Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Max Verstappen led a double podium for Red Bull Racing ahead of George Russell as neither Ferrari saw it to the chequered flag.
For the second year in a row Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari led the pack away from the Baku grid, but the scarlet car at the front was not there for more than a few metres as second placed Sergio Perez went down the inside and took the lead while the Monegasque locked up. On the formation lap Perez was told to get his elbows out into the first corner and he did just that before pulling out a healthy gap over the opening laps.
The medium tyre was the starting preference for most of the grid but there were a few on the hards in the second half of the pack with Daniel Ricciardo P12, Esteban Ocon P13, Valtteri Bottas P15, Lance Stroll P19 and Mick Schumacher P20 the drivers on the alternate strategy. On lap 3, Williams’ Nicholas Latifi was handed a 10 second stop and go penalty as one of the Canadian’s mechanics pushed his car back in its grid box after the point where all mechanics should’ve been clear.
At the front while Perez had a very comfortable two plus second lead, Leclerc had Max Verstappen applying a lot of pressure as the Red Bull driver was sitting right on Lecler’s rear wing. Carlos Sainz in P4 had been dropped by the two and was another three seconds further back, leaving him unable to assist his teammate in the fight over P2.
Seven laps in and the McLarens were being issued team orders in P11 and P12. Daniel Ricciardo letting his team know that he had more pace than Lando Norris but being told to hold position for the moment.
Lap nine saw the first retirement of the day, Sainz going straight on into the runoff at T4 and reporting back to Ferrari that there was a brake-by-wire failure. That saw the Virtual Safety Car being deployed and Leclerc ducked into the pits to change to the hard compound. It was a bit of a slow stop for the Ferrari driver but he returned to the track in P3 just 12 seconds behind Verstappen.
Leclerc was not the only one to go for the early stop, Mercedes had also stopped their cars which while George Russell held station in P4, Lewis Hamilton dropped from P7 to P11 as double-stacking in the pits dropped him behind Sebastian Vettel. The seven-time champion did make it back into the points after the Aston Martin driver went down the T3 runoff just as he was finishing a move on Ocon for P9. Vettel made a quick recovery but did lose out to both Hamilton and Yuki Tsunoda.
The race lead changed on lap 15 when Verstappen slipped down the inside of Perez at the first corner after the Mexican had been told not to fight, and a couple of laps later the P2 driver headed to the pits but, unusually for Red Bull, had a slow stop before he rejoined in P3.
Lap nineteen was Verstappen’s turn to swap to the hard tyres, handing the lead back to Leclerc and the Dutchman, who also had a less than ideal stop, rejoined thirteen seconds behind the Ferrari. While the Monegasque was able to enjoy being in P1 for longer than he did at the start of the race, it was a nightmare for Ferrari as at the end of lap 20, there were plumes of smoke billowing out of the rear of Leclerc’s car and he coasted into the pits and out of the race.
As that was happening Norris, who had been P5 ahead of his teammate, took his stop, possibly hoping for a VSC or Safety Car, but without that and with the pack being so close in the midfield, dropping him right down the pack to P16. Ricciardo meanwhile stuck it out on the hards he started with for a while longer. With the Ferrari retirement, the Australian had been in P4 but didn’t get to enjoy it for long as Pierre Gasly snatched it from him soon after, with Hamilton also getting past a few laps later.
Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu had just made it into the points in P10 but was told to box the car on lap 23 with a technical issue. The rookie responded “are you kidding me, again?”, understandably frustrated as this will be his third DNF in four races. While the Chinese driver joined Sainz, Leclerc and Ferrari in their Baku heartbreak, Hamilton was dealing with pain of his own, the Mercedes driver however reported his back was killing him, as the W13 was dealing with awful porpoising again this weekend.
On lap 33, just as Kevin Magnussen was battling Ocon for P10, he slowed with engine issues and stopped on track. Another DNF for a Ferrari powered car. The VSC was once again deployed and the Red Bulls led the charge to the pits, they along with the Mercedes in P3 and P5 all swapped to fresh hard tyres without losing any places. Ricciardo made his first stop of the day from P6, changing to the medium compound and emerged in P9, a few seconds ahead of Norris.
Once the race was back to green flag racing there was quite the battle between Hamilton and Tsunoda over P5, the position swapping hands multiple times before the AlphaTauri driver was shown a black and orange flag, the meatball flag, on lap 38 after his DRS flap broke and only half of it was opening. The team taped the Japanese driver’s rear wing shut, telling him he had no DRS for the remainder of the race but he had dropped well out of the points, back in P13 once he rejoined.
A couple of laps later Red Bull informed the race leader, Verstappen that he too should avoid using DRS for the rest of the race, but it was less critical for the Dutchman as he had more than a 15 second gap back to Perez in P2.
In a reverse of the opening laps, McLaren were once again had their cars line astern but the car behind, Norris this time, was on the radio complaining about the other car being too slow. A few laps later the Brit was told that if he could catch Ricciardo before the Australian caught Fernando Alonso ahead then Norris would be able to pass and attack the Alpine, if he couldn’t make it work though then the McLarens would swap back.
Lap 43 saw Hamilton take P4 away from Gasly and put Mercedes into what would be their third P3-P4 of the season, a few laps later though there was a very strange message from Hamilton however as he reported that his seat had gone cold. Verstappen was also having issues as he felt something small fall between his feet under braking
There had been no change between the McLarens and on the penultimate lap Norris was told that the team thought Alonso was too fast so they would hold station behind Ricciardo. The British driver responded that that agreement had been for strategy but he was closing up and it was now about race position. While he did close right up behind Ricciardo, he didn’t disobey the team in the end.
With the Red Bulls on the top two positions, Russell took his third P3 of the year ahead of teammate Hamilton who struggled to extract himself from his W13 in parc ferme and did not look at all comfortable as he walked away after over an hour and a half of having to endure violent porpoising from his Mercedes.
Gasly brought his AlphaTauri home in P5 ahead of Vettel in the sole remaining Aston Martin after Stroll retired five laps before then end after the team saw high oscillations on the data.
It was double points for both Alpine and McLaren with Alonso taking P7, Ocon in P10 with Ricciardo and Norris between them.