If I had one word to describe that race I watched, that’s what I’d use.
What the heck did we just witness? That was one of the craziest races I have ever seen, and I’m sure you’d agree. I really can’t sum it up in a sentence, so let’s just dive straight into it.
I can’t wait for this one.
War At The Front
Thanks to the power of the tow, Charles Leclerc was able to put his Ferrari on pole with a lap that even he considered subpar. Lewis Hamilton was in 2nd, with Max Verstappen to keep him company as usual. The five lights came on, went out, and away they drove.
Leclerc led the first couple of laps, doing a good job to keep Hamilton behind. But once DRS was enabled, the straight line speed of that Mercedes, plus the tow of Leclerc was enough to shoot Hamilton into the lead of the race. Leclerc held onto 2nd for a bit, but Verstappen with the quicker car and pace advantage quickly took that away. Sergio Perez was the next driver in line to swallow up Leclerc, and brought himself into podium contention.
Do I feel bad for Charles? Of course, but when we look at the data, you and I both knew this race was between Mercedes (well, technically Lewis), and Red Bull.
Hamilton kept the lead, having to drive quite a bit harder to keep the chasing Red Bull of Verstappen at bay. And it was far from easy, since he described the car as being “on the nose”, suffering from oversteer in certain parts of the race. The time came where his Soft tyres ran out of life, and he headed into the pits for his stop. All four tyres came off this time, and he was ready to exit, but the team had to wait for Pierre Gasly to come through, costing him 2 extra seconds as a result.
Because of those 2 seconds, Verstappen and Checo were able to pit and come out ahead of Hamilton, thanks to the unmatched pit stop speed of the Red Bull mechanics. The three leaders all had on Hard tyres, and they began their fight to the end of the race.
Verstappen had a very comfortable lead out in front, while Hamilton was struggling to get past Checo. His Mercedes had the speed to catch him on the straight, but Checo and his Red Bull were so quick in the middle sector, that Hamilton started to lose ground on him. For him to get past Checo, he needed the gap to disappear as soon as possible.
Which sounded like the perfect job for the Safety Car.
A Very Strange Accident
On the fastest corner on the track, Lance Stroll got a puncture on his rear tyre, lost control of his Aston Martin, and collided with the barrier at a dangerous amount of speed. He was badly shaken up and scared, but thankfully, he was okay.
It was an interesting accident, because from what we know, there was no debris his car ran over, and his Hards were only 30-ish laps old. I know it was at the fastest section of the track, but still, it’s rare to see the most durable tyre this weekend give out like that.
Once the debris was cleared, and Stroll’s car was removed, it was time to get racing once again.
The War At The Front Pt. 2
With the gaps between the cars now nonexistent, Verstappen and Checo’s advantage over Hamilton was gone, giving the defending champ another chance at a move. Before the restart, the two Red Bulls did what I’m calling a “tyre warm-up dance”, and swerved in opposite directions before reaching the start/finish line. Hamilton paid no attention to it, and carefully watched Verstappen to see when he would go. At nearly the last second, he did, and the race was underway. Max was comfortably ahead, but Checo was being pressured by Lewis, who was determined to grab second place and bring the fight to Max. He covered off the inside going into Turn 2, and did the same thing into Turn 3, making sure he would not get jumped by Hamilton.
To be honest, that was all the defense he really needed to do.
Sure, Lewis got another chance at him on the main straight, but that Red Bull is so quick in the middle sector, any time he gained on Checo would promptly be lost. It really looked like a Red Bull 1-2, with Max extending his championship lead, and Checo grabbing third in the Driver’s.
No one expected what happened next.
It does not matter if you are a Max fan or not, this was crushing.
On the main straight, history made a cameo appearance, as Max suffered the same tyre failure that Lance did earlier in the race, colliding with the barrier at over 300 km/h. Retiring, and out of the points, he lost his chance to extend his lead over Hamilton.
I have several questions for Pirelli, as I’m sure the teams and you do too. First of all, why did you bring the softest compounds to Baku? Second, was this from debris or just tyre failure? And third, why did it happen twice? With all these unanswered questions, and the safety of the drivers at stake, Red Bull team member Jonathan Wheatley requested the FIA to Red Flag the race and allow the teams to put on fresh tyres, to eliminate the risk of further accidents after tyre failure.
Well played Red Bull. Safety first.
Perez vs Hamilton. Fresh Soft tyres. 2 laps of racing. Once again, it was lights out and away they went.
Hamilton got a better start than Perez, with the inside line going into Turn 1. Perez moved over to cover him off, but Hamilton was still a tiny bit ahead. They approached the braking zone, side by side. Who was gonna come out in front? Who was gonna be latest on the brakes?
Hamilton had a massive lock-up into Turn 1, converting his race from a potential win into utter disaster.
And according to him, it happened because he hit the wrong button.
Mercedes has a setting on their cars called “brake magic”, that allows them to adjust the brake bias to get an immense amount of heat into their tyres during slower laps.
Make no mistake, there was nothing magical about this.
Lewis thought he turned it off at the race start, but evidence showed otherwise, as he shot off into the runoff area, saying goodbye to his points finish and chance at a championship lead.
It was a small, but costly mistake that you know Lewis will be kicking himself over. And whether you like it or not, it’s only one race. There’s plenty of time left in the season, and now, we have a much closer battle for the championship. Max and Lewis are really going to bring out the best in each other come the end of the season.
What A Finish
This is a tie with Monaco for my favorite podium of the season.
Sergio Perez, making no mistakes and coming home to take his first win with Red Bull.
Sebastian Vettel, keeping up with the leaders to claim 2nd.
And Pierre Gasly, who held off Charles Leclerc in the final laps of the race to cap off an incredible weekend.
Three drivers, rejected and cast aside by their former teams, proving everyone wrong and sharing a podium. Absolutely incredible end to a race, keeping us guessing on every lap.
Mazepin & Schumacher Incident
You might not have seen it, but at the end of the race, Nikita Mazepin and Mick Schumacher had a battle on the last lap of the race. Mick tried to make a move on the main straight, but Nikita covered him off in a very dangerous move. Mick was understandably upset, and briefly swore at Mazepin, before his engineer calmed him down, knowing better than to point fingers and call out the boss’s son.
Of course, Mick was in the right, what Mazepin did was incredibly risky and he deserved to be called out, but money talks in F1, and it’s a shame that Mick and his engineer can’t say what they want about Mazepin’s actions.
Verstappen and Hamilton still even in the championship. Perez getting a grip on his Red Bull. Vettel coming back to form. And Gasly fighting near the front? So much came out of this race today, and our emotions went up and down on about every single lap. Well done Baku, yet again it’s delivered us a race to remember.
Will Vettel keep up this pace? Will Lewis and Max continue to battle it out? And will Pirelli figure out what the heck happened to their tyres? Hopefully our questions will be answered come France, but let me know what you think by shooting an email, sending a message, or just leaving a comment down below, because as always, I love hearing from you!
I’ve been Miles Stewart, and if you liked this post, make sure you join our newsletter below so that you never miss an update. I’ll see you in the next one, take care!
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Cover Image Source: Racefans.net