BAKU, Azerbaijan – Just when it appeared Max Verstappen had the Formula One field covered during Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, everything changed.
A flat left-rear tire with five laps left caused Verstappen to crash, allowing his teammate Sergio Perez to score an unexpected victory at the Baku City Circuit.
Verstappen had taken command of Sunday’s race after a cycle of pit stops early in the race, using the undercut to overtake reigning Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton.
Once in front Verstappen proved to have the best car in the field as he was easily able to stretch out his lead over Perez, who also jumped Hamilton during the early pit stops.
However, just as Verstappen was rocketing down the main straightaway with five laps left his left-rear tire failed and he careened wildly before crashing into the right-side wall. It was the second left-rear tire failure of the race as Lance Stroll also crashed on the front straight earlier in the race.
Officials displayed the red flag to clean up Verstappen’s wrecked Red Bull, sending the field into the pits where teams bolted on new tires. Perez was now the leader, with Hamilton in second and Sebastian Vettel in third after starting 11th.
The cars were re-fired and with two laps left officials ordered a standing restart. Hamilton was able to get the jump on Perez as they roared towards the first corner, but he locked up his brakes and completely missed the corner.
Hamilton ended up in the runoff lane as Perez easily made the first corner with Vettel now in second and Pierre Gasly suddenly in third with polesitter Charles Leclerc and McLaren’s Lando Norris in hot pursuit.
With Hamilton now out of the picture, Perez was able to hang on to earn his second Formula One victory and his first since joining the Red Bull program.
“First of all I’m very sorry for Max because he did a tremendous race. He really deserved the win,” Perez said. “It would have been incredible to get that one-two for the team, but at the end it is a fantastic day for us. We were close to retiring the car, but luckily we managed to finish the race.”
Vettel scored his first podium since joining Aston Martin with his runner-up finish. It was also the first podium finish for Aston Martin since the brand rejoined the Formula One grid.
“Obviously it’s been a tough start for us. I think it was a great race. We had good pace, that was the key obviously. I had a good start and made some positions (up) straight away then looked after my tires,” Vettel said. “As soon as everybody went to the pits I had really good pace to overcut.
“A great day. I’m over the moon. I think this, for the team, is great. Obviously a podium, we didn’t expect that when we came here.”
Gasly was able to hang on to the final spot on the podium in third, with Leclerc fending off Norris for fourth. Fernando Alonso came home sixth for Alpine, followed by AlphaTauri rookie Yuki Tsunoda, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz Jr., McLaren’s Daniel Ricciardo and AlfaRomeo’s Kimi Raikkonen.
With Verstappen and Hamilton both failing to score points, Verstappen retained a one-point advantage in the Formula One championship standings.