Red Bull had a bittersweet F1 Azerbaijan GP with a win for Sergio Perez from Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly.
Pre-race, it was noted that Red Bull’s Max Verstappen had switched his start tyres from the original Q2 tyres to another used set after paint from weighbridge damaged his set. Pole-sitter Charles Leclerc wasn’t deterred as he led F1 Azerbaijan GP at the start.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton held to second with Verstappen behind, as Red Bull’s Sergio Perez gained three places to move to fourth from AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz, whereas Alpine’s Fernando Alonso was seventh.
AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda chased him on, as Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel gained two places to ninth from Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in the Top 10. McLaren’s Lando Norris dropped to 12th behind Alpine’s Esteban Ocon in a bad start.
Replays showed a collision at Turn 1 between Haas’ Mick Schumacher and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll, but both continued on. There was disappointment for Ocon as suspected engine issues ended his F1 Azerbaijan GP early in a bad one for Alpine.
At the front, meanwhile, Hamilton passed Leclerc for the lead, with Verstappen clearing the Monegasque for second couple of laps later. Behind, Tsunoda managed to take on Alonso for seventh, as Norris and Ricciardo tussled for track positions.
With the pit stops kicking-in, Mercedes reacted first with a double-stack, where Hamilton had a slightly slower stop with Gasly in the way. Red Bull followed on the next lap, which allowed Verstappen to take the F1 Azerbaijan GP lead from the Brit.
In more bad news, Perez managed to get ahead of Hamilton too for a Red Bull 1-2, as at the back, Bottas lost to Norris in the pit stop. Aston Martin were having a solid run for themselves, with Vettel leading the F1 Azerbaijan GP for multiple laps.
His extended run helped him to jump Tsunoda to have track position. His teammate Stroll ran deep on the hard tyres in fourth, with Gasly gaining a place on Leclerc in the pit stop. The German slotted himself behind the Monegasque.
Tsunoda was eighth from Norris and Bottas. The Finn tried a move on the Brit but a slip at Turn 16 dropped him behind the Brit. Outside the Top 10, Ricciardo led the way from Alonso and Sainz, with the latter dropping out after his early off at Turn 8.
As the race settled on, there was a safety car with the pitlane closed after a heavy shunt for Stroll, whose left-rear tyre failed on him. The Canadian was the only one to pit and had done about 31 laps on the hard compound – well within Pirelli’s set parameter.
With the pitlane opened, Alonso, Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovinazzi, Williams’ George Russell and Haas’ Schumacher stopping for a set of soft tyre. The German, though, had a lose front-left tyre and was forced to stop and get them fit.
The re-start worked well for Verstappen, but Perez came under pressure from Hamilton. The biggest gainer was Vettel on his relatively fresher tyre, as he cleared both Leclerc and Gasly on successive laps after the re-start to be up to fourth.
Leclerc almost crashed into Vettel but braked well to damage his tyres. He had Tsunoda on his tail with Norris in eighth from Sainz and Ricciardo, after the two managed to get themselves back into the Top 10. Alonso was on the tail of the Australian then.
It was disaster for Bottas, who dropped to 14th on his old hard tyres. After an early flurry, the F1 Azerbaijan GP settled well, with Verstappen leading comfortably from Perez and Hamilton, the Brit continued to press on the Mexican driver.
Just as it looked settled, it was another left-rear failure and this time it was for race leader Verstappen from the lead with four laps to go. It handed Perez the lead with the safety car but it was soon red-flagged to clear the debris from the main straight.
Hamilton was second from Vettel, with Gasly fourth from Leclerc, Tsunoda, Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo and Alonso in the Top 10, with Raikkonen and Giovinazzi just outside. The stewards put Williams’ Nicholas Latifi under investigation for not using pitlane.
Under red flag, a radio between Red Bull and FIA was played, where the F1 team requested to red flag the race as they had no warning of the tyre failure. They didn’t wish anyone to have any further issues, so they asked to stop and allow them to change tyres.
Replays also showed Williams asking Latifi to stay out – meaning to not pit for tyres – but the FIA had asked everyone to go through the pitlane. Another radio call had McLaren complaining Masi about Tsunoda not slowing down enough under double yellows.
But Masi rebutted that he can charge all of the drivers for not adhering if he investigates Tsunoda. After a lengthy delay, the FIA confirmed it to be a standing start re-start, in the order of their entering in the pits for the red flag period.
The FIA also asked Mazepin to unlap himself, while Latifi was asked to start from 15th as opposed to 13th. He was also handed a 10s stop and go penalty for the same offence. The re-start didn’t work for Hamilton as he went off at Turn 1.
His locked-up and dropped down as Perez led Vettel, Gasly, Norris, Alonso, Tsunoda, Sainz, Ricciardo and Raikkonen in the Top 10, after Russell dived into the pits with a suspected issue. It was a mighty scrap in the middle of the pack.
At the front, though, Perez eased off to win F1 Azerbaijan GP as Vettel, who replaced the Mexican at Aston Martin scored his first podium with the new team in second, while Gasly fended off the charge from Leclerc to register yet another podium in third.
Leclerc had to be content with fourth with Norris fifth from Alonso after clearing Tsunoda, who had to keep off Sainz, Ricciardo and Raikkonen in the Top 10. Missing out on points was Giovinazzi in 11th from Bottas, Latifi, Schumacher, Nikita Mazepin and Hamilton.
DNF: Russell (17th) Verstappen (18th), Stroll, Ocon.
More to come