All GIFs/Images from Formula One Management/Liberty Media
Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Circuit: Baku City Circuit
Thanks to that 2.2km run down Neftchilar Avenue, Baku can lay claim as the fastest street circuit in the world, with Williams once clocking Valtteri Bottas at 378 km/h during Qualifying in 2016, and now with a tow and DRS, drivers can easily clear 360 km/h.
Duncraig Dan 2021, Chapter 6: WELL DONE BAKU
Two weeks after the boredom of Monaco, and once Valtteri Bottas’ right front tyre had been removed from his car, it was off to the shores of the Caspian Sea and the streets of Baku, a street circuit that despite a slow start in 2016, has provided us with some of the most chaotic and entertaining races in recent years, as the sheer chaos of 2017 and 2018 proved.
Of course, there was the major news that the Singapore Grand Prix has been called off, and immediately after Monaco, there was the news that former FISA & FIA President Max Mosley died at the age of 81, and pretty much everyone who watched Formula One during the mid 1990s to the early 2000s will remember Mosley’s often antagonistic tenure (1993-09), which included banning driver aids in 1993, the positive of mass safety reforms after Imola 1994, such as making the HANS device for drivers mandatory, being one of the few people who went to Roland Ratzenberger’s funeral instead of Ayrton Senna’s after Imola, promoting the European NCAP for road cars, leading the push to greener technology in cars, and trying to introduce a budget cap for F1 more than a decade before it finally came to fruition this year.
And, there was the things that made fans revile him, like selling all the commercial rights of Formula 1 to his lifelong friend Bernie Ecclestone for 100 years in 1995 at the expense of the FOCA, which ignited the long-running talk of breakaway series, helping extend tobacco advertising in F1 in the face of the EU, the crap about Ferrari International Assistance, the total failure of leadership at the 2005 US Grand Prix, and the McLaren-Ferrari ‘spying’ scandal of 2007, in which McLaren were fined $100m and kicked out of the Constructors’ Championship – The rumoured quote from Mosley (Which he claims was Ecclestone) was that it was $5,000,000 for breaking the rules, and $95,000,000 for Ron Dennis “Being a twat.”
And that doesn’t even mention his work at March Engineering and FOCA during the FISA-FOCA War of 1982, which is partly how all this started.
It does seem unfortunate that most people that don’t follow F1 will probably only remember Mosley for the fact that his father was the fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley, which left him with the lifelong black mark of being connected to Nazis and the Union Movement, and that subsequent Naxi sex orgy story with 5 women that the News Of The World published in 2008, which Mosley successfully took them to court over for a massive breach of privacy and the allegation of a Nazi death camp theme, which also started the butterfly effect that led to the Leveson Inquiry (Which Mosley gave evidence at), although it absolutely did ruin Mosley’s career, and led to the end of his FIA tenure.
Anyway, a bit of a ramble, but a key figure in the history of Formula One, for good or worse, has left us.
The Baku blitz began with a grand total of 4 red flags in Qualifying, tying the record from Hungary 2016 for the most in a Qualifying session.
The first came when Lance Stroll understeered straight into the Turn 15 wall on his first flying lap a mere 45 seconds into Q1:
Next up was Antonio Giovinazzi, who hit the EXACT SAME THING 5 minutes later to join Lance on the back row:
That incident wound up costing Lando Norris dearly, after he didn’t pull into the pits once the Red Flags started flying, although he was shown some small leniency by the FIA because he had next to no time to react.
Then after the rest of Q1 and most of Q2 proceeded without incident, our own protagonist Daniel Ricciardo finished off the session for everyone by going into the wall at Turn 3, ending another terrible Saturday for the Aussie to leave him 13th:
That also cost Sebastian Vettel a place in Q3 by 0.029s behind Fernando Alonso… Life ended up working out for Seb on Sunday thanks to that unfortunate miss.
And, it was only fitting that Qualifying would end with the record-tying FOURTH red flag, when Yuki Tsunoda joined the Turn 3 victims list after carrying way too much speed into the corner, and an unsighted Carlos Sainz had to slam on the brakes and hit the wall down the escape road quite hard, bringing Qualifying to an end.
So ironically, once again, qualifying ended with a red flag and Charles LeClerc on pole position (Thanks to getting a massive tow behind the Mercedes), although the Ferrari would actually start the race this time, Lewis Hamilton started 2nd, Max Verstappen just behind in 3rd, Pierre Gasly started 4th thanks to smuggling in a lap before everyone began their final runs, Carlos Sainz started 5th despite his accident, Norris wound up receiving a 3-place grid penalty and 3 penalty points for the Red flag incident, dropping him down to 9th, promoting Sergio Perez to 6th, Yuki Tsunoda to 7th, Fernando Alonso 8th, while Valtteri Bottas was stuck down in 10th.
Sunday morning delivered some very somber news for McLaren, as longtime team shareholder Mansour Ojjeh, who, through his company TAG, pretty much built the modern McLaren Group alongside Ron Dennis, died at the age of 68 after struggling for years with lung disease, having undergone a double lung transplant in 2013.
Ojjeh and TAG also sponsored Williams in the early 1980s when Alan Jones and Keke Rosberg won titles, before they went to McLaren after Ron offered him part ownership, which included branding the Porsche engines as TAG, and in case you are wondering, TAG did own TAG Heuer after they bought Heuer in 1985, before they sold it to Louis Vuitton in 1999.
On another note involving McLaren, I discovered the race was run 39 years to the day that John Watson came from 17th to win the Detroit Grand Prix, setting an F1 record for the lowest grid position to win a race, which Watson bettered the next year when he won from 22nd on the grid at Long Beach , which remains an F1 record that has stood the test of time.
Race (51 Laps)
At the start, LeClerc led from Hamilton, Verstappen and Perez, who climbed around the outside of Gasly and Sainz, while Norris dropped 3 places, which was briefly 4 after Ricciardo got ahead at Turn 2, but Lando was back ahead by Turn 3, as George Russell pitted at the end of Lap 1 to try and run the Hard tyres to the end of the race, which turned out to be a slight challenge, as two drivers brutally found out.
The first change for the lead came a lap later, as Hamilton didn’t even require the DRS to open up before he utterly crushed the Ferrari down the straight:
The first retirement of the race came on Lap 3, when 11th placed Ocon running in 11th pulled in to the pits after his turbocharger began machining itself to shreds, which also freed up Norris and Ricciardo to attack the Top 10.
Verstappen was the fastest car of the 3 leaders, but he wasn’t able to get close enough to attack LeClerc, who was keeping within DRS range and getting the tow from the Mercedes, with Perez just sitting in the background watching, but it finally changed when Verstappen passed the Ferrari on Lap 7, freeing the Red Bull to attack Hamilton.
Perez didn’t waste any time and followed Max with a pit straight pass to move into 3rd place, which really stacked the deck in favour of Red Bull against Hamilton, and further behind, Tsunoda passed Alonso for 7th, which was the sign for the Alpine to pit next lap alongside Norris.
LeClerc pitted at the end of Lap 9, Sainz stopped from 6th next lap, but his points position was lost when he locked up on cold Hard tyres at the Turn 8 runoff area, falling down to 15th!
Perez was flying in clear air as Hamilton began to struggle, and Mercedes decided to call the race leader in right as Sainz made his misadventure, but Lewis was made to wait for Gasly driving past, costing him a cheap 2 seconds and almost certainly the race lead if Red Bull did their standard 2 second tyre stop, while Bottas and Ricciardo also pitted.
Verstappen pitted at the end of Lap 13, and thanks to the Red Bull mechanics firing in a lazy 1.9 second stop, the Dutchman was comfortably in the effective race lead, and Perez fired in a superb in-lap on older Soft tyres before his tyre stop next lap, and the almost lost a certain 1-2 when the left rear change was slow, and almost undid his good work, but Perez had done enough, and he was into 2nd place and helping Max streak away!
Vettel lasted 18 laps on his Softs and returned back in 7th place, but staying out had also meant that he led a Grand Prix for the first time since Brazil 2019, and Aston Martin also led a Grand Prix for the first time as a Constructor.
Sitting in 10th, Bottas had tried for several laps to pass Norris as he targeted a Top 5 finish, but the Finn just couldn’t find a way past the McLaren down the straight, mainly thanks to Norris pulling out enough of a gap through Sectors 2-3 to push Valtteri out of DRS range, and a wobble at Turn 15 dropped him well and truly off and started allowing Ricciardo to make slight inroads, after the Aussie passed Alonso into 11th.
After the stops, the race began to settle down, with Mazepin going wide at Turn 4 on Lap 25 being the only incident of note as the second half of the race began, with Sainz picking his way back through the field after his error, passing Alonso for 12th on Lap 27.
However, just as Verstappen built up an 8 second lead, Pirelli were about to throw a hand grenade amongst the pigeons.
4th-placed Lance Stroll, the only driver who hadn’t pitted after starting on Hard tyres, suffered a high speed left rear tyre failure just before the DRS line on Lap 31, thankfully getting out unscathed, while Bernd Maylander’s Safety Car was deployed and the pit lane was closed due to the proximity of the crash.
That incident also made teams question if Hard tyres could make the distance, although Pirelli’s initial belief was that the blowout was caused by cuts on the tyre as a result of debis.
I reckon Michelin should’ve pulled that same line by default when they kept having blowouts at Indianapolis in 2005, instead of blaming it on inherent structural failure.
So the 8-second lead Verstappen had disappeared, Vettel in 6th on the fresher tyres was back in play, while the pit lane was re-opened on Lap 34, and Alonso stopped for Soft tyres, while Mick Schumacher had a botched stop when Haas didn’t properly attach the left front wheel, but thankfully Mick stopped just shy of the pit entry and was wheeled back to have it attached.
The SC peeled in on Lap 35, and while the Top 3 maintained position, Vettel grabbed LeClerc for 5th, and through the sea of lock-ups, Bottas was mugged by Sainz (Who got back in the points), Ricciardo and Alonso, then Kimi Raikkonen dumped him down to 13th!
The Vettel charge continued when he shot by Gasly into 4th place on Lap 36, and as crazy as it sounded, Seb had half a chance at catching Hamilton for 3rd!
As the field began to settle down once again, Verstappen, Perez and Hamilton kept exchanging fastest laps, Hamilton mainly thanks to the tow from Perez, but Verstappen would reclaim it without a tow, and Hamilton, try as he might, couldn’t pass Perez, whose rear tyres were going to be lucky to even make the end of the race, and it appeared Hamilton’s weren’t far behind based on the infographic.
Speaking of which, right as Sky were discussing tyre performance, on Lap 46, the crucial moment of the race unfolded…
MAX VERSTAPPEN’S LEFT REAR TYRE SUDDENLY FAILED ON THE START/FINISH LINE, AND A CERTAIN VICTORY, AND A RED BULL 1/2 WAS GONE.
Nico Rosberg noted how dangerous that pit wall is on his YouTube channel during the week…. holy crap, if Max had hit that wall, he would’ve ended up on an episode of Air Crash Investigations.
And the fact that drivers were still going at 230km/h in a double waved Yellow zone just added to it.
So in addition to pissing off Lawrence Stroll, Pirelli’s ineptitude managed to piss off Jos Verstappen, Helmut Marko and Dietrich Mateschitz in the same afternoon, so the company might not get a chance to investigate those failure if any of those four get near Milan in the next 2 weeks.
It took race control almost an entire lap to call the Safety Car out after the incident, and as a result of a conversation between Jonathan Wheatley of Red Bull and Michael Masi about tyre condition, the Red Flag was called on Lap 48 of 51, with everyone getting the chance to change tyres, negating the chances of another failure, and ironically, Vettel missing Q3 by 0.030s meant he now had the ONLY set of fresh Soft tyres out of the Top 8!
For the record, Sky F1 did broadcast that message:
Another replay showed that after the FIA issued the Red Flag, Williams stupidly told Nicholas Latifi to stay out, an act that earned him a 10-second stop-go penalty when the race resumed, while George Russell didn’t even make the restart as his gearbox finally gave up on the way to the grid.
So Lap 49 would be behind the Safety Car, then a standing start from the grid for 2 laps of balls to the wall Qualifying style racing, and with his front brakes smoking, Hamilton got a blinder of a start and was ahead of Perez into Turn 1, but as it turned out, Lewis must have fried those bloody things and failed to turn off the magic button, because in another Baku moment….
HE WENT STRAIGHT AHEAD INTO TURN 1 AND DROPPED OUT OF THE POINTS!
That moment gets even funnier when you hear Mark Webber sound like Goofy reacting to it on the Channel 4 broadcast:
As the fight raged on through Sector 1, Vettel got ahead of Gasly into 2nd, while it turned out in the melee for the final points place, Ricciardo got a light hit from behind by Giovinazzi while he was trying to pass Sainz, which cost Gio 10th place to teammate Raikkonen, while Bottas’ cock of a day got even worse when he got swamped down to 14th, ensuring Mercedes wouldn’t score a single bloody point.
So as the final lap began, the next place to be decided was the final spot on the podium between Gasly and LeClerc, with Charles getting the slipstream on Gasly and passing him before the start of the final lap, but the length of the pit straight ensured that Gasly was able to tuck back in behind and get a slipstream of his own, allowing him to reclaim 3rd into Turn 1, and LeClerc almost lost 4th to Norris, who had found his way up from 7th to 5th, but after a big struggle through Sector 1, the Ferrari cemented the place.
That slipstream action was like watching Moto3 on four wheels!
So as Baku delivered yet another crazy ending to a race, Sergio Perez took his first win for Red Bull, and it turned out he barely made the finish due to failing hydraulics, Driver of the Day Sebastian Vettel finished a fantastic 2nd for Aston Martin to claim their maiden podium in F1, in a rare instance of the team in 2nd being happier than the winners, Pierre Gasly did take 3rd for Alpha Tauri’s best result since their win in Monza last year, and oddly enough, all 3 drivers hadn’t finished on the podium this year, and had been dumped by their previous teams.
So thanks to the restart, Norris jumped from 8th to 5th, Alonso up from 10th to 6th, Tsuonda started and finished 7th, Sainz recovered to 8th, Ricciardo made up 4 place to 9th, Raikkonen bagged his first point of 2021, but the craziest part of all…..
NIKITA MAZEPIN FINISHED A RACE AHEAD OF LEWIS HAMILTON.
And we thought he wasn’t good enough.
By winning the race, Perez became the fifth different winner from 5 visits to Baku, and he also became the first driver to win races for multiple teams (Racing Point and Red Bull) in the Turbo Hyrbid era of F1 – Had Vettel won the race, he would’ve claimed the honour, and I have to think that Sergio’s performance was exactly what Red Bull have lusted from their second driver ever since Daniel Ricciardo left.
Perez set up the 1st Half of the race on his own accord with that superb first stint to set up what was looking like a 1-2 finish, then he was able to pick up the scraps after Verstappen’s accident, and it was looking like mixed emotions for Red Bull after they lost Max, given Hamilton was on course to take the championship lead while they extended their Constructors lead, but as it turned out, they tacked on another 25 points as Baku did its thing.
This also marks the first time since 1992 that Honda-powered cars have won consecutive races, when Ayrton Senna won in Monaco, and teammate Gerhard Berger won in Canada for McLaren Honda.
Of course, Seb’s 2nd place also extends his streak of finishing on the podium to 14 consecutive seasons, and when you include Michael Schumacher, this is the 30th consecutive season in which a German driver has finished a race on the podium, stretching back to 1992, although the United Kingdom is still well clear on 41 consecutive seasons and counting.
As many news outlets have noted, this race absolutely marks the end of Lewis Hamilton’s record points-scoring run, which they have stated lasted 54 races, which doesn’t include the Sakhir Grand Prix that he missed last year, which would mean it actually ended at 48 races, while Mercedes’ run of 55-consecutive points finishes is over, finishing tied for the 4th longest in history:
Unsurprisingly, most of those streaks have occurred in the era of Top 10 cars in the points, rather than the old Top 6 and Top 8 systems, and in a time when reliability is a space age better than decades past, which goes to show utterly amazing Ferrari’s Schumacher-led run was between 1999 and 2003, given all bar 2 of their 55 straight points finishes were in the old Top 6 era, and they finished on the podium for a record 53 consecutive races.
It was also the first time both Mercedes cars have finished a race outside of the points without a mechanical failure since the 2012 US Grand Prix – Michael Schumacher and Nico Rosberg were still driving for them.
To state the obvious, much like a pair of Pirelli left rears, they’re shattered.
Next up: The French Grand Prix at Paul Ricard in a fortnight!