes were smoking as they lined back up on the grid, got a better getaway than Perez and appeared set to lead into from the Red Bull into Turn One.
But, inexplicably for a driver who makes so few mistakes, Hamilton ran straight on and dropped to 16th place and out of the points. With so little time to recover, the world champion finished 15th – ending a record run of 54 races in the points stretching back to 2018.
“Just on the restart, I think when Checo moved over towards me I clipped a switch and it basically switches the brakes off, and I went straight,” explained Hamilton to Sky F1. “Very hard to take but I’m mostly just really sorry to the men and women in the team who have worked so hard for these points.”
With neither title contender scoring points, Verstappen therefore retains his four-point championship advantage.
A wholly unexpected one-two-three after late Baku bedlam
With Perez closing out the final laps for his second career win after a strong performance all race, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel capped his own remarkable day to claim second and his first podium for his new team.
The German, fifth two weeks ago in Monaco, had started 11th on the grid.
AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly, a consistent front-runner all weekend, took third for the third podium of his young career.
Charles Leclerc had started on pole but the Ferrari did not have the race pace to challenge and had quickly been overhauled by Hamilton and the two Red Bulls. He eventually secured fourth, just ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris who had recovered well from a grid penalty and then poor start.
Fernando Alonso started 10th at the restart but the wily Spaniard was on the move for the two-lap dash to the flag and secured sixth place for the best result of his F1 return with Alpine.
With Valtteri Bottas enduring a dismal afternoon and finishing 12th, Mercedes unusually ended with no points from the weekend and slip further behind Red Bull in the standings after Perez’s win.
Azerbaijan GP: Top 10 finishers
1) Sergio Perez, Red Bull
2) Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
3) Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
4) Charles Leclerc, Ferrari
5) Lando Norris, McLaren
6) Fernando Alonso, Alpine
7) Yuki Tsunoda, AlphaTauri
8) Carlos Sainz, Ferrari
9) Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
10) Kimi Raikkonen, Alfa Romeo
Full race result
Verstappen loses out on deserved triumph
Two weeks after a composed drive to a first victory and the title lead in Monaco, a venue where he had never previously claimed a podium, Verstappen was on course to erase his own patchy record in Baku.
Although he stayed behind Leclerc and Hamilton at the start, he looked fast on his soft tyres and, after following his Mercedes rival in overtaking the Ferrari, positioned himself for the first pit stops.
Hamilton, starting to struggle on his tyres, was called in by Mercedes first but the team lost crucial ground in the pits when they had to hold the car to wait for an oncoming car.
Red Bull responded by pitting Verstappen a lap later and he comfortably jumped his title rival. Perez, who ran longer than either, then also emerged from his stop ahead of Hamilton to form a Red Bull one-two.
Growing his lead after the Safety Car called for Stroll’s scary crash, Verstappen’s afternoon was then suddenly punctured – literally – as he powered down the 2km long straight to start what should have been his 47th lap.
More to follow…
This sport. 💔 pic.twitter.com/s0zaj0GhqD
What’s next in the amazing 2021 season?
As part of a rejigged schedule, F1 takes a week’s break before embarking on its first triple-header of the season. The French GP at Paul Ricard on June 18-20 is followed by consecutive events at Austria’s Red Bull Ring.
All races are live only on Sky Sports F1.
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