Perez wins crazy race at Baku as championship contenders leave point-less

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Azerbaijan, Baku Street Circuitaz

After a reasonably quiet first half of the race, two incidents due to tyre wear mixed things up considerably, resulting in Sergio Perez taking the win at Azerbaijan, joined on the podium by Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly.

After yesterday's qualifying, Lando Norris received a 3-place grid penalty for a red flag infringement, resulting in a 9th place start for the McLaren driver, giving Perez, Tsunoda and Alonso a free grid position.

When the lights went out, Norris lost another few positions, leaving him 12th after the first lap, just ahead of his team mate Ricciardo.

Ahead of him there are no incidents at all. Perez made the best start of all by gaining two positions, up into fourth by passing Gasly and Sainz. Alonso also gained a spot with Vettel moving up two places.

At the back, Giovinazzi gained 5 positions after after from the back, but soon lost 3 of them in the second lap, and another one on lap 4.

By that time, Hamilton took first position from Lerlerc after enjoying a nice slipstream behind the Ferrari at the end of lap 2.

After the first pitstop by Russell at the end of lap 1, Ocon returned to the pits on lap 4 to retire from the race. The Frenchman was pressured by both McLaren drivers but held position until diving into the pitlane to park and retire with a technical issue.

On lap 5, Verstappen passed Leclerc to take second, followed by Perez who moved up into third one lap later. The Mexican went on to set a few fastest laps to close the gap to the guys in front while Verstappen stayed within a second of Hamilton.

The first stops had happened by then, with Norris and Alonso the first stoppers as they switched to hard tyres early on. When Hamilton pitted from the lead on lap 10, he lost a few seconds due to traffic in the pitlane, increasing his standstill time to 4.7 seconds. Red Bull replied by stopping Verstappen the next lap, switching tyres in 1.9s and bringing the Dutchman out in front.

Perez meanwhile did another fastest lap and pitted another lap later, staying put for 4.3 seconds and exiting back out on track 2 seconds down on Verstappen and just ahead of Hamilton.

Overall, the stops were a pretty bad affair for Hamilton as he lost two positions and Alonso as well, dropping behind both McLarens, Tsunoda and Bottas in the event. Sainz was even worse off, though he had himself to blame as he had to reverse out of the run-off zone at Turn 8 on his first lap on the hard tyres. He went on to race in 14th, a far cry from his 6th place early on in the race.

Leader Vettel eventually pitted for new hards on lap 17, rejoining the track in 7th. The stop left Stroll in 4th as the only driver still to pit, though given his choice of hard tyres on the first stint, was was going to last a little bit longer.

Next up was fairly stale stint, with Hamilton unable to pass Perez for second while Verstappen continued out in front, approximately 4s ahead of his teammate. By lap 24, Hamilton reported he wouldn't be able to follow closely like this, and soon started to lose a bit a ground to the Red Bulls in front.

On lap 30, Lance Stroll ended up in the wall and caused safety car period. The Canadian stayed in the car for a minute or so before climbing out of his car. It was a big shock on the main straight, caused by a tyre problem that made him lose control of his car and veer into the concrete wall.

All things considered it was a fortunate outcome for Stroll, but with debris left all over the track, the safety car period was set to last several laps. The tyre issue also triggered a bit of a discussion about additional stops for the front runners as it may not be safe to go on with the hard tyres for 30 laps like Stroll did.

Stops were considered, but with the pitlane closed during the safety car, and only opened on lap 34, many opted not to. Alonso, Giovinazzi, Schumacher and Russell did pit, ending up in a bit loss of time for Schumacher as he left with the front left not properly fitted, forcing him to stop several meters further on and be pulled back by his crew to sort the problem.

The restart on lap 36 saw Hamilton pressure Perez without an immediate overtake while Vettel did manage to gain a position over Leclerc. At the end of the lap, the German went on to pass Gasly on the straight and move up into 4th position.

Further back, Alonso made use of his freshly-fitted used set of soft tyres to gain three positions in the restart. Bottas on the other hand lost 4 and dropped down to thirteenth, and even further back into 14th another 2 laps later as Giovinazzi passed the Mercedes.

Nothing much happened from that point until 3 laps from the end Verstappen's left rear tyre gave way in a similar fashion to Stroll's. The Red Bull slammed into the barrier a little bit further down the main straight than where Stroll halted, but needless to say it was the immediate retirement from the race. Verstappen stepped out of his car and kicked the tyre before crossing the track and start his disappointing walk to his pit box.

It took a while before the safety car was engaged, but less than a minute after that happened, the race was suspended, with all drivers stopping behind the safety car in the pitlane. The stoppage enabled all drivers who wanted to switch tyres, an important fact given the age of the tyres in use compared to the mileage on the tyres before they let go for Stroll and Verstappen.

After a 20-minute stoppage, the race was restarted with a standing start to complete the final two laps of the race. Obviously, everybody had switched to soft tyres, but only some still had new sets available. In fact, only Raikkonen and Latifi fitted new sets of soft.

The restart was incredible yet again, with Hamilton looking to take the lead from a very impressive start, but then missing the turn-in to Turn 1, perhaps influenced by heavily smoking brakes as he stood still on the starting grid.

This saw Perez take the lead, followed by Vettel and then Gasly in third. Leclerc followed in fourth. Norris moved up into 5th and Alonso shot up from 10th to 6th.

It was an intense and very short 2-lap burst with some surprising performances, and in the end a very fresh and surprising podium with Sergio Perez taking his first win with Red Bull Racing as Vettel and Gasly took their first podiums of the season.

Results

Pos.No.DriverCarLapsTimePts
111Sergio PerezRed Bull Racing Honda513:33.68625
25Sebastian VettelAston Martin Mercedes51+1.385s18
310Pierre GaslyAlphaTauri Honda51+2.762s15
416Charles LeclercFerrari51+3.828s12
54Lando NorrisMcLaren Mercedes51+4.754s10
614Fernando AlonsoAlpine Renault51+6.382s8
722Yuki TsunodaAlphaTauri Honda51+6.624s6
855Carlos SainzFerrari51+7.709s4
93Daniel RicciardoMcLaren Mercedes51+8.874s2
107Kimi RäikkönenAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari51+9.576s1
1199Antonio GiovinazziAlfa Romeo Racing Ferrari51+10.254s0
1277Valtteri BottasMercedes AMG51+11.264s0
1347Mick SchumacherHaas Ferrari51+14.241s0
149Nikita MazepinHaas Ferrari51+14.315s0
1544Lewis HamiltonMercedes AMG51+17.668s0
166Nicholas LatifiWilliams Mercedes51+42.379s0
1763George RussellWilliams Mercedes48DNF0
1833Max VerstappenRed Bull Racing Honda45DNF0
NC18Lance StrollAston Martin Mercedes29DNF0
NC31Esteban OconAlpine Renault3DNF0