Perez wins on a day of shocks and surprises in Baku

06/06/2021
NEWS STORY

As we sat down to begin the intro to today's race report, we wondered what sort of mayhem we might witness over the next couple of hours.

After all, with the qualifying session alone accounting for four red flags, what chance of today's race passing by without incident.

And then, before the cars have even begun heading out of the pits, comes news that Mansour Ojjeh, a major driving force, along with Ron Dennis, of the team we know as McLaren, has passed away.

His death, coming days after the passing of Max Mosley and the anniversary of, team founder, Bruce McLaren's death, marks another significant milestone in the history of the sport as it heads into a new era.

No doubt Lando and Daniel will want to mark his passing with a strong result, as the team seeks to rediscover the sort of form it enjoyed in the golden era of the Dennis/Mansour days, when Woking effectively ruled the F1 roost.

Starting from ninth and thirteenth won't be easy for the pair, but having won from tenth a few years back, Daniel will know that nothing is impossible on the mean streets of Baku.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of yesterday's chaotic session, the fact is that Charles starts from pole, ahead of title protagonists, Lewis and Max.

While Ferrari appears to be emulating Mercedes annoying habit of insisting it is the underdog, all weekend the two red cars have been very much on the pace.

Based on Sainz' form and pace in Monaco, it is not impossible that Charles will convert his pole position into a win today, God - and the barriers - willing.

And then there's the big fight, Max and Lewis.

For once it really did appear that the Black Arrows were the underdogs, and then, from out of nowhere, Lewis produced a mega lap.

Having got through the single lap pace nightmare that was Friday, Mercedes will be feeling a lot more confident in terms of its long run pace which was right up there with Red Bull at the start of the weekend.

Consequently, in terms of Lewis and Max it's essentially mano a mano today, especially with their respective teammates starting a little further back.

As ever, the first lap will be crucial, and we know from experience - as recently as 24 hours ago - that Baku is an unforgiving track. Consequently, as the pair seek to despatch Charles to the lower region of the podium as soon as possible, it will come down to elbows-out racing and strategy.

Still smarting from its Monaco misery, Mercedes will be keen to make amends, while Red Bull will not be willing to release its grip on both championships too easily.

At a time their drivers are suggesting Toto and Christian should deal with the bendy wing saga by putting on some gloves and climbing into the ring, let's hope for a genuine street fight between the two title protagonists today.

As if that fight wasn't enough, the support card is looking pretty good also, with Pierre, Carlos, Sergio, Yuki, Lando, Fernando and Valtteri all eager to get in the mix, with Seb, Esteban and Daniel right behind.

Throw in the usual back of the grid battlers, who are joined by a frustrated Lance and you really have a recipe for... well, potential disaster, certainly on the opening lap.

While the wind is now not expected to be an issue, the lack of grip, overenthusiasm, sheer stupidity, frustration and those unforgiving, but oh so welcoming barriers, suggest that fans, as well as drivers, will need to remain alert throughout. We certainly don't expect this to be the same kind of borefest we were subjected to two weeks ago.

Those obliged to start on the softs - in other words, the Top 10 - are likely to use a soft-hard strategy, even though this gives much less flexibility in the pit stop window.

Another good option - which can be used by those outside the top 10 - is to use the mediums and hards, especially if we experience track temperatures in excess of 50 degrees.

If those are the tyres being used, it makes sense to start on medium and then move to hard: there's quite a wide pit stop window that leaves plenty of latitude for the timing of the pit stop and the pit lane penalty here isn't huge either.

On the other hand, there's a big probability of the safety car, as all the red flag stoppages in qualifying showed. If there's a safety car period this gives the opportunity for a 'free' pit stop, so starting on the softer and faster tyre could be advantageous. Unlike Monaco though, track position isn't absolutely everything here: it's very possible to overtake... just ask Daniel.

The pitlane opens and one by one the drivers head out. There's an early scare for Russell who almost loses the car as he tries to generate heat into his tyres. Elsewhere, Perez reports that his drink tube is leaking. There's also a little wobble in turn 16 for Ricciardo.

Air temperature is 25.3 degrees C, while the track temperature is 43.8 degrees.

Following the 'We Race as One' gathering, ahead of the National Anthem, there is minute's silence in respect of the late Max Mosley and Mansour Ojjeh.

Other than the top ten, Vettel, Ocon, Ricciardo, Schumacher, Mazepin and Giovinazzi start on softs. Raikkonen, Russell and Latifi are on mediums and Stroll on hards.

They head off on the warm-up lap. All get away cleanly though Schumacher is a little slow leaving his slot.

The grid forms, Stroll the last to take his place.

They're away! Into Turn 1 Leclerc has the lead while Hamilton has Verstappen covered. Behind, Perez gets through on the inside of Sainz, going on to pass Gasly heading into Turn 3.

Norris lost out to Tsunoda and Vettel in Turn 1, the German having made short work of Bottas coming off the line.

A great start sees Giovinazzi move up several places while Stroll gently kisses Schumacher's Haas.

At the end of lap 1, it's: Leclerc, Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Gasly, Sainz, Alonso, Tsunoda, Vettel and Bottas. Russell pits after picking up a possible puncture.

Courtesy of the tow, Hamilton passes Leclerc, who makes a mistake in Turn 15, as Verstappen also seeks a way past. Gasly posts the fastest lap (49.031).

At the end of lap 3, Verstappen takes a look at Leclerc as they head into Turn 1 but he isn't close enough.

Ocon drives into the pits, the Frenchman's day appearing to be over barely after beginning. The Frenchman reports that he lost power.

Lap 4 sees Hamilton go quickest as Leclerc remains just 0.7s behind, with Verstappen another 0.8s behind the Ferrari. Tsunoda is battling Vettel for 8th.

"Overtaking feedback on Bottas," Norris is asked. "Not easy," he replies, "you'll have to give me a chance."

At the end of lap 6, Verstappen finally gets past Leclerc as Tsunoda passes Alonso for 7th.

Having passed the Ferrari, Verstappen is 1.425s down on Hamilton. Game on!

"Hamilton is struggling with balance," Verstappen is told, as Perez sweeps by Leclerc.

At the end of lap 7, Alonso and Norris both pit. They rejoin in 16th and 17th respectively.

Hamilton now has both Red Bulls within 2.9s of his gearbox, Mercedes worst nightmare. Bottas is 15s behind in ninth.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Baku, here.

"We'll go to Plan A," Leclerc is told, "we'll try to pass Kimi at the back." Raikkonen is currently 12th.

"We need to push harder on tyres," Tsunoda is told. "Push harder, push flat-out." "Shut up," replies the rookie.

At the end of lap 9, Leclerc and Tsunoda both pit, as do Latifi and Mazepin.

All these pit stops by the way, are for hards.

Perez posts a new fastest lap as he closes to within 2.5s of his teammate.

Sainz pits at the end of lap 10, as Hamilton admits that he's struggling.

Norris and Alonso are battling for 13th.

Sainz is off at Turn 8 having had to use the escape road. Mercedes pits Verstappen, as Gasly also stops, along with Bottas.

It's a slow stop for Hamilton, the team having to hold him because there is another car approaching in the pitlane, who emerges 4th, 6.9s down on Vettel. Bottas rejoins in 11th.

Out front Verstappen posts a string of fastest sectors, the Dutchman subsequently pitting. He rejoins in third, 4.3s ahead of his title rival.

Like his teammate, Perez goes quickest in the first two sectors before heading into the pitlane. There's a slight issue with the rear but he still rejoins ahead of Hamilton.

Sebastian Vettel leads.

"How is he so far ahead of me," asks Hamilton.

On well used softs, race leader Vettel is still setting a strong pace.

As Verstappen posts a new fastest lap (46.192), Hamilton is all over Perez.

Sainz, now down in 14th, complains of "very poor grip".

Stroll is up to 5th, but like his Aston Martin teammate has yet to stop.

"Let's bring these tyres in gently," Verstappen is told, "it's a long stint."

Ricciardo passes Alonso for 11th.

"Pace is good, keep it up," Vettel is told. Indeed, his pace is very, very good.

Lap 16 sees a new fastest lap from Hamilton (45.675).

After 17 laps, it's: Vettel, Verstappen, Perez, Hamilton, Stroll, Gasly, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Norris and Bottas.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 18, the German rejoining in 7th, ahead of Tsunoda and only 3s down on former teammate Leclerc.

"I can't keep up in the middle sector," admits Hamilton.

Bottas is all over the rear of Norris, but like his Mercedes teammate, catching up is one thing, passing quite another.

This is what Red Bull has been looking for for the last couple of seasons, a driver to support Verstappen as and when necessary.

Further back, Sainz is battling Giovinazzi for 13th, as the Spaniard seeks to make up for his earlier mistake.

As Hamilton falls 2s behind, Perez posts a new fastest lap (45.616).

"I'm losing ground," reports the world champion.

"We're happy with everything at our end," Verstappen is told, "just keep focussed."

Bottas runs wide in Turn 16 in his efforts to keep up with Norris.

Mazepin spins at Turn 4, momentarily bringing out the yellows.

Red Bull had previously warned Verstappen about the tail-wind in that particular corner.

From out of nowhere, and despite his various issues, Hamilton ups his pace and posts a PB (45.620).

Sainz passes countryman Alonso for 12th.

As he moves aside for Hamilton, Mazepin is ranting at his engineer over his brake balance.

Vettel remains 1.1s down on Leclerc, the German driving a typically cool race.

"If you don't overtake we're going to finish tenth or ninth," Bottas is warned.

"Loss of power, loss of power," reports Gasly and as the team assures him that al is OK, Stroll crashes on the main straight.

The safety car is deployed as Stroll remains in his car. With debris strewn across the track, the Canadian climbs from his Aston Martin.

"Oh, wo, wo, wo," says Stroll following what was a very heavy crash, due, most likely, to a left-rear puncture.

Back in his garage, one of the first to comfort the youngster is his father, team owner Lawrence Stroll.

The field continues to follow the safety car around the track, the gaps between the drivers now negated.

"Restarts going to be difficult with these tyres," says Hamilton, "but it will be the same for everyone, I guess."

The pit lane is finally opened and Alonso is one of several drivers to take advantage, along with Giovinazzi, Russell and Schumacher. However, there's a problem with the front-left tyre for the Haas driver who has to be pushed back to his slot.

Alonso and Schumacher are now on softs, while Giovinazzi and Russell are on fresh hards.

As the safety car prepares to withdraw, Verstappen is warned that it will take a couple of laps to get his tyres up to speed.

They're away and Perez holds off Hamilton while Vettel passes Leclerc for 5th. At Turn 3 the Ferrari locks-up big time and almost runs into the back of the Aston Martin.

On the main straight, courtesy of DRS, Vettel seeps by Gasly to take fourth, leaving the German just 1.4s down on Hamilton.

Further back, Raikkonen has passes Bottas for 12th. Wow!

After 37 laps, it's: Verstappen, Perez, Hamilton, Vettel, Gasly, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Norris, Sainz and Ricciardo.

Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (45.218) as he climbs all over the back of Perez.

Meanwhile, Bottas has been passed by Giovinazzi and is running 14th.

Leading by 4.1s, Verstappen posts a new fastest lap (44.805).

Norris is all over the back of Tsunoda's AlphaTauri.

"I can't get any closer," reports Hamilton who is now 1.3s down on Perez, with Vettel 2.6s behind.

Lap 43 sees Perez post the quickest S2 so far, however, it is Hamilton who claims the new fastest lap (44.769).

However, a lap later, Verstappen responds with a 44.481.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Baku, here.

Oh dear, Verstappen has crashed.

"****, tyre," he reports, "****!"

Indeed, as was the case with Stroll it was a left-rear failure.

Told "we are still racing", Leclerc replies: "That's a joke, that's a joke, safety car straight away, why are we waiting?" Indeed, other than the stricken Red Bull the track is littered with debris.

As the safety car is indeed deployed, on-board replay shows there was absolutely no warning, Verstappen left a passenger as the tyre suddenly gave way forcing the Red Bull into the barriers.

"Tyre failure," asks Hamilton.

The race is red flagged with 48 laps completed, at which point Perez leads Hamilton, Vettel, Gasly, Leclerc, Tsunoda, Norris, Sainz, Ricciardo and Alonso.

As another replay shows Verstappen understandably kicking the offending tyre, on the pit wall and in the Red Bull garage every face is etched with disbelief.

On the pit wall Christian Horner is explaining to a shocked Helmut Marko that it was looking like a "tyre failure".

A radio message reveals Jonathan Wheatley calling on Michael Masi to red flag the race in order to allow all drivers to change their tyres having had no warning in terms of Verstappen's failure.

With 48 (of 51) laps completed, Michael Masi confirms the race will be restarted.

Meanwhile, various teams are complaining about other teams drivers not slowing sufficiently under the safety car. While at Williams, Latifi was told to stay our rather than follow the safety car through the pitlane.

Race control announces that the race will resume at 18:10 local time. It is unclear however if it will be a standing or rolling start.

For the restart, Vettel is the only driver who still has a set of fresh softs available.

It will be a standing start.

Though shown as 13th, race control announces that Latifi is 15th, so clearly he's been hit with a penalty for that safety car transgression.

Aware that his title rival is out, Hamilton makes clear that he is not going to take any risks. In other words, he'll settle for second, even third or fourth rather than risk not finishing at all.

"You've got to remember, this is a marathon, not a sprint," says the world champion.

Perez leads the field back on to the track for the second warm-up lap of the day.

Everyone is sporting softs.

The grid forms, however at the back Russell pulls into an escape road.

As they wait on the start lights, there is smoke pouring from the front brakes on Hamilton's Mercedes.

They're away! Perez and Hamilton are side-by-side off the line, the Mexican unsure whether to cover the Briton or Vettel. However, it's disaster for Hamilton, who goes straight on at Turn 1 after locking-up.

Perez leads Vettel, with Gasly third, ahead of Leclerc and Norris, while Alonso is up to 6th.

"I'm sorry guys," says Hamilton. "Don't sweat it," he is told.

Leclerc passes Gasly, but the Frenchman subsequently retakes the position.

As Leclerc tries to recover he comes under attack from Norris who has Alonso on his tail.

Perez begins his last lap, 1.8s clear of Vettel.

Perez takes the flag and immediately pulls to the side of the track. The Mexican climbs from his Red Bull which clearly has an issue.

Vettel is second, ahead of Gasly, Leclerc, Norris, Alonso, Tsunoda, Sainz, Ricciardo and Raikkonen.

Giovinazzi is eleventh, ahead of Bottas, Schumacher, Mazepin, Hamilton and Latifi.

"On the podium," laughs Vettel, "that's a wrap!"

Major celebrations at Aston Martin, for no sooner has Vettel gone to greet his team than race winner Perez joins him to greet his former teammates.

Well, while we began this by wonder what sort of race might unfold, we never expected it to turn out quite like this.

Indeed, thinking things over it's hard not to wonder if the late, legendary Mike Lawrence's Formula One Script Unit had a hand in things... has anyone seen Turk Thrust recently?

After all, not only do we have the two title protagonists fail to score, wev have Sergio Perez on the top step of the podium and Sebastian Vettel right beside him, not to mention another podium for Pierre Gasly.

Then there's Fernando Alonso, little Yuki Tsunoda and even Kimi scoring points.

We tweeted shortly after Stroll's huge crash that the fact he was able to walk away unscathed is a far more fitting tribute to the late Max Mosley than any minute's silence, while the fact both McLarens finished in the points is a nice way to honour Mansour Ojjeh.

This wasn't a great race, indeed it was somewhat processional. However, it had its moments, and what moments they were, moments of genuine shock and others of sheer joy.

However, moving forward, there needs to be a full and thorough investigation into what happened with those left-rear tyres, why it happened and how we can ensure it doesn't happen again.

For the podium ceremony, Verstappen takes a leaf out of Leclerc's (Monaco) book, and stands beneath with the team to applaud Perez' win.

No disrespect to the Dutchman - or Hamilton - let's savour a day when the 'good guys' came out on top.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Baku, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 06/06/2021
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