Red Bull ran riot in Baku as both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc suffered mechanical failures, while George Russell snatched third ahead of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton
Carlos Sainz was forced to retire after just eight laps before Charles Leclerc suffered an engine blowout which curtailed his chances before the half-way mark of the race in Baku. It left both Red Bulls with the simple task of cruising to the chequered flag, with Verstappen facing little competition from team-mate Sergio Perez who finished second but a long way behind.
In the absence of the Ferraris, it was George Russell who completed the podium despite driving a Mercedes car which suffered a lot with porpoising on the long straight of the Baku street circuit. He was a long way ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton, who secured fourth with an overtake of the impressive Pierre Gasly in the final few laps of the race.
Perez was told by his race engineer to “get his elbows out” heading into the first corner of the race, and that’s exactly what the Mexican did. Leclerc locked up his front left wheel as he tried to turn in, and through went the Red Bull as he took control of the race early on.
Almost immediately the Ferrari driver was under pressure from Verstappen, though he fared better at keeping the Dutchman at bay. Even with the help of DRS down the long straight, he was not able to get quite close enough to Leclerc to attempt to move past in the opening few laps.
Sainz had been dropping back from the battle a little, and things got even worse when he pulled into the run-off area at Turn 4 on lap nine and told his race engineer: “Something failed”. The resulting virtual safety car saw the team pull Leclerc in for a very early change of tyres, as Ferrari gambled in the face of losing one of their two cars.
Sky Sports F1)
After 15 laps Verstappen got close enough to Perez to pull off a clean move on his team-mate to take the lead in the race. Meanwhile, Leclerc was taking advantage of the battling Red Bulls to move ever closer to them. It took less than a lap for Verstappen to open up a three-second gap at the front, with the Mexican struggling for grip.
And Perez’s problems got worse with a slow pit stop, after which Verstappen came in with a much cleaner change of tyres. The Dutchman re-emerged ahead of his team-mate, though both were trailing Leclerc after 20 laps.
But that would not matter as Leclerc’s engine failed just a lap later, meaning both Ferraris were out of the race before the halfway mark. It left the two Red Bulls unchallenged to secure a 1-2, with only a mechanical failure of their own likely to deny them a massive points haul.
Sky Sports F1)
The other big beneficiary was Russell, who found himself running in third with a massive gap to his next nearest competitor Gasly. Hamilton was also sitting pretty in fifth, though he was far less comfortable – literally – as he complained over the radio that porpoising was “killing” his back.
Meanwhile, Ferrari’s power unit problems were laid bare even further by more retirements from other cars powered by the Italian constructor. The desperately unlucky Zhou Guanyu was forced to stop again, while Kevin Magnussen also suffered a big plume of smoke coming from the back of his Haas.
Yuki Tsunoda looked like the next man who would be forced to retire when it became apparent that the DRS system on his rear wing had somehow broken in half. He was called into the pits after being shown a black and orange flag, but instead of stopping his race the AlphaTauri mechanics used gaffer tape as a makeshift solution.
With just a few laps to go Hamilton made the move he needed for Mercedes to take maximum advantage of Ferrari’s failures. Gasly had held him off well for several corners, before being told not to bother fighting too hard by his team as they were very happy to take fifth.
It meant a good weekend for the British drivers, with Russell and Hamilton third and fourth while Lando Norris was also in the points. Daniel Ricciardo will also likely be pleased, scoring points for just the second time this season as he faces more and more pressure to perform from McLaren.
And Sebastian Vettel also secured a superb result, with sixth place bringing big points for Aston Martin after a tough start to the year for the team. It might have been even better, had he not lost valuable seconds earlier in the race when he had to abort an overtake of Esteban Ocon and head briefly into a run-off area.