Latest outlook on the Baku race
By: Mikey McGuire
The Formula One grid moves from one tight street circuit to another this weekend with their return to Azerbaijan’s capital Baku. Baku has been on the calendar since 2016 and is known for producing some stellar racing despite its unforgiving narrow barriers and tight corners. The 2021 race around Baku was particularly dramatic. From catastrophic tire failures to magic break failures, Baku kept fans on the edge of their seats last year. Coming off a win around Monaco, Max Verstappen boasted a four-point championship lead over close rival Lewis Hamilton as practice got underway in Baku.
Red Bull was the clear favorite after both drivers topped the Friday practice session while Mercedes struggled to make it into the top 10 for both cars. The unsavory results for the Brackley outfit did not last however as Hamilton netted a P2 in qualifying the next day. Hamilton shared the front row with Charles Leclerc who took his second consecutive pole position. Behind him seethed his championship rival Verstappen in P3, who was notably frustrated with his performances.
The race got underway the top three remained unchanged but Red Bulls Sergio Perez overtook Pierre Gasly and Carlos Sainz to slot in directly behind his teammate in P4. Hamilton would take the lead on lap 3 which he would retain until the pit stop cycles. Perez found himself in the lead when the pit lanes sprung into action until he himself would have to pit, briefly giving Sebastian Vettel top honors.
The first major incident of the race took place on lap 20 when Vettel’s Aston Martin teammate suffered the first of two major tire failures of the day. When the Aston was carted off the track and Stroll walked away from the scary incident, the race resumed. As the laps continued to count down it looked like Verstappen was going to cruise to a commanding victory, until those expectations came to a sudden and catastrophic end.
On lap 46 of 51, Verstappen left rear tire failed, throwing him into a spin and into the barriers. He was out of the race and the red flag flew. His teammate inherited the lead and the race was red-flagged. The race started from a standing grid start, with Perez in the lead and Vettel and Gasly behind, Hamilton went to make a move on the outside of turn one but suffered a break issue that sent him into the runoff.
Dropping to 15 Hamilton was well out of the points in a crucial opportunity to bring in a good haul and take the championship lead. Perez topped the podium for the first time in a Red Bull fire suit with Gasly and Vettel both netting surprise podiums.
Hamilton’s brake failure in Baku is often seen as his biggest missed opportunity in a season that would see him lose the championship by half a lap and some dodgy officiating. Often looked back upon as a highlight of a spectacular season of Formula One, Baku 2021 will no doubt go down as a classic of the decade.