Where to start with Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix? Perez tops podium? Vettel snatches second in his Aston Martin? Mercedes shoot themselves in the foot? Verstappen throws away victory after a puncture?
It was such a strange race. Sure Red Bull were on the top step of the podium once again — but, no, it wasn’t that guy. It was the other guy who claimed the win in an insane 51 laps around the streets of Baku.
Sergio Perez took advantage of an error from teammate Max Verstappen to secure the glory as the Dutchman and his Drivers’ Championship rival Lewis Hamilton took it in turns to throw the race away when winning looked easier.
Four-time champion Vettel was second to give Aston Martin their first ever F1 podium and his highest finish since 2019. In a very odd-looking top three, Pierre Gasly was third for AlphaTauri as the drivers made their first trip to the podium this season.
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Earlier, Mexican Perez triumphed in a dramatic two-lap sprint for the finish after leader Verstappen — who had taken over at the front following a slow Hamilton pit stop — crashed into a wall with a puncture to his left rear tyre, forcing a red flag and the mad dash at the restart.
Verstappen was four laps away from a second consecutive victory on Sunday when disaster struck, losing control of his Red Bull and colliding on the narrow circuit. While Perez was in the lead at the standing restart, it looked like defending champion Hamilton was set to regain control of the championship race.
But he too was out of luck. Hamilton shot into the lead as soon as lights went out. But he overshot the first corner and his Mercedes slid off track. Hamilton dropped to 15th, snapping a streak of 54 consecutive races of earning a points position finish.
“So sorry, guys,” he told the team. Mercedes principal Toto Wolff stepped in to claim there was an issue with the front brakes and absolved Hamilton of blame.
Despite the fierce competition, there was also a touching nod towards humanity over rivalry. Hamilton was the first to inquire about Verstappen’s health after the late accident. “Is he OK?” the Briton radioed in as soon as he saw Verstappen in the wall. Thankfully, he walked away, but his frustration was clear to see on a day when he should have stretched his lead over Hamilton, who rarely needs to be asked twice to capitalise when others slip up. In bonkers Baku, that was not to be either and it is as you were at the top of the standings as we head to Round 7 in France with Verstappen holding a four-point lead over Hamilton.