It wasn’t as dramatic an Azerbaijani GP as we’ve seen in previous seasons, but it was an amazing race, which Red Bull liked. The championship leaders took a big win and extended their lead to Ferrari. Max Verstappen won the race, followed by Sergio Pérez, in a very important one-two for Red Bull.
For Ferrari it was an afternoon to forget, with Carlos Sainz out with hydraulic problems and Charles Leclerc also out with problems with his power unit. Five cars withdrew from the race and of the five, four had Italian power units, in yet another dark weekend for the Scuderia. Third place went to “Mr. Consistency”. George Russell took third place, taking advantage of Ferrari’s withdrawals. A very discreet but equally efficient race. Lewis Hamilton complained of back pain, but that didn’t stop him from finishing fourth after a good fight with Pierre Gasly who finished fifth.
Sebastian Vettel finished in sixth place, in a great race for the German, despite a mistake, Fernando Alonso was seventh, ahead of the McLaren duo (reasonable recovery and good race from Ricciardo, at the level of Norris) and Ocon completed the top 10, in a race with a lot of fighting and a demanding strategy.
the race movie
The 20 drivers lined up on the finish line for the start of the eighth round of the F1 world championship. Charles Leclerc started from pole and was joined by Sergio Pérez, with Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz on the second row. George Russell and Pierre Gasly were in the third row. The heat that was felt at the start time would be one of the factors to take into account in this race, with the rubbers suffering more in these conditions.
All cars in the top 10 chose medium tires for the start. Of the entire field, only Daniel Ricciardo, Esteban Ocon, Valtteri Bottas, Lance Stroll and Mick Schumacher chose the hard tires to start the race, trying a different strategy, with a long first stint, waiting for a Safety Car to allow them to move up positions.
Charles Leclerc started well, but missed the entry into Turn 1 and saw Sergio Pérez, who started better, move into the lead of the race. Leclerc managed to hold on to second place, pressured by Max Verstappen, with Carlos Sainz falling a little behind, under pressure from George Russell and Pierre Gasly. Pérez gained more than a second right on the first lap. At the start, Sebastian Vettel won eighth place from Yuki Tsunoda, Alex Albon gained two places (15th) while Kevin Magnussen and Valtteri Bottas lost places, as did Nicholas Latifi, who was penalized with 10 seconds. Stop & Go for an infraction in the starting procedure (mechanic touched the car after the allotted time).
On lap 3, the DRS was activated and Verstappen began his attack on Leclerc. Further back, Daniel Ricciardo was attacking Lando Norris for 11th place, but Norris was on medium tires and Ricciardo was on hard tyres.
Verstappen was dangerously close to Leclerc, with the help of the DRS, while Carlos Sainz was left behind. Pérez was already 2.5 seconds ahead of the fighting duo on lap 5. Leclerc was holding up to Verstappen’s pressure and managed to get close to Pérez, in a fight in which he was alone, without the help of Sainz. George Russell remained in fifth with some advantage over Pierre Gasly, who was defending himself from Lewis Hamilton.
The race took a turn for the worse for Ferrari, with Sainz appearing stopped at the turn 4 exit, prompting a Virtual Safety Car. Charles Leclerc took the opportunity to enter the pits and put on the hard tires, as did George Russell, Pierre Gasly, Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Yuki Tsunoda. Pérez stayed on track followed by Verstappen, both still on medium tires.
At the end of the Virtual Safety Car the order was Pérez, Verstappen, Leclerc, Russell. Alonso, Norris, Ricciardo, Gasly, Ocon and Vettel.
Leclerc was 15 seconds behind Verstappen and Ferrari had to choose whether to force the pace or manage to get the tires to the end of the race.
Sebastian Vettel, in the fight with Ocon, was the loser, failing to brake for Turn 3 losing just two positions with that mistake. It was Hamilton’s turn to put pressure on Ocon.
At the front, Verstappen approached Pérez and on lap 15 the #1 took the lead in the race. Leclerc was pushing and betting on a two-stop strategy and in four laps he gained six seconds from Verstappen, who responded to Leclerc’s challenge and gained 3 seconds in just one lap.
On lap 17, Pérez came on to put on hard tyres, in a somewhat lengthy stop. Leclerc took second place and Pérez had to fend off Russell. A little further back, Lando Norris started to put pressure on Fernando Alonso, with Daniel Ricciardo watching what was happening and with Gasly close by. Alonso stopped a few laps later and dropped to 15th.
On lap 18 Hamilton managed to pass Ocon for ninth place and was now trying to catch up with Gasly. On the next lap, Verstappen stopped to put on the hard tires and handed over the lead to Leclerc. The gap between Leclerc and Verstappen was now 13 seconds.
The fight for fifth place heated up, with Ricciardo putting pressure on Norris, but the Australian didn’t seem to be allowed to attack his teammate.
But on lap 20 the drama befell Ferrari. Charles Leclerc’s engine gave out and the Monegasque was out of the race. Red Bull was thus left open to an easy victory and Russell was promoted to third. Lando Norris stopped at that point and Ricciardo took fourth place, but under pressure from Gasly. The Frenchman got the better of Ricciardo.
Zhou Guanyu was also forced to withdraw from the race with engine unit problems, giving up 10th in a race that was going very well for the Chinese. At that point, Vettel returned to attack Ocon, an attack that was successful in the next lap.
On lap 25, midway through the race, the top 10 was made up of Verstappen, Pérez, Russell, Gasly, Ricciardo (not yet stopped), Hamilton, Tsunoda, Vettel, Ocon (not yet stopped) and Magnussen. Hamilton passed Ricciardo on the next lap and took fifth place. Alonso came with a great pace and tried to pass Magnussen and Ocon in two laps, returning to the points. Hamilton complained of back pain from porpoising, a situation that probably also troubled George Russell who was isolated in third position.
Up front, Verstappen led as he wanted, he was two quickest on the track and was almost 10 seconds ahead of Pérez, who was 18 seconds ahead of Russell, who in turn was 21 seconds ahead of Gasly.
On lap 33, Magnussen’s Haas appeared stopped on the track, another car with a Ferrari power unit to stop, which provoked another Virtual Safety Car. Red Bull took the opportunity to change tires on its two single-seaters, keeping the seats and ensuring the integrity of the tires until the end of the race. Russell also took advantage, as did Gasly and Hamilton. Ricciardo also stopped and put the medium tires on the track in ninth, ahead of his teammate. The Alpha Tauri stayed on track and didn’t take advantage of the VSC to change tires, like Vettel.
Hamilton dispatched Tsunoda on lap 36, one lap after the end of the VSC and was fifth. But the Japanese had a problem with his rear wing, which broke in half and would force the #22 to withdraw from the race. But the team decided to use tape to secure the wing, with the Japanese man falling out of the points.
With ten laps to go, Verstappen had orders not to use the DRS and Lewis Hamilton was attacking Gasly, with the Brit forgetting the pain and trying to get to fourth place, which he did on lap 44.
McLaren used team orders and let Ricciardo attack Alonso for seventh, with Norris waiting to see what Ricciardo would do. There was some discomfort on the part of Norris about the team’s decision to keep the places, as he considered that he had more progress than Ricciardo. Lance Stroll was forced to withdraw due to very intense vibrations.
In the end, Verstappen crossed the line first, followed by Pérez and Russell. Hamilton finished fourth, clearly limited when he got out of the car, with back pain (Canada is next week) and Pierre Gasly finished in an excellent fifth place. This was followed by Vettel (great race, but without that mistake it could have been even better), Alonso (good defense at the end), Ricciardo (good notes to motivate himself), Norris (something displeased at the end of the race) and Esteban Ocon.