Azerbaijan Grand Prix April 28, 2019
4th two-horse win for Mercedes
Valterri Bottas stole his second win for this season in Round 4 of 21. This marked the Finn’s first victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where he also competed during its inaugural race in 2017 and finished second. His teammate Lewis Hamilton, who won here in 2018, came in a strong second adrift by less than 2s. This is the fourth two-horse win by Mercedes, with each driver now possessing two wins and two runner-up points tucked under their belt for this season.
Zero repeat winners in the anti-clockwise Baku
The Baku City Circuit is the first anti-clockwise race track for the season. It is situated in Azadliq Square, near Baku Boulevard and off the streets of the world’s largest city below sea level - Baku City of Azerbaijan. This street circuit, which is the newest and second longest circuit for the season, runs counterclockwise. In case you can’t imagine what that is, it means that it has lots of pretty exciting left-hand turns.
The 2019 Azerbaijan GP, officially called the Formula 1 SOCAR Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2019, took place in April 28, 2019. It marked the 3rd running of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and the 4th time that the F1 World Championship held one of its rounds in the Baku City Circuit. The very first F1 race event was the one-off returning race of the European Grand Prix in 2016 after it was earlier paused in 2012.
The 3.730-mile anticlockwise circuit, which is run for 51 laps, has not had repeat winners in the Drivers category so far. Would this year be different? Some of the competitors in this round have finished outstandingly in previous Azerbaijan GP races, to wit:
- Race winners, 1st : Hamilton (2018) and Ricciardo (2017)
- Podium placers, 2nd and 3rd :
2018 - Räikkönen (2nd) and Pérez (3rd)
2017 - Bottas (2nd) and Stroll (3rd)
2016 - Vettel (2nd) and Pérez (3rd)
Would they make repeat performances or even improve? With Baku’s long straights, body-straining lefthanders, narrow lanes, and walled stretches, it would be very difficult to guess.
Highlights from lights out to the chequered flag
- In the qualifying rounds, Mercedes locked out the front row with pole sitter Bottas and row mate Hamilton. Vettel and Verstappen occupied the second row, while Pérez (!) was on third with Kyvat. Would Pérez figure in another third podium place for a record repeat 3rd place win in Baku? The fourth and fifth rows were occupied by: Norris, Leclerc, Sainz Jr, and Ricciardo. Needless to say, it was a disappointing day for Leclerc who started as a very strong pole contender.
- Race day started with gloom for the Ferraris, but more so for those who had to start from the pit lane, such as Räikkönen, Gasly, and Kubica. On the brighter side, there was no other place for them to go but up, so they had to tussle with the pack ahead. They knew how tough that would be considering the slim margin of error that Baku allowed.
- Pirelli made available C2 (hard), C3 (medium), and C4 (soft) for this round. All cars started on softs, except for Leclerc’s Ferrari, Gasly’s RB15, Grosjean’s Haas, and the two Williams.
- The lights went out and away sped Bottas—but only for a few seconds. Reminiscent of Shanghai a couple of weeks back, Hamilton was all over his back and struggled with him in the first few turns, but the Finn reasserted his lead. Pérez was clearly in race form as he moved past Verstappen for P4. Norris was on P7 and made his fast move over Kyvat on P6. Leclerc had no such luck, especially with him being on mediums and his opponents on softs, so he slid farther down to P10 before Lap 1 ended.
- It started to heat up in Laps 4 and 5 with the Dutchman taking back P4. It wasn’t too hard with the DRS in his favour. Leclerc, too, slammed his foot down to gain on Sainz in P7. Kyvat, meanwhile, started losing speed (and fast!) so had to pit, coming out on mediums and rejoining in P19.
- Bottas made sure that there was not a shortage of fresh air between his butt and Hamilton’s nose, securing his lead even in the early laps. Vettel seemed comfortable with P3 if not for the blazing black-and-orange RB15 of the Dutchman in his mirrors. That did seem like just half of the problem, though, since his mirror also showed his same red SF90—and it was also gunning for P3! If it were not Leclerc speeding past the Dutchman and pumping his way towards him! Which Ferrari would prevail in Lap 11?
- Before the teammates got to a more heated tangle with each other, Vettel pulled to the pit to retire his soft tyres and came out donning mediums. He rejoined as 5th next to Verstappen on 4th. Mercedes responded by pitting Bottas for a quick tyre change in Lap 13. He rejoined ahead of Vettel and prevented an undercut by the German.
- Hamilton was called to the pit next, relegating the lead to Leclerc, who was trailed behind by Verstappen and Bottas. The British champ rejoined behind his teammate ahead of Vettel. In Lap 15, it was the Dutchman’s turn to retire his soft tyres, rejoining behind Gasly in the midfield.
- In Laps 16 and 18, the Silver Arrows alternately set the new fastest laps, with the Finn setting the latest. In Lap 19, Gasly has shown his grit and talent in a remarkable overdrive from the pit lane to P6. In Lap 22, Verstappen set another fastest lap, bringing him to P5, but a good 9.6s behind Vettel.
- Not for long, Leclerc started seeing silvers wherever he looked in his mirror. Plus in Lap 26, he’d have back markers to deal with, which in Baku would be nothing short of chaotic. In Lap 30, the two Mercedes cars closed in on their prey. Bottas was 1.1s behind—push forward just a wee bit closer, and it would be an easy DRS-aided swoop. The other silver predator, though, had been tailing within DRS range. Would Hamilton jump on his teammate instead to get to the Monegasque first?
- In Lap 32, Bottas went past Leclerc, who had been complaining of his aging tyres. Hamilton whizzed him by in Lap 33, and Vettel too in Lap 34. Only in Lap 35 did his team pit the Monegasque for fresh soft rubbers, allowing him to rejoin 5th. Earlier, meanwhile, a collision incident occurred between Ricciardo and Kyvat which caused them both to retire from the race. Later in Lap 39, two racers also had to retire—Gasly and Grosjean—for mechanical issues.
- With only eight laps to go, the gaps between the frontrunners seemed stable—Bottas in the lead with Hamilton a comfortable distance away. Down the road were Vettel, Verstappen, and farther still was Leclerc. On the Monegasque’s heels was Baku trouper Pérez in 6th. The midfield runners kept kicking with the McLaren duo, Stroll, and Räikkönen.
- In Lap 48, Hamilton set the new fastest lap and seemed keen on using his DRS advantage to get past his teammate.
- At about the same time last year, with only three laps to finish, Bottas was in this same situation. Did his near-win-turned-retirement cross his mind like a déjà vu? But that was 2018.
- This 2019 race was meant to be sweet for the Finn because he led the race to the finish! When he was told that his teammate behind had available DRS, Bottas stepped on it on a bid to evade his pursuer and to set the fastest lap. Hamilton lagged behind due to the back markers that got in his way. The Finn succeeded in dodging the Brit, but failed in outdoing Leclerc’s fastest lap as the Monegasque flew on his fresh soft rubbers.
- Hamilton placed second, fortifying the position of Mercedes in the Constructors category. Vettel got the final podium place, Verstappen on 4th, and Leclerc on 5th. Leclerc scored the fastest lap and was also voted as Driver of the Day.
Final result of the Azerbaijan GP, Top 5
After this round, Baku confirmed its notoriety as a circuit with “zero repeat winner” in the Drivers category. As for our competitors this season, the frontrunners since Round 1 remained consistent, with some names changing places.
Team and Number
Red Bull, #33
In the past two years, this grand prix saw Pérez, Räikkönen, and Stroll take podium positions. This year, there were no midfield runners in the podium, but we witnessed how Räikkönen (Alfa Romeo) did a valiant recovery drive from the pit lane to the final points-paying position. The solid performance from Pérez (Racing Point) took him to 6th, while his teammate Stroll got 9th. The McLaren duo also did fairly well, with Sainz on 7th and Norris on 8th.
Championship standings before and after the 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Team and Number
Points before the 2019 F1 Azerbaijan GP
Points after the 2019 F1 Azerbaijan GP
Red Bull, #33
Could the Prancing Horses gallop ahead of the Silver Arrows this year?
Looking at the championship standings, it is clear that there’s now an intra-team battle in Mercedes. It seems like it’s only a question of who will eventually win between the two. Has Ferrari already been relegated to third podium place? And is that third place even secure? Verstappen’s RB15 is only 1 point away, and it keeps gunning toward the top.
In the long straights of Baku, where the Ferraris had the apparent advantage, Mercedes still dominated exceptionally. Would the Prancing Horses ever recover? Even if the Mercedes duo would get no point in the next race—a highly unlikely prospect—they’d still be the pack leaders.
Overall, the exacting corners of Baku tested the best and worst in each competitor—the human, the machine, and the team behind. What preparations, upgrades, and tweaks would be needed to tackle the next race? Who would reign supreme in Gran Premio de España? You’d have to check that one out!
Author - Patrick Lumontod