The Winners and Losers of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
For some, when it rains, it pours. But for others, the Baku City Circuit presented light relief at last. We pick out the winners and losers of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Winner: Valtteri Bottas
Baku held painful memories for Valtteri Bottas. The Finn looked to have conquered the chaos to secure victory and keep himself in the championship fight last time out in Azerbaijan, only for a puncture to rob him of a valuable points.
But he made no mistakes this time. In qualifying, he did the best job, utilising the tow on his final run and making the most of pole favourite Charles Leclerc crashing out to snatch pole position by the smallest of margins from Mercedes team mate Lewis Hamilton.
Then in the race, he overcame a cautious start, his slow China getaway still fresh in his mind, to race Hamilton side-by-side through the next three corners and bullishly retain the lead.
From there, he dictated the race from the front and absorbed the pressure when Hamilton closed the gap in the closing stages. In securing his second win of the season, to go along with two second places and a fastest lap, he reclaimed the championship lead from Hamilton by a point.
The Mercedes one-two – their fourth successive to start the year – saw the duo extend their race finish streak (which is currently the longest on the grid) to 16. All in all, a job well done.
What have Ferrari got to do to convert? Leclerc looked like the man to beat after practice and into qualifying in Baku. But an error at the tight Castle Turn 8 spat him into the barriers and he ultimately started the race eighth, courtesy of penalties for Antonio Giovinazzi and Kimi Raikkonen.
The Scuderia had brought their first major upgrade of the season to Baku, and with Leclerc driving at such a strong level, hopes were high for their first victory of the year. But while Leclerc showed immense pace on the medium tyres at the start of the race to at some point lead the field, his challenge faded after he stopped for fresh rubber.
He ultimately crossed the line fifth – a position he has finished in in three of the first four races this season. Vettel took a podium, but he lamented being uncomfortable in the car, particularly in the first stint on the soft tyres, and never really looked like he had the performance to challenge Mercedes and snatch victory.
The result means they drop 74 points – nearly three races wins – behind chief rivals Mercedes, though there are still 17 races to go. Plenty of head scratching to do back at Maranello HQ.
Winner: Carlos Sainz
Carlos Sainz appears to have settled in supremely well at McLaren this season and had three times come close to scoring points, including maybe even a podium in Bahrain. But in each of them, he failed to convert, while team mate Lando Norris shone with sixth at Sakhir.
But in Baku, he showed strong pace on Friday, and despite playing down their chances in qualifying, showed the speed necessary to get into the top 10 pole position shoot-out – only to have his hopes wiped out by a yellow flag on his final flying lap.
He more than made up for it in the race, mind, with the Spaniard climbing up two places to seventh and showing the pace to compete with Racing Point and Sergio Perez, who are somewhat Baku specialists.
He crossed the line to finish seventh, netting his first points since joining McLaren this season. It was the third time he had finished in the top 10 in Baku in as many visits, while together with Norris’ eighth, McLaren scored 10 points – their highest tally since the 2018 Bahrain Grand Prix – to move them up to fourth in the constructors’ championship. Chapeau.
Renault had such high hopes of closing the gap to Red Bull this season after finishing fourth in the constructors’ championship last term, but after the opening four races, they’re struggling even to head the midfield.
In Baku, both Daniel Ricciardo and Nico Hulkenberg couldn’t get comfortable with the car and lacked the confidence to really push. In the race, Ricciardo looked at times like he might edge a point or two, but his hard work was undone when he tried a lunge on Daniil Kvyat, forcing both to take avoiding action and slide down the escape road.
Ricciardo then erroneously reversed into Kyvat as he tried to escape quickly, causing damage to his car. The Australian ultimately retired as well as taking the blame for the incident. For Hulkenberg, points were never really likely, and despite feeling like he was driving at the best he could, he couldn’t extract the maximum.
As a result, Renault failed to score points for the second time in four races and face plenty of work to do if they are to first head the midfield and then take the challenge to the big three.
Winner: Sergio Perez
Sergio Perez has a love affair with Baku, the Mexican having scored two shock podiums in three previous visits, and hopes were high that he could make it three out of four if the another crazy race ensued.
There would be no repeat this year, but Perez outdid himself by qualifying a brilliant fifth. He then overtook Max Verstappen’s Red Bull at the start to run as high as fourth.
While he couldn’t maintain that speed, with Verstappen getting back ahead and the recovering Leclerc passing, too, Perez was able to hold the McLarens at bay superbly to finish sixth, his team’s best result of the year.
With an upgrade planned for the next race in Spain, like a lot of teams, Perez is hopeful he can use that and his Baku result to build some momentum for the remainder of the season.
Loser: Pierre Gasly
Three penalties that confined him to a pit lane start, pace in the race matched only by Charles Leclerc and then a mechanical failure that robbed him of points – this was quite the weekend for Pierre Gasly.
The Frenchman had taken huge confidence from sixth and the bonus point for fastest lap in China and that was clear when he hit the track in Baku. An error with the fuel-flow limit in qualifying excluded him from that session’s results, but that was after he set the quickest time in the first part of the session.
In the race, he fought his way brilliantly through the field from the pit lane and was on course to finish a comfortable sixth before a broken driveshaft forced him into retirement – his second non-score in four races this year.
Nevertheless, it was clear Gasly was more confident and comfortable behind the wheel of the RB15 this weekend and that bodes well for the upcoming races, particularly with Red Bull set to introduce an update in Spain.
Winner: Kimi Raikkonen
Kimi Raikkonen expected more than a point from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and probably would have put himself in the losers category this week. But we reckon his drive from the pit lane to 10th should be commended.
Raikkonen was set to start inside the top 10 and was tipped as a favourite by many for a big points score and possibly even a podium if Baku delivered another chaotic race, but he was forced to start from the pit lane when his Alfa Romeo failed a front wing deflection test.
From there, he made an early stop, swapping soft tyres for mediums and ran those for 44 laps, the longest stint of anyone in the race, going on to finish 10th and score points for the third time in four starts in Baku.
The Finn has been ruthlessly consistent so far this year, scoring points in all four races. That makes him the only driver from outside the big three teams – Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull – to do so, which really is quite a feat.
This was not Williams’ finest weekend. Already stuck with the slowest car on the grid, the iconic British team were immediately pushed onto the back foot when George Russell ran over a drain cover in first practice.
The damage was so significant, the Briton required a change of chassis, which meant Williams were now left without a spare. Hearts were in mouths, then, when Robert Kubica crashed heavily in qualifying.
Fortunately, he didn’t require a new chassis, but it did mean another rebuild for the Williams crew. Unfortunately, the team let Kubica get to the end of the pit lane too early ahead of the start of the race, which meant he picked up a drive-through penalty.
He and Russell showed consistent pace, but were rooted to the back of the field. They may have finished all four races with both cars, but they have so much to do if they are to close the chasm between themselves and the rest of the pack.
Winner: Antonio Giovinazzi
It might seem strange to name Antonio Giovinazzi a winner, considering he has now gone four races with Alfa Romeo without scoring a point. But he made a breakthrough in Baku.
The Italian was a match for team mate Raikkonen for the first time this year and would have started ahead of him, had he not incurred a grid penalty for an engine component change.
He battled bravely on race day, but got stuck in traffic in his first stint, and with the Safety Car not required this time around, Giovinazzi’s progress was limited. Still, 12th is fairly strong and bodes well for the future.
Haas’ tyre woes have been well documented this season, so it was no surprise to hear Team Principal Guenther Steiner admit that he expected a difficult weekend in Baku – and so it proved.
The American squad failed to get either car into Q3 for the first time this season and then struggled for performance throughout the race on Sunday.
Kevin Magnussen simply didn’t have the pace to compete for points while his team mate Romain Grosjean didn’t fare much better, with the Frenchman ultimately retiring with a brake issue, and continuing his record of never having scored a point in Baku.
“We need to react to be able to fight for a good constructors’ championship place,” said Grosjean. “I believe we’ve got the car for it, it’s just very annoying to have this underlying issue, which we believe is tyre related. Hopefully for Barcelona we can be in a better place.”