Perez wins Azerbaijan GP after dramatic race ends to Verstappen and Hamilton

A dramatic late tyre failure for Max Verstappen meant that Sergio Perez took an unlikely second race victory, winning from Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly as Lewis Hamilton out braked himself into the first corner on the final lap restart.

Having taken the lead of the race from his Mercedes rival during the critical first pit stops, Verstappen looked for all money to be heading for a second successive victory until his Red Bull snapped right into the wall laps before the end of the race.

It looked like a sudden delamination of his right rear tyre, the hard compound Pirelli having been fitted on lap 13 of the 51 lap race. A precursor of things to come, Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin suffered an identical failure on lap 31.

Following a ten-minute hiatus, racing resumed with Perez leading Hamilton away from the lights for a one lap shoot out. And with Hamilton’s brakes smoking, the Englishman made a rare mistake, going for the lead but out braking himself into the first corner and into the runoff zone and out of contention.

“I am so, so happy for today,” commented a victorious Perez afterward, the Mexican winning his second grand prix after his 2020 Sakhir GP win. “Normally Baku is pretty crazy. I first of all have to say sorry for Max because he did a tremendous race and he really deserved the win. It would have been incredible to get that 1-2 for the team but at the end it is a fantastic day for us. We were close to retire the car but luckily we managed to finish the race.”

It was the Ferrari of Charles Leclerc who had started from pole position, the Monegasque starting in prime position for the eighth time in his career following a difficult 2020 season for the Scuderia.

But it was not long before Hamilton took the lead, easily sweeping past the Ferrari on the long home straight on the second lap of the race. Despite Leclerc taking pole, the race always appeared to be a battle between the two at the top of the drivers’ standings, Verstappen also passing Leclerc on lap 7 and setting about his rival with the sister Red Bull of Perez also passing the Ferrari.

With Hamilton seemingly struggling with the balance of his Mercedes, Verstappen further closed the gap leading up to the all-important pit stop in what would be a one-stop race.

Leclerc was the first of the big hitters to roll the dice, diving into the pits on lap ten for a fresh set of hard compound tyres, followed by the Alpha Tauri of Yuki Tsonoda. But all eyes were on the leaders, Hamilton pitting under the yellow flag on lap 12 when Carlos Sainz ran wide into the escape road.

It was a slow stop for the defending champion, with Mercedes having to wait for Gasly to come into the pit lane. A lap later, it was Verstappen’s turn. And it was a typically slick stop from Red Bull, Verstappen emerging in the net lead of the race and with Perez wonderfully placed to act as a buffer between his teammate and Hamilton.

With just under a third of the race gone, it was advantage Red Bull and seemingly only misfortune could deny the Dutchman a third victory of the season. And Hamilton appeared to have just that lifeline on lap 31 when the Aston Martin of Lance Stroll crashed heavily into the barriers at on the straight following a left rear tyre failure.

It was a relief when Stroll emerged unscathed, and when racing resumed Hamilton was that much closer to his quarry but with only 15 laps of the race remaining. And with none of the leaders opting to pit for fresh rubber, it meant a straight dash to the chequered flag.

And it was one that Verstappen appeared to have in the bag until lightening struck again, meaning another halt to proceedings as the debris from the Red Bull was cleared from the track. All cars were allowed a final change of tyres.

Still the drama was not done, Hamilton locking up and going straight on at the escape road and out of contention. It promoted Vettel to second and Gasly to third as Leclerc recovered to fourth by the finish ahead of Lando Norris, Fernando Alonso and Tsunoda as Carlos Sainz, Daniel Ricciardo and Kimi Raikkonen rounded out the top ten.

“I had a poor start and he was alongside me,” added Perez. “I broke as late as I possibly can and he did the same. It didn’t work for him and it’s a good day for the team.”

As far as the championship standings are concerned, it’s pretty much as we were, with Verstappen holding on to that narrow lead over Hamilton. But the repercussions will no doubt continue for some time, with fingers pointing at Pirelli and why exactly should two tyre failures occur on the pit straight and on the hardest wearing of compounds.

Fraser Masefield

Sports news and features writer, web editor and author.