The Azerbaijan Grand Prix served up more drama in this roller coaster season which culminated in Sergio Perez winning his first race for Red Bull and the second of his F1 career.
With this win, Perez became the only driver to win a race this season other than the two championship contenders, Verstappen and Hamilton.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was one to forget for championship leader Max Verstappen and his arch-rival Lewis Hamilton as both drivers failed to score any points in the race.
This result meant that the driver’s championship battle was put on hold at the top, but with Perez winning the race and Valtteri also failing to score any points, Red Bull was able to extend its lead in the Constructors’ championship by 25 points.
Perez’s impressive win
Sergio Perez took advantage of his teammate’s misfortune and a mistake by Hamilton at the restart to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix from Vettel in second place and Pierre Gasly to round out an unusual podium after the race.
Sergio had driven brilliantly all weekend and looked well-positioned to fight for pole on Saturday and the win on Sunday.
The battle for pole would not materialize as a crash between Alpha Tauri’s Yuki Tsunoda and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz brought out the red flag just a minute before Qualifying was done.
This meant that none of the leaders would complete their second runs, so pole went to Charles Leclerc. Sergio qualified fifth.
Starting fifth would not deter the Mexican, however, as his impressive first stint saw him overtake Pierre and pole-sitter Charles Leclerc to run third behind his teammate Max and race leader at the time, Lewis Hamilton.
That would all change at the first round of pit stops as a slow exit from the pit box by Lewis gave both Red Bulls a chance to overcut the Mercedes when they stopped.
The overcut strategy worked for the Red Bulls and promoted them to first and second on the grid in front of the reigning world champion. However, Sergio had to keep a feisty Lewis Hamilton behind for the rest of the race.
That was no small feat as the world champion tried everything to get past Sergio to no avail.
That alone was impressive from Sergio and would have been a worthy drive had he finished second. However, catastrophe struck for race leader Max Verstappen who blew a tire on the run down the start-finish straight, which brought out a red flag.
This incident promoted Sergio to first place, and he had to fight off Hamilton at the restart to take the win. At the restart, Perez appeared to start slow, allowing Lewis to get alongside him on the run to Turn 1.
Lewis would have had first place had it not been for the brake failure that took him out of contention at Turn 1. This meant that Sergio Perez would lead Vettel and Gasly to the finish line and bag his first win for Red Bull.
Is Mercedes cracking under pressure?
While Red Bull impressed in Azerbaijan and at one point looked set for a one-two finish if it weren’t for Max’s tire failure, the Mercedes team appeared to capitulate under pressure.
Mercedes appeared to be unsure what the best setup was all weekend. They went with two different setups and rear wings for both their cars during Qualifying and the race.
Splitting the strategy like that meant the team was unsure of the best setup and simply hedged their bets with both cars. This race was the first time I can remember that Mercedes was this confused about how to proceed on a race weekend.
This confusion was brought in because nothing the team did made them faster than the Red Bulls. Surprisingly, they were even slow in the slow-speed corners, which were the key to their dominance in Barcelona a few races ago.
We can no longer deny that Red Bull has the fastest car this season. Perhaps the race wins taken by Mercedes at the beginning of the season were more a case of Red Bull taking time to understand their package and find their pace, and not due to outright Mercedes pace.
I believe that the most significant evidence of Red Bull’s current dominance is the fact that Mercedes decided to hedge their strategy, which did nothing but guarantee that they would only have one car fighting for points at the top and the other languishing at the back.
The desperate move from Lewis at the restart, which cost him second place in the race was very uncharacteristic of Lewis Hamilton, who always has a marathon (not sprint) mentality.
With Verstappen out of the race, Lewis had no reason to take that risk and fight for the win.
A second-place finish would have put him 14 points clear of Verstappen at the top of the standings and also reduced the damage done by Red Bull in the constructor’s championship.
The return of the daredevil mentality in Hamilton is evidence that Red Bull has them rattled.
Mercedes have not been under this kind of pressure in the hybrid era, and with the signing of Sergio Perez, Red Bull finally has someone that can challenge for race wins and give it two horses in the race for the constructors’ championship.
There are dark days ahead for the Silver Arrows this season.
Julius Kakwenzire is a self-confessed F1 addict. When he’s not getting emotional at the race track’s proceedings, he’s working on great fintech products at Lupiiya.