Perez prevails in bonkers Azerbaijan Grand Prix
- Red Bull driver scores second F1 win with Azerbaijan GP triumph
- Title contenders Verstappen and Hamilton fail to score
- Big crashes for Lance Stroll and Verstappen after tyre failures
Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Perez claimed a dramatic victory in a typically chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The Mexican driver started seventh on the grid, but as so often in his career, proved to be the calm head needed in a crazy race, as he claimed only his second F1 win and his first for Red Bull.
It was shaping up to be another Max Verstappen v Lewis Hamilton battle until two big crashes on the Baku Street Circuit, including one for Verstappen, turned the race on its head.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc had started from pole, and led the early stages until Hamilton blasted past on lap two, with Verstappen following suit a few laps later.
Hamilton was the first of the pair to pit, but an issue in his pit stop meant he was stationary for two seconds longer than normal, and when Verstappen pitted a lap later, the Dutchman emerged ahead.
Rubbing salt into the wound, Perez had climbed up the order in the opening half of the race and he too moved past Hamilton in the pit stop phase to make it a Red Bull 1-2 at the front of the field.
But the race was dramatically altered when Aston Martin driver Lance Stroll, going long into the race, suffered a puncture at the fastest part of the circuit, slamming into the wall at a section where cars were hitting around 200mph.
The Canadian thankfully stepped out unhurt, but a lengthy safety car period resulted.
After five laps, racing resumed, and Verstappen pulled away again as Perez fended off Hamilton, despite the British driver having benefit of the Drag Reduction System overtaking device on several occasions.
But with just five laps remaining, and holding a comfortable margin of over four seconds, Verstappen suffered a similar issue to Stroll, and smashed into the barriers on the start-finish straight.
The safety car was deployed again for several laps, but teams were in contact with race control and suggested that a red flag be shown to allow each driver to change tyres, with debris a suspected cause for the repeated punctures. The race was brought to a temporary halt with just two laps remaining.
The field lined-up in the pit lane as they awaited the race restart, with Hamilton speaking over to confirm that he had a marathon mindset for the season as a whole ahead of the resumption of racing.
But that seemed to go out the window upon the restart; a standing start for what was effectively a two lap sprint race that saw Perez line up on ‘pole’ with Hamilton alongside him on the front row.
Hamilton’s brakes were smoking as the race restarted, but he made the better start to pass Perez on the run to the first corner. But he locked his wheels and went straight on into the run-off area, dropping him to the tail of the field and handing a seemingly easy win to Perez.
Later it transpired that Hamilton had mistakenly hit a button on his steering wheel, altering the braking characteristics of his car, leading to the error.
Perez therefore crossed the line at the end of the two lap sprint to claim his second career victory, 1.3 seconds clear of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel in second, though more drama came after the flag as the Red Bull driver pulled over with a technical problem immediately after the pit lane exit on the cooling down lap.
German four-time champion Vettel secured his best result of the season and the first ever podium for the Aston Martin name in F1, having executed his strategy perfectly to climb from 11th on the grid to run fourth before the red flag.
Alpha Tauri’s Pierre Gasly completed the podium finishers after an excellent race that saw him qualify fourth and then display some feisty overtaking after the chaos to claim his third podium in F1.
Polesitter Leclerc was fourth ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris with Fernando Alonso sixth for Alpine.
Yuki Tsunoda secured his second F1 points finish with seventh for Alpha Tauri, Carlos Sainz Jr claimed eighth for Ferrari, with Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) and Kimi Raikkonen (Alfa Romeo) the final points scorers.
With both Verstappen and Hamilton failing to score points, Verstappen remains the championship leader, while Perez climbs to third. The season continues at the Paul Ricard circuit in France on 18 June.
Richard Randle is a motorsport PR professional working with the UK’s top racing circuits and the UK’s premier single-seater category, the BRDC British F3 Championship.