Perez Victorious in Dramatic Baku Race

Azerbaijan Grand Prix Race Report 2021

Baku never fails to deliver drama, and today was no different. In some places tight and twisty, in others open and very fast, Baku delivers the longest full-throttle zone of the F1 calendar as well as the narrowest corner. It’s a street circuit where overtaking is possible, as are big incidents, what with the walls being ever so close to the high-speed action —as seen in the qualifying session, which had to be stopped four times for various cars crashing into the walls, the last of which saw many pole favourites unable to get in a flying lap.

It was Leclerc who lined up on pole and, with a good start, converted this to a race lead. Behind, Hamilton and Verstappen were immediately on his tail. Apart from Giovinazzi—who made 5 places up from the back of the grid—Perez and Vettel were the big winners off the line; both making up two places and moving into fourth and ninth respectively. Norris was the biggest loser, dropping three places down to twelfth.

The opening stint saw Leclerc being chased down and passed by Hamilton and then both Red Bulls. The top three then pulled away together—Hamilton unable to get a good gap on the Red Bulls, who have looked faster all weekend. Further back, there are some overtakes and pitstops as well as mechanical retirement for Ocon.

Hamilton pitted from the lead on lap ten, releasing the faster Red Bulls, who use an overcut strategy to jump the Mercedes driver. Early pitstops are the theme of the day and by lap fourteen all but two racers have pitted—only the two Aston Martin drivers remain out. Last time out in Monaco, they utilised the overcut to jump several places, so why not try it again? Consequentially, Vettel—briefly—leads the race, with teammate Stroll in fifth. After Vettel’s pitstop he comes out in seventh, a net gain of four places from where he lined up on the grid.

With the stops done, the race now enters a phase of tyre management. Verstappen has a healthy lead over Perez, who is keeping a close-running Hamilton at bay. The Mercedes driver puts Perez under pressure but can’t seem to get quite close enough for a pass.

It’s inevitable at Baku, it’s always going to happen—someone is going into the wall. On lap 31, it’s Lance Stroll— although through no fault of his own. Near the beginning of the pit straight—approaching 190 miles per hour—his left rear tyre gives out, sending the Canadian into the wall. Stroll did a great job to prevent the car from going back across the track and walked away from the high-speed crash. The safety car is deployed—the safety car, ironically, Stroll was holding out to pit under. Questions are asked of the tyres: was there some debris which caused the puncture, or did the tyre just give out? Perelli say the tyres can do forty laps, so why has it exploded on lap thirty-one?

With the car moved and debris swept up, we’re off racing again. There’s no change at the front as Verstappen leads from Perez, from Hamilton. Further back, Vettel is storming on his fresher tyres, passing Leclerc and Gasly within a few laps. Sainz and Alonso both gain two places, moving into ninth and eleventh respectively.

The race falls into a similar pattern; Hamilton trying to pass Perez with Verstappen creeping away ahead of them. Further back, the field is more bunched up after the safety car period and drivers are dipping in and out of DRS range to those in front.

There’s last-minute drama with only five laps remaining, as race leader Verstappen is in the wall. At around 200MPH down the pit straight, he gets a left rear tyre failure. It’s almost a copy and paste of Stroll’s incident from earlier on. Understandably, Verstappen is not happy, losing an almost certain race victory through no fault of his own. Again, questions about the tyre’s longevity will be asked. It’s too early to say for certain what the cause of the punctures was—was there debris on the track for instance, or were the tyres just unable to withstand the highspeed track? It seems very coincidental to me to have such similar incidents and it looks like the tyres just weren’t up to the job this weekend. If this is the case, some serious questions will need to be asked, and answers found, to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

We have a few laps under the safety car until the race is completely stopped. After the debris is cleared, the race restarts. As the race has been red-flagged the cars can be fitted with new tyres—probably a good thing considering the circumstances. It is a standing start—drivers line up on the grid in the order in which they were running before the race was stopped, with Perez, Hamilton and Vettel at the front. Perez wants his maiden win for the Red Bull team, and Hamilton wants to maximise points gained over Verstappen and Vettel—well, he wants redemptive glory! So, with fresh rubber and only two laps left, it is the ultimate sprint race!

Off the grid, Hamilton gets a great start but—in a very rare error—can’t stop the car into the first corner and goes down the escape road; Perez leads from Vettel.

Further back, cars are jostling and passing at every corner. Norris and Tsunoda trade places in sixth and seventh for several corners, as do Sainz and Ricciardo in eighth and ninth, with eventually Norris and Sainz coming out on top in those battles. Raikkonen passes teammate Giovinazzi, who then tussles with Latifi. Bottas then gets involved, passing Latifi’s Williams. Alonso scythes his way through the pack, moving from tenth to sixth. On the final lap, Leclerc and Gasly do battle for the final step of the podium—Leclerc gets ahead on the straight, only for Gasly to repass him. They’re side by side for half the lap with Norris then joining in. Over the line, Perez takes the win from Vettel and Gasly just holds onto third in a nail-biting finale.

Well, Baku delivers again! If anyone had a tenner on that podium they’d be a very happy person now!

Verstappen managed the race extremely well and lost a victory through no fault of his own. Saying that, Perez delivered today, faultless under sustained pressure from Hamilton, a last dash sprint race, and—as it turns out—nursing a hydraulic issue at the end of the race. Checo thoroughly deserved the win today.

The Teams

Red Bull: They will be obviously disappointed with the Verstappen tyre failure, losing what would have been their first 1-2 since 2016. But, the tyre failure was no fault of the driver or team, and they were consistently fast this weekend. Verstappen managed the race impeccably—a promising sign for his championship challenge, even if he came away without points today. As for Perez, well, it was a good weekend with a great result that was much deserved. Red Bull extend their lead over Mercedes to 26 points.

Mercedes: A hard weekend for the Mercedes team. With very little pace at the early stages of the weekend, they worked tirelessly to make gains. They ran all sorts of setups to learn about how to improve on pace, and Bottas took one for the team, running what turned out to be a slower rear wing. The Finn had very little pace all weekend and, after a disappointing qualifying session, lagged out of the points for the whole race and came in at twelfth position.

Hamilton did manage to find some pace eventually and will be gutted at throwing away a second position. At the restart, he was unable to get the Mercedes stopped to turn into the first corner, having accidentally switched on the ‘magic’ brakes. This is a brake balance used to warm tyres and breaks in laps behind the safety car, not to be used in the race as it does weird things to the breaks. These odd mistakes do happen occasionally, and I guess they’ll be moving the magic brake lever to prevent it from happening again! Maybe, in hindsight, he didn’t need to go all-in for the win; he could have easily taken third and a bag of points over Verstappen. But, he has a racers spirit; he wants to win and it’s in his nature to go all in. Hamilton finished fifteenth, and with neither him nor Verstappen scoring any points here, remains four points behind the Red Bull driver in the standings.

Aston Martin: Another good weekend, rolling out the overcuts again! Stroll was unlucky with the tyre failure, having shown good pace in the race and convincingly running in fifth ahead of Galsy—the man who ended up third. Vettel, well, it’s great to see him back on form. Again, he was nailing that strategy given to him by the team, and executing good overtakes out on track. This circuit does suit their car though, so I don’t expect them to be up on the podium in France. Nonetheless, the Aston Martin team do seem to have made good progress since the season opener.

Alpha Tauri: It was a much-deserved podium for Gasly. The Frenchman had the pace all weekend—topping the timesheets on Friday practice. He navigated the crazy Baku race with patience and speed. Tsunoda had his strongest race for a while, running in the top ten throughout. He’ll be disappointed to drop from fifth to seventh in the final few laps, but still a solid result with good points.

Ferrari: They were maybe a little lucky with pole—Leclerc getting a massive tow down the pit straight, and with the session finishing before other competitors could set faster laps. Nonetheless, the pole was theirs. Leclerc then dropped back to what I think was a position more representative of their speed here, mostly running in sixth behind Gasly and gaining from Verstappen and Hamilton’s misfortune. Fourth was a very good result for Ferrari, I think. Sainz came in eighth. After having to run down an exit road on cold tyres after his pitstop and dropping to thirteenth, the Spaniard put in a decent recovery drive to get a few points for the team.

Mclaren: A decent finish for a poor weekend. Norris had the pace this weekend, but after receiving a grid penalty and getting a bad start, the Brit was running in twelfth on the opening lap. He seemed to get bogged down in the midfield but did manage to make his way up to fifth. Not bad points for the team, but perhaps a missed opportunity to capitalise in a race where neither Bottas, Hamilton or Verstappen scored points. Ricciardo never seemed to quite hook up with the car—qualifying 13th after a run into the wall. The Australian did make progress through the race though, finishing ninth—not where Ricciardo would want to be, but points for the team nonetheless.

Alpine: I think Alonso may want two-lap sprint races from now on—making four places up in the mad final dash! A good race for the Spaniard, he said it would come to them at the end and it did. Ocon, unfortunately, was unable to do anything, retiring with a loss of drive on lap four.

Alpha Romeo: A decent weekend for the team. Giovinazzi got bogged down with anti-stall on the final restart and teammate Raikkonen passed him to take the final point in tenth place, Giovinazzi coming in in eleventh. Very consistent so far this year, the team deserved the point and hopefully can capitalise on their consistency to get more throughout the season.

Haas: Haas placed thirteenth and fourteenth—their best result of the year, though perhaps more to do with runners ahead of them not finishing than the Hass’ pace.

Williams: Not a great race for them, Latifi coming in sixteenth and Russell retiring right at the end of the race with gearbox issues.

Final Thoughts

So, Baku delivers again! Eventful, exciting, unpredictable! Red Bull look strong moving to France for the next race, but the track there will probably favour competitors Mercedes. Questions will most certainly be asked about hose tyres and what can be done to ensure those failures don’t happen again.

Driver(s) of the Day:  Perez and Vettel
Honourable mentions: Gasly, Leclerc, Alonso.

Baku Grand Price Race Results 2021

  1. Perez
  2. Vettel
  3. Gasly
  4. Leclerc
  5. Norris
  6. Alonso
  7. Tsunoda
  8. Sainz
  9. Ricciardo
  10. Raikkonen

Fastest lap went to Verstappen—he won’t get the extra point though, as this is only given if the driver finishes in the top ten.

Next Time:

France: Another track where overtaking is possible. Hamilton has won the previous two races here, so expect a good fight between him and Verstappen.

Where to Watch:

USA: Sunday 20th June Live on ESPN race start at 10:00 am EST
UK: Sunday 20th June Live on Sky Sports F1 race start at 2:00 pm GMT
Highlights on Sky One and Channel Four—time TBC, Sunday 20th June.

Written by Jenny Alderton

Jenny is a freelance writer based in Wales with keen interest in Motorsports. An avid follower of Formula one for over twenty years she has recently branched out into watching other vehicles driving around in wiggly circles. Namely, Motogp, World Superbike championship, and British Superbike championship.

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