Who were the winners and losers of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

06-06-2021 19:15
Column
Who were the winners and losers of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

That's what Formula 1 is all about. The Baku City Circuit brought drama and danger galore, and it was quite simply a race for the ages. At a track that typically bursts into flames with action, think back to Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen's crash in 2018 and Charles Leclerc's "I am stupid moment" in 2019 qualifying, it delivered once more. After a qualifying session that brought out four red flags, the joint most in F1 history, the race had all the hallmarks of an absolute classic, with drivers daring to the very edge to extract every last millisecond of speed out of their respective cars.

With Ferrari's Leclerc securing a surprise second consecutive pole position on Saturday, it was down to the top two in the Championship to be the hunters, not the hunted this time around. The Monegasque's lead lasted less than two laps, and whilst it looked set for a Verstappen-Hamilton one-two, the eventual result was far from usual. 

You can check out our overall race report here, but who were winners and losers of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix?

Winner - Sergio Perez

Where else to start? The winner of the race is deservedly in our winners section for his performance in 'The Land of Fire' which saw him take home his first victory at Red Bull Racing, and just his second ever in his 199-race F1 career.

The Mexican struggled a little in qualifying, only starting the race in P6 because of Lando Norris' three-place grid penalty, but on a weekend in which he finally looked comfortable in his RB16B, he showed just why Red Bull choose him, not Alexander Albon, to partner Max Verstappen this year.

Albon never delivered a race win during his time at Red Bull, but just six races into his time at the Austrian team, Perez has achieved that feat. It may have come thanks Max Verstappen's unfortunate crash, but he was in the right place to pick up the pieces for Red Bull; their second driver finally performed on the biggest stage.

Having passed Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly on lap one, Perez began the charge to catch Leclerc and Hamilton ahead, passing the Ferrari through sheer pace, and the Mercedes by way of the overcut. 

Settling in P2, the race calmed down until first Lance Stroll and then Verstappen suffered left-rear punctures and collided into the wall on the main straight. Verstappen's incident brought out the red flag and from the restart, Perez was commanding, and victory was ensured.

Perez had scored two podiums in four races at the Baku track before this maiden Red Bull win, and with Valtteri Bottas and Mercedes struggling, this could be the launchpad for his season.

Winner - Sebastian Vettel

Seb is back!

15th, 15th, 13th and 13th was Sebastian Vettel's record at Aston Martin before the Monaco Grand Prix; far from impressive. However, around the principality he came home in a fantastic P5, before he shone around the streets of Baku on Sunday. 

His qualifying was hampered by Ricciardo's crash and he missed out on Q3 by just 0.029 seconds, meaning he started Sunday's race in P11. But, after clever strategy and immense speed around the circuit, he managed to climb his way through the field. He pitted 18 laps after everyone else and emerged sixth after the round of pit-stops.

After Stroll's crash, he jumped both Gasly and Leclerc and inherited third once Verstappen suffered his crash. Vettel used all his know-how from winning four world titles to cruise through the field on fresher tyres, and his new set of soft tyres worked wonders after the red flag restart.

With the likes of Stroll and Esteban Ocon not scoring, Vettel jumped into ninth place in the Drivers' Championship, ahead of former teammate Ricciardo, and with his form clearly on the up, he'll be looking forward to the next race at Circuit Paul Ricard.

Constructor Winner - AlphaTauri

After looking so promising in testing, AlphaTauri have somewhat struggled to get both cars firing this season. Sure, Gasly has qualified inside the top six on four separate occasions this year, but Yuki Tsunoda has been unable to keep up. That all changed in Azerbaijan and they finally finished with both cars in the top 10.

Gasly came in in an impressive P3 to secure his third F1 podium, whilst the Japanese driver Tsunoda finished in seventh, his highest ever finish in F1.

The team took home 21 points, the second highest of any constructor this weekend, and moved into P5 in the standings, clear of both Aston Martin and Alpine.

Their strategy was excellent, and it was a Sunday that almost couldn't have gone better for the Italian team. The question is, can they take this momentum to France?

Loser - Pirelli

We're changing up the loser category this week just simply due to the crazy nature of the race. The first 'loser' is Pirelli, not a driver. The company who supply the tyres for all F1 teams didn't get it right this weekend, and they've received plenty of criticism for it.

The hard compound tyre was supposed to last up to 40 laps, but both Stroll and Verstappen suffered punctures, whilst using that tyre, without much graining showing on the data.

Every team analyses data to the finest margin during a race, and yet neither Aston Martin nor Red Bull Racing noticed a problem with their tyres before suffering left-rear punctures which caused the two crashes. Both incidents occurred down the main straight and upon initial evidence, debris didn't play a role; the tyres simply exploded and meant Stroll and Verstappen went hurtling into the wall. Pirelli have come out and said that debris was a contributing factor, but a concluding decision on the cause hasn't been confirmed.

The Pirelli tyres have been a topic of discussion recently, and they'll need to reassess the tyres they choose to bring to France because a similiar incident simply cannot happen again. The crashes were caused by the Pirelli tyres and whilst both drivers were fortunately okay, it could've been extremely dangerous.

Constructor Loser - Mercedes

When thinking of two drivers for the 'losers' section, only two sprung to mind: Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. So with the two Mercedes drivers suffering on Sunday, I thought I'd combine them and put Mercedes as the losing constructor for this weekend.

The German team have reigned supreme in the sport over the past seven years, winning both the Drivers' and the Constructors' Championships in every year since Red Bull and Vettel were victorious in 2013. However, in the past two races, they have certainly taken a step back and that was on display in Baku.

They finished FP2 in P11 and P16, and whilst Hamilton recovered to qualify in P2, Bottas was down in 10th. Then, in the race, things were looking good at one point before it came tumbling away. Ignoring Bottas for a moment, Hamilton led the race at one stage, and once Verstappen crashed, he was on course to regain the lead in the championship. But, upon the red flag restart, he went too deep into turn 1 and was unable to brake in time to make the corner.

That mistake not only cost him P2, but it cost him a points finish of any description, and he finished the race in a lowly 15th. 

His teammate Bottas struggled all weekend, and after qualifying 10th, he never pushed on. Vettel qualified behind him and in a slower car managed to achieve a podium; it was a bad day at the office for the Finn.

After being fairly anonymous all race, the red flag restart really highlighted Bottas' flaws. He lost places to the likes of Antonio Giovinazzi, who started dead last, and ended the race down in P12.

With zero points scored, whilst Red Bull won the race, it was a woeful Sunday for Mercedes. The only solace they can take is that Verstappen also failed to score a single point. Moving onto Circuit Paul Ricard, they need to find their speed.

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