Azerbaijan Grand Prix – After winning the Sprint yesterday, Sergio Perez became the first repeat winner in Baku as Max Verstappen lost out to the Safety Car.
For the second race this weekend there will only be eighteen cars lining up on the grid, this time though there will still be a full complement competing once the lights go out. Logan Sargeant’s car has been fixed up after his crash in the Sprint Shootout which caused him to miss the Sprint race, the Williams driver will line up in P14 on the grid.
After having his suspension setup changed yesterday, which the car was in parc ferme conditions, Esteban Ocon had to forfeit his P13 and P12 grid slots and instead start from the pit lane for both the Sprint and today’s Grand Prix. While the Alpine had the pits to himself yesterday, today he’ll have to share with Nico Hulkenberg. The Haas racer had been set for a P17 start but has now had his suspension setup changed too.
While Charles Leclerc was able to hold onto the lead at the start of yesterday’s race, he wasn’t able to hold out against the pace of Sergio Perez’ Red Bull for too long. This time he’ll be sharing the front row with Max Verstappen and while it’s unlikely Ferrari will have been able to turn things around overnight so that they can challenge the Red Bull’s today, they’ll just be looking for a good result after a difficult start to the season.
After seeing how unsuited the soft compound tyres were in the Sprint yesterday it’s no surprise to not see anyone choosing to start on them today. The top seventeen will all have the yellow ringed mediums on for the start while Nyck de Vries, along with Ocon and Hulkenberg, will instead have the hards.
As the lights went out Leclerc once again held his lead against the Red Bulls behind, Ferando Alonso did have a look at Lewis Hamilton’s P5 but the Mercedes racer was able to hold him off.
Verstappen was right on the rear wing of the leading Ferrari and on lap 4, with DRS enabled, the reigning champion breezed past on the run down to T1. The Monegasque then had to contend with Perez on his tail, while Leclerc was able to hold him for a lap, the race became a Red Bull 1-2 at the start of lap 6.
A bit further down the pack, it was all about teamwork for Lance Stroll, letting Aston Martin know that he wouldn’t try and fight Fernando Alonso for P6 as they “are playing the same game”. When the message was passed along to the Spaniard he said Stroll could “have a go”, but reported that he could see graining on Hamilton’s wheels so it’d only be a matter of time before the green machines would be able to pass him.
The pit stops started for the drivers further down the pack on lap 8 but the first of the top ten to switch tyres was Hamilton, just as Alonso had predicted. The Mercedes racer stopped on lap 10, rejoining on the hards in P12. There were Yellow Flags as the Brit emerged as the AlphaTauri of de Vries was in the run off at T6 with a broken left rear.
Verstappen wasn’t happy with his tyres and took to the pits on lap 11, emerging in P7 just as the Safety Car was called for de Vries. The following lap most of the rest of the field pitted and when they all came back out it was Perez still in the lead ahead of Leclerc with Verstappen now sitting in P3.
The only two still on the tyres they started with were Ocon and Hulkenberg, who were now up into P8 and P9. The drivers that had pitted early, Hamilton included, had lost out with the Mercedes racer as the best of them though he was only P10.
Stroll had lost a spot to Russell behind the Safety Car, the Brit having braked later heading into the pits and going wheel to wheel as they drove to their pit boxes. The Canadian wasn’t particularly happy about that but got back past at the restart.
The race got back underway on lap 14 and while Perez had to defend from Leclerc he held the place and a couple of corners later the Ferrari driver lost out to Verstappen while Alonso also made up a place, getting into P4 after dispatching Carlos Sainz. One of the big movers on the first lap back was Hamilton, getting past Hulkenberg and Ocon before going side-by-side with his teammate and going down the inside for P7. All of this before the DRS was re-enabled.
Lap 16 saw Stroll hit the same wall de Vries did but the Aston Martin racer was luckier than the Dutch driver and reported everything was okay. The inter-team cooperation continued at the British team with Alonso telling them to pass on his brake balance changes to Stroll as they’d helped his car. A little mistake from Stroll though allowed Hamilton to close up and get through to P6.
As Alonso did to Hamilton earlier, Russell reported that he saw Stroll ahead of him struggling on his tyres and didn’t feel the Canadian would be able to make it to the end on them.
At the halfway point of the race Perez was a second and a half ahead of Verstappen at the front while Leclerc was a further eleven seconds behind the top two and had been holding a pretty steady two and a half second gap over Alonso. Ocon and Hulkenberg, in P9 and P10, still hadn’t pitted and were at the head of a train of cars all looking to get into the points positions.
On lap 30 Verstappen had dropped another second to Perez and was struggling with engine braking but the race had settled and there wasn’t much happening on track, evidenced by the fact the cameras were focused on the battle for P18 between Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly. The French driver going down the inside of the Alfa Romeo at T1.
Lap 34 though saw Perez clipping the wall at T15, as Hulkenberg had done a bit earlier but the car was alright and he hadn’t lost any time to Verstappen due to it.
The second retirement of the day came on lap 37 when Zhou Guanyu was told to pit as there was an issue with his Alfa Romeo. Around the same time the Mercedes garage were shown getting tyres ready, most likely for Russell in P8 as he had a good gap to the still-to-pit Ocon behind him, while Hamilton was still in DRS range of Sainz, where he’d been for a good few laps.
Lap 46 saw Norris finally make it back into the points positions as he managed to dispatch the Haas of Hulkenberg at T7. A lap later Tsunoda followed through while the German was told to hang in there as the only chance he, or Ocon, had of a good finish were if there was an incident in the final few laps.
Russell did finally head to the pits on lap 50, rejoining without losing any positions as he set out with soft tyres to try for the fastest lap point. Hulkenberg also took his only stop of the race then, dropping him to P17 while Ocon headed in on his final lap, and things could have ended very badly as the parc ferme barriers had been placed and photographers were all over the pit lane and had to scatter to allow the Alpine through.
Perez became the first driver to win in Baku for a second time as he led his teammate home while Ferrari secured their first podium of the year with Leclerc managing to hold Alonso off to prevent the Spaniard from taking a fourth P3 in a row. Sainz finished in P5 while Hamilton had to settle for P6 after having been right up behind the Ferrari for so many laps. Stroll took P7 while Russell was P8 and did manage to take the fastest lap, a 1:43.370. The points positions were rounded out by Norris and Tsunoda.