Max Verstappen lost victory to a late puncture in a dramatic finish to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which also saw Lewis Hamilton squander his chance to recapture the championship lead.
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez won the race ahead of Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel and Alpha Tauris’s Pierre Gasly in a two-lap sprint when the race was abandoned after Verstappen fell five laps before the end.
Hamilton was second on the grid for the restart and was ahead of Perez on the first corner, but blocked his tires and ran onto the escape route, dropping back to 15th at the finish.
With his uncharacteristic mistake, Verstappen kept the championship lead four points ahead of the Mercedes driver.
Hamilton’s costly mistake
A mistake by Lewis Hamilton at the restart leads to the end of his race
Verstappen had dominated the race after overtaking Hamilton at the pit stops just because his hopes exploded with his left rear tire on the pit straight five laps to go.
Verstappen fell at high speed in an accident almost identical to that of Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll at half distance.
Both Verstappen and Stroll were uninjured after hitting the wall when their tires failed at nearly 200 mph. However, both incidents will raise questions about the integrity of Pirelli’s tires – not for the first time since the Italian company entered Formula 1 in 2011.
The late failure of Verstappen brought the red flag and led to a chaotic sprint over two laps to the finish.
Hamilton had referred to the long season and his fight for the championship with Verstappen in a radio message shortly before the restart.
“You have to remember that this is a marathon, not a sprint, so you have to measure how aggressive you are,” said Hamilton.
Team boss Toto Wolff replied: “I totally agree, Lewis.”
But when he got on the grid, Hamilton’s front brakes were smoking and after making the jump on Perez at the start, he blocked heavily and sailed onto the escape route, with a golden opportunity to recapture the discarded championship lead.
After the race, Hamilton asked, “Did I have the magic on?” Race engineer Peter Bonnington replied, “Yeah, you hit it buddy.”
The “Magic” button switches the brake balance to warm up the front tires on the introductory lap and in the safety car. This means that Hamilton would have had excessive front brake preload that he was not expecting and this would have resulted in the lock. It seems like Hamilton accidentally pressed the button after turning it off before restarting.
A snore festival, then a huge drama
Verstappen shows his emotions after taking the lead after a puncture
Verstappen had been in control of the race the entire time he and Perez passed Hamilton at the pit stops.
The Dutchman was disappointed after his convincing victory in Monaco two weeks ago when he missed pole position after Red Bull were the fastest team all weekend.
Leclerc turned the pole into a lead on corner one but was overtaken by Hamilton at the end of the first lap.
One would have expected Hamilton to be in the lead, given the strength of the Mercedes in races so far this season. But he didn’t make up any ground against Leclerc – and on lap six Verstappen was in second place and put Hamilton under pressure.
Mercedes took the opportunity to pit Hamilton first on lap 11 and tried to defend its lead while Verstappen pitted next time.
Hamilton left the pit lane delayed because Mercedes had to wait to let him go when Gasly walked in, but Verstappen’s lead was so big after coming out of his stop that it was obvious the Red Bull would have overtaken him anyway.
Worse for Hamilton, Perez stopped a lap later than Verstappen and his pace during the two laps he was left behind was enough to overtake him in front of the Mercedes.
Hamilton stayed close to the Mexican for the remainder of the race but couldn’t get close enough to overtake.
Hamilton’s team-mate Valtteri Bottas had a nightmare day when he made no progress from tenth on the grid in the first part of the race and was then overtaken by a number of other drivers who pitted for fresh tires during the safety car Finish 14th place.
Vettel in top form again
Stroll was the first to crash at high speed after a rear tire failure
Behind the top three, Vettel brought back memories of his best days with a superlative drive in the Aston Martin.
The four-time champion, who was deposed by Ferrari at the end of last season after a difficult period with the Italian team, ran long on his first stint and kept up his pace to lead the race for five laps after the leaders retired.
This put Vettel in seventh place after the field had calmed down after the stops, while team-mate Stroll stayed on his hard tires in fourth.
When the race resumed after Stroll’s frightening crash caused by a tire failure on the rear left at 180 mph on the pit lane straight, Vettel overtook both Leclerc and Gasly and finished fourth ahead of the Verstappen incident.
That came in second after the drama that happened to Hamilton and Verstappen in the last few laps.
Failing to repeat his qualifying pace in the race, Leclerc dropped to fourth, ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, who finished sixth around the outside of turn five on Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda last restart.
Driver of the day
Vettel gets this for a great drive in the Aston Martin, where he really rediscovered his mojo in the last two races after the difficult past three years at Ferrari
What happens next?
From the drama of Baku to the usual boredom of Paul Ricard, who is hosting the French Grand Prix in two weeks. Mercedes will see it as an opportunity to regain the form they showed on more conventional circuits at the start of the season.
The race has an impressive backdrop and takes place in the center of Baku. instead of