THREE WORDS to describe last night's F1 race: Insane. Dramatic. Unpredictable.
Baku was a circuit that certainly did not disappoint, with the real drama unfolding at the closing stages of the race. With crashes happening left and right throughout the weekend, it would have been a miracle to see all 20 cars finish.
In the end, only 16 of them survived, with an unlikely man trailing behind the pack. If you missed out on this one, read on to know what went down in the 6th race of the season.
Crazy, even in qualifiers
Charles Leclerc brought his SF21 to back-to-back poles after Saturday’s qualifying session ended under the red flag. This was because his teammate, Carlos Sainz, and Yuki Tsunoda went off in turn 4 with just a couple minutes left on the clock.
In a session that took longer than usual, we saw a total of four crashes including Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi in Q1.
Hamilton with an early lead
All eyes were then on Leclerc to see if he could convert that pole into a win. However, he was only able to hold on to the lead until the 3rd lap when Lewis Hamilton was able to get ahead.
As the frontrunners went for a pitstop, we saw Sebastian Vettel leading the race after starting in P11. It was good to see the former champ get his groove back and get moments like this after he had such a dismal 2020 season with the prancing horse.
Things seemed to be looking up for Vettel’s new team, Aston Martin, until Stroll had a tyre failure and hit the barriers as he was nearing the pit lane entry.
This brought out the safety car that lasted from lap 31 to 35, although the pit lane had to be closed until lap 34. As such, the race leaders could not switch into a fresh set to improve their pace.
Setting Stroll’s crash aside, it was a clean race so far with a few overtakes here and there. Things took a huge turn with just 4 laps to go, when Max Verstappen had a heart-wrenching tyre failure on his left rear.
Instead of finishing the race behind a safety car, race director Michael Masi called for a red flag ⏤ as suggested by Red Bull ⏤ “to give teams an opportunity to change tires” and avoid the same fate that both Verstappen and Stroll suffered.
As the session resumed with a standing start, Hamilton almost took the lead away from Sergio Perez; but disaster struck yet again as Hamilton had an intense lock up into turn 1.
This sent him straight to the back and out of the points along with his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, who finished in P12.
An unlikely podium
Leclerc and Pierre Gasly were in a tight battle for 3rd, with McLaren’s Lando Norris joining in for a bit. The race ultimately finished with Verstappen’s teammate, Sergio Perez, taking the top step and extending Red Bull’s lead by 26 points over rival Mercedes. He was joined by Vettel, who proved doubters wrong as he bagged Driver of the Day.
It was a bittersweet day for Alpine as Fernando Alonso delivered his best result (P6) for the team, but on the other side of their garage, they saw Esteban Ocon retire due to a mechanical failure in the 4th lap.
In addition to the three retirements, George Russell also had to bow out during the session restart when his FW43B had a gearbox issue. His teammate, Nicholas Latifi, was handed a 30-second post-race penalty for a safety car violation which led to him finishing the race in P16.
McLaren have fallen behind Ferrari in the standings by just 2 points. However, the team could still be proud as both drivers have finished four places up from where they started on the grid.
Lando Norris got swallowed into the first lap traffic and was not able to fully recover until after a few laps just like his teammate, Daniel Ricciardo. They were then able to bounce back, especially on the restart, and finished at P5 and P9 respectively.
Tsunoda had an impressive weekend, which proved that Red Bull made a good decision with relocating him closer to AlphaTauri’s garage in Faenza to help with his rookie adjustment. He finished in P7, bringing a total of 21 points to their team’s Baku haul.
Meanwhile, AlfaRomeo’s Kimi Raikkonen was able to regain the points that he lost in Imola as he finished the race in P10 ahead of his teammate, Giovinazzi. Rounding up the remaining spots are both Haas drivers, Mick Schumacher and Nikita Mazepin, who finished in P13 and P14.
What could have been
The race was crazy enough as it is, but had there been a few extra laps, more drama would have ensued.
As it turns out, Perez was actually nursing a hydraulic issue that would have led to another retirement for the bulls! Luck was definitely on their side today; despite Verstappen’s DNF, they are still leading in both the Driver and Constructor standings.
The question now is, can they maintain it until the very end?