F1 took a one year break away from Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix but returned in explosive style as Pirelli tyre failures changed the story of the race.
The Drivers’ Championship standings up at the top somehow remain unchanged with both Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen scoring zero points. But you can be sure the GP Grandstand team have a few points they want to raise!
Jacob Phillips – “Can we race here every week?”
The fifth iteration of Baku was much a race of two halves, a tepid middle was followed by an explosive ending. The Monaco-cum-Monza street layout delivering again, cementing itself as one of the best venues on the calendar.
Despite the majority of the pre-race conversation focused on flexi wings, the talking was done on the track. I had a sneaky suspicion that Perez would have a sniff in Baku, although not in the circumstances that prevailed. The choice to hire the Mexican is finally looking like a smart one.
All eyes now turn to Pirelli, who provided the tyres that failed at high speed. It wasn’t until the first of these failures on Lap 31 that when race came to the boil. Lance Stroll was the first victim, crashing on the back straight at well over 220 kph.
But it was the second incident that appeared to have huge ramifications for the championship. With only two laps to go, Max Verstappen crashed on the pit straight with the Dutchman looking to extend his championship lead. Lewis Hamilton locked up at the subsequent restart and failed to score for the first time since Austria 2018.
My driver of the day is Sebastian Vettel who showered champion qualities to score Aston Martin’s first podium in F1, despite struggling in the opening rounds. I’m also very impressed by Pierre Gasly who drove superbly to P3 and is surely on some big teams radar.
Despite crashing in quali, Yuki Tsunoda scored well in what was an altogether impressive weekend for the rookie. On the contrary, questions will be asked of Bottas who suffered his worst-ever weekend in my opinion.
My final thoughts as we head to France are, can we race here every week?
Thiemo Albers-Daly – “Great box office entertainment”
Sergio Perez told everyone that he’d need five races to get to grips with the Red Bull car. It’s fair to say that’s he’s absolutely delivered in his sixth race for the team.
Sebastian Vettel also seems resurgent in what I hope is not a one-off performance. And Pierre Gasly, yet again, proves why he’s one of the best drivers of the midfield after a tricky season so far.
The fight for the championship continues with another unexpected twist that makes for great box office entertainment. There’s always some crazy racing in Baku and 2021 didn’t let the side down.
Every race since 2016 has had a different winner, and what a way for this trend to continue! Fantastic stuff!
Jim Kimberley – “It’s going to be Red Bull’s championship to lose”
I would never wish to see a driver suffer a terrifying accident approaching 200mph. However, I’m so glad for the safety car appearance to spice up what was turning into a lacklustre affair. Yes, the opening laps saw Charles Leclerc tumble backwards from pole position. But any ‘real’ overtakes for the lead were in the round of pit stops. We want our passes on track!
That being said, it was great to see the shoe on the other foot with Red Bull, and not Mercedes, having two drivers out front for the strategic advantage. By all measures, Red Bull were the dominant team of the weekend and should’ve scored a 1-2 finish. If they keep this up, it’s going to be their championship to lose.
And an even louder shout out to Red Bull with the podium showing how important they are to our sport. All three drivers are in F1 now because of the energy drinks company in one way or another. Seeing Checo hugging the mechanics from his old team, and Fernando Alonso congratulating Sebastian Vettel post-race might’ve been my favourite moment of the weekend.
Who knows what it is about that long straight at Baku that gifts us so many dramatic moments. It’s a funny thought that the citizens of the city commute over what is some of the most troublesome tarmac on the F1 calendar.
Featured Image: Red Bull Media House