The 2021 Formula 1 title battle took two dramatic swings in the span of half an hour in Baku, on a weekend that always looked like it was going to change the championship picture – only to leave Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in the same position they were coming in.
From the pair of surprise non-scorers to the drivers who made up one of F1’s more unusual podiums in the past few years, we select our winners and losers from the Azerbaijan GP.
The podium was really just the icing on the cake. The significant news was that it confirmed what Monaco had suggested: that ‘old’ Vettel is back.
He looked every inch a multiple world champion in the pace and control he demonstrated throughout the Baku weekend.
After qualifying the Aston well – only the Q2 red flags denied him a real shot at Q3 – he maximised its good tyre usage, staying out long, judging his pace perfectly so as to make the overcut work again.
He was great on the restarts and kept out of trouble when it would have been easy to find it. There was an assurance about him once he was back in the sort of position he used to habitually be in. – Mark Hughes
Gasly is now up to a pretty remarkable three podiums with his current team, and was good value for one all throughout the weekend, making the most of a happier AT02.
Yes, much like with his Interlagos podium or Monza win it won’t have been possible without a drama for Lewis Hamilton, but Gasly held up his end of the bargain by impressively fighting off Charles Leclerc in the final two laps.
Rookie team-mate Yuki Tsunoda was good, too, albeit got beaten up a bit on the restart, and their combined results in Baku will go a long way towards banishing the frustration of AlphaTauri’s under-par start to the season. – Valentin Khorounzhiy
The final restart was perfect territory for street-fighting Alonso. He put the Alpine in all the right places and with that uncanny racecraft of his vintage years, he made up four places in that wild final restart.
Up until then, his Alpine had sunk down to its natural level, which he’d transcended a little in qualifying thanks in part to the help of the Q2 red flag.
But all weekend he appeared to have a small but significant pace advantage over Esteban Ocon. That’s arguably the first time in his comeback races that has been the case.
This was vintage Alonso on the same day we saw vintage Vettel. – Mark Hughes
He was literally the winner but the value of this victory is so much deeper than that. The message from Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said it all: “Thank you”.
With Verstappen robbed of victory by a tyre blowout, Sergio Perez inherited the lead – but the prospect of a standing restart with Hamilton alongside wasn’t the most attractive one.
Hamilton actually got the better of Perez at the start so Perez could have done a better job there. But he was in a position to force a mistake and that’s exactly what Red Bull need him to do.
Perez didn’t get into this position just by chance. He’d qualified poorly after a mistake at Turn 4, but raced excellently and was second to Verstappen on merit, having rebuffed Hamilton’s earlier attacks.
He says he feels more at one with his car now. This was everything he could have hoped for to vindicate that claim. – Scott Mitchell
From the agony of being robbed of a certain first one-two in nearly five years and thinking the championship lead was lost (through no fault of its own), through a few seconds of thinking the situation was going to be even worse, to coming away with a victory after all and seeing the big rival throwing it all away… it was quite a half-hour for Red Bull at the end of the Azerbaijan GP.
Yes, there’s a negative: Verstappen should have won this race with Hamilton in third, gaining more points on his title rival rather than the stalemate they ended up in.
But the positives are still huge: comprehensively faster than Mercedes all weekend and Hamilton scoring zero.
And maybe best of all – Red Bull can now be very confident it’s got a ‘number two’ who can charge forward in a race, wingman a one-two and pick up the pieces and win when the team leader is indisposed. – Matt Beer
Shortly before the cars left the pitlane for the standing restart, Hamilton said over the radio how important it was to remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. He’d just asked about whether he would have the overtake mode for the first lap and was told no, because of the battery derate it would cause.
Everything about Mercedes’ preparation for the restart indicated Hamilton wouldn’t be taking a risk given Verstappen’s exit. But then he got the jump on Perez and it looked like he got carried away, braked too late, and flew into the run-off error.
So much for ‘it’s a marathon, not a sprint’. Except, it seems like Hamilton’s actual error was striking a button that overrode his brake balance settings and that is what caused the massive lock-up.
Either way, it’s a mistake. Perhaps not the crumbling under pressure it looked, but a mistake. And a costly one. Hamilton knows the value of every point and a big swing against Verstappen went missing today. – Scott Mitchell
There have been some rumblings of an underlying fault with Valtteri Bottas’ W12 this weekend, and if Mercedes does find something post-race then it’ll change the picture.
But as it stands, the picture is impossibly bleak. Bottas was somewhat unlucky in qualifying, but he was fully incapable of making the kind of progress you know Hamilton would’ve made from that grid position, and suffered the ignominy of both being passed by an Alfa Romeo and running only just ahead of George Russell’s Williams.
Either they find something really major in their analysis at Brackley, or Mercedes’ 2022 decision has just got much easier. – Valentin Khorounzhiy
Verstappen may leave Baku the most relieved of anybody.
Losing 25 points and gifting title rival Hamilton three extra points was bad enough. Seeing Hamilton able to take a standing restart second was worse. Watching Hamilton get the jump on Perez must have made his heart sink…
Somehow, he still leads the championship. But it can’t be overlooked that he had this race won. He’d perhaps been slightly fortunate that Hamilton had to wait at his pitstop, but he’d also smashed his in-lap. In all likelihood, he’d have won track position anyway.
It’s premature to say what caused the tyre blowouts behind Lance Stroll and Verstappen’s huge accidents, so we cannot be certain whether the tyres weren’t up to the task at hand or Pirelli was unlucky with debris.
But in terms of immediate perceptions, that almost doesn’t matter. Pirelli has been under almost incessant pressure from drivers, teams and fans since it became F1’s sole supplier. Baku 2021 is going to – yet again – escalate that even more. – Matt Beer
Fourth place was Ferrari’s stated pre-race target, so it was job done in that regard, and it’s probably a haul of points the Scuderia will have happily taken if offered on Thursday.
But compared to what looked possible on Saturday, it’s a distinctly underwhelming return – not so much because Leclerc slipped from pole to fourth in the opening laps, but because an Aston Martin and an AlphaTauri were allowed to get ahead.
On Sainz’s side, too, considering he intimated he was in with a shout of pole before Saturday’s red flag, eighth is pretty poor – although he probably would’ve signed for it then and there as he sat in the Turn 8 run-off area. – Valentin Khorounzhiy