Formula 1 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was held on the streets of the city of Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan. The first Azerbaijan Grand Prix was held in 2017, and this was the fourth running of the race. It was the sixth round of the 2021 Formula 1 World Championship, and Red Bull was leading both the championships heading into the race. This was the first occasion since the start of the hybrid era that Mercedes was not in the lead.
Qualifying was full of crashes; there were four red flags; not a single driver completed a decent lap; and Charles Leclerc stole a shock pole position for Ferrari ahead of Lewis and Verstappen.
Sergio ‘Checo’ Perez won his first race of the season and first with the Red Bull team ahead of Vettel and Gasly. This was the first podium of the 2021 season for the trio and a disastrous race for Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen after both failed to score a single point.
Pre-Race Preparations Thursday
Weather conditions were forecast to be dry and windy, which was not surprising, considering that Baku is also known as the city of winds. The wind is a big factor, making it even harder for the teams to get temperature into the right operating window.
Mercedes changed the engines on all its cars for the race in Baku to give the drivers extra power for a very long home straight. Pirelli brought the softest compounds to the race. C3 (White) was the hard tyre, C4 (Yellow) was the medium tyre and C5 (Red) was the soft tyre.
Friday Practice: Red Bull the team to beat in FP1 and FP2
Red Bull topped both the practice session on Friday, with Max the quickest in the morning session and Perez claiming the top spot in the afternoon session. In both instances, Ferrari appeared to be the closest challenger to Red Bull, at least on the short-run pace. Red Bull was the team to beat when it conducted a long-run pace simulation.
After the struggles of Mercedes in Monaco, they expected to be back to their position at the front, but it was not the case. McLaren contended for a front-row start with Red Bull, but their race pace was not on par with the leading team. Alpha Tauri looked good for a top ten finish, and Alpine in the hands of Fernando Alonso looked like a proper midfield car.
Saturday Practice: Gasly finishes P1 in FP3
Max Verstappen crashed going into the turn 15 during the first half of the third practice session. Pierre Gasly was the surprise of the session after he finished P1 on the timing sheet. He was ahead of Sergio Perez by three tenths. Lewis finished a respectable third, Leclerc 4th, Sainz 5th, and Norris 6th. Fernando Alonso continued his excellent form from yesterday and finished 7th ahead of Tsunoda, Ocon and Ricciardo.
Qualifying: Four red flags and shock pole for Leclerc
Q1 saw two red flags after Lance Stroll and Antonio Giovinazzi crashed at turn 15 while pushing hard on the hot lap. Lewis finished the session on top. The two red flags disrupted the team's plan, as they have to use an extra set of soft tyres to progress into Q2. Two Haas drivers and Latifi failed to reach the second round of qualifying as well.
Daniel Ricciardo crashed into turn 3 and caused the third red flag of the qualifying. He also failed to reach Q3 and qualified in the 13th position. Everybody used soft tyres to progress into Q3. Vettel, Ocon, Raikkonen and Russell joined Ricciardo at the end of Q2.
Charles Leclerc took full advantage of a tow from the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and took provisional pole position ahead of Lewis and Max Verstappen. Bottas, who decided to give tow to Lewis, ended up in 10th place at the end of the first round of runs. Yuki Tsunoda crashed into turn 3, and shortly after him, Sainz crashed at the same place. The fourth red flag of the session was deployed, ending hopes of anybody else taking P1. Pierre Gasly finished fourth ahead of Sainz, Norris 6th, Perez 7th, Tsunoda 8th, Alonso 9th and Bottas 10th.
Sunday Race: Checo Perez wins the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Lando Norris received a 3-place grid penalty for red-flag infringements during qualifying on Saturday. The team woke up to another sad news that long-term and majority shareholder of McLaren F1 Mansoor Ojjeh had passed away at the age of 68. F1 observed a minute of silence in respect of Mansoor and ex-president of FIA Max Mosley, who died last week. Leclerc made a good start and led into the opening sequence of corners.
However, the dream start did not last long, and Lewis overtook him at the end of lap 2. Leclerc was quickly swallowed by his rivals from behind and was down to fourth place by lap 8. Lewis pitted on lap 12 and switched to hard tyres, but a longer 4.2 sec stop meant he stayed behind Max at the end of the pit stops and lost the second place to Perez as well.
Lance Stroll, who started the race from 20th place on hard tyres, was running in the top five by the end of lap 30. While going down the home straight, his left rear tyre appeared to fail suddenly, crashing into a concrete sidewall and bringing out the safety car.
When the race resumed on lap 35, both the Red Bulls stayed ahead of Hamilton. Behind the leading trio, Vettel was running in 6th behind Gasly and Leclerc after starting in P11. Vettel made full use of his tyre advantage and took fourth place from Gasly at the end of lap 36.
On lap 47, Max Verstappen figured in an incident similar to what happened to Lance Stroll in lap 31. The safety car was deployed, and the race was red-flagged on lap 48. Once the debris was cleared, FIA decided that the race would be a standing start on lap 49. Everybody switched to soft tyres for a two-lap race to the finish.
Lewis made a great start and was going to lead Perez into turn 1, but he switched the brake bias completely to the front. It was a costly mistake, which locked his front wheels and sent him straight into the escape road.
Perez won his first race of the season and the second of his career (after his incredible win in Sakhir). Vettel finished P2 ahead of Pierre Gasly. Charles Leclerc finished 4th ahead of Lando Norris, Alonso 6th, Tsunoda 7th, Sainz 8th, Ricciardo 9th, and Kimi for the final point. Lewis finished 12th and Bottas 14th.