Azerbaijan GP Driver Ratings: The surprise podium stars after Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen woe
Rating all the drivers after a chaotic crash-heavy finish to the race sees the title protagonists finish point-less; Sergio Perez, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly all star on an unlikely F1 podium in Baku
By Matt Morlidge and James Galloway
Last Updated: 08/06/21 6:18pm
Sergio Perez: 9
Qualified 7th (Started 6th), Finished 1st
Well, Sergio Perez did say it would take five races to settle in at Red Bull.
This was the weekend where things finally clicked into gear for the popular Mexican. Sure, Perez would not have won this race without his team-mate's big tyre puncture late on, but in many ways he had done the hard work to deserve it.
Perez's only bad lap of the weekend came at the start of Q3 amid traffic, but on Sunday he made his way from sixth on the grid to second - which may well have been first without a slow pit-stop - and then held off an often DRS-aided Lewis Hamilton for more than 30 laps before the red flag. "I was like 'no way I'm losing this one'," said Perez of the restart as he moved towards Hamilton, which led to the Mercedes driver's dramatic lock-up. All this with a hydraulic issue that Red Bull feared would end Perez's race early. A second F1 win and first with Red Bull, bravo, Sergio.
Sebastian Vettel: 9.5
Qualified 11th, Finished 2nd
What a few weeks this has been for Sebastian Vettel. On two successive street circuits where wheels out of line are punished to the highest degree, Aston Martin's star signing followed up a fine fifth in Monaco with a sensational second in Baku to really ignite his new career in green.
Certainly, this is the best form from the four-time champion we have seen for some time and, even though he missed out on Q3 here, he still appeared quietly confident he would be in for a good race in the AMR21. Great pace on his opening 18-lap stint brought him up the order and he then displayed sharp overtaking to run fourth after the Safety Car, which came out for his team-mate's hefty accident.
That hard work meant Vettel was then in prime position to cash in when first Verstappen and then Hamilton's afternoons went dramatically awry. Voted the fans' driver of the day in consecutive events now, it's hard to argue with that.
Pierre Gasly: 9
Qualified 4th, Finished 3rd
Chaos in a race = Pierre Gasly shining. That has certainly been true in recent years and was again on Sunday, but do not for a second think that Gasly lucked in around the Baku streets. The Frenchman was on it all weekend.
Fast from the get-go in an improved AlphaTauri, Gasly was quicker than anyone in final practice before claiming a career-best fourth on the grid, and from there he kept Charles Leclerc in his sights in the race before a brilliant battle with his good friend in the final two laps. Gasly, whose power unit issue made his drive all the more impressive, was overtaken by Leclerc on the main straight before ducking back down the inside of T1, then somehow holding off the Ferrari over the next corners.
"I don't know how I did that. I don't know how I did that!" exclaimed Gasly over team radio. Gasly just continues to deliver against the odds.
Charles Leclerc: 8.5
Qualified 1st, Finished 4th
Charles Leclerc knew keeping Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen at bay was going to be difficult, although he probably did not envisage a tree branch hastening him losing the lead from pole. But that is exactly what happened as Leclerc slowed after cutting the corner to avoid a branch at Turn 15, allowing Hamilton through, with Verstappen then passing soon after.
In a Ferrari car that was clearly set up more for qualifying than the race, Leclerc was defending rather than attacking on Sunday but did almost sneak onto the podium after that late fight with Gasly. This was another brilliant Saturday from Leclerc and he may be a little disappointed with fourth from Sunday - but it certainly beats the DNS race from his last pole!
Lando Norris: 8
Qualified 6th (Started 9th), Finished 5th
The Baku weekend proved quite the rollercoaster for Lando Norris. But the fact he still finished fifth shows the consistent level he is operating at for McLaren.
Disappointed with the three-place grid penalty, and particularly the penalty licence points that came with it, imposed by stewards for not pitting immediately under red flags in Q1 given how close he was to the pit entry.
Lost another three places at the start to be shuffled out of the top 10 entirely - but recovered from there well, eventually overtaking Yuki Tsunoda at the late, late restart for fifth.
Fernando Alonso: 8.5
Qualified 9th (Started 8th), Finished 6th
Now this was more like the Fernando Alonso we have come to expect. Turning the Alpine tables on Esteban Ocon here after the Frenchman's recent strong run of form, Alonso was in the top 10 all weekend and eighth on the grid was his best result of his comeback to date.
If there had been a driver of the day awarded for the two-lap 'mini race' shootout at the end, then it would have been Alonso. Tenth on the restarted grid after an up-and-down afternoon to that point, he blasted past Ricciardo and Sainz down the inside towards turn one, inherited another place thanks to Hamilton's escape road blunder, and then capped a brilliant first five corners by swooping around Tsunoda's AlphaTauri to secure that top-six result. Brilliant stuff.
Yuki Tsunoda: 7.5
Qualified 8th (Started 7th), Finished 7th
Desperate to arrest his slide in form, Yuki Tsunoda moved nearer to the AlphaTauri factory between the Monaco and Baku races and spent plenty of time on the simulator. You better get comfortable in Italy, Yuki - because that preparation definitely worked.
While Tsunoda has yet to out-qualify on-form team-mate Gasly, he reached Q3 for the first time in his F1 career in Baku and backed that up with a typically fiery race day, claiming his best result in seventh, and on a track he had never driven before the weekend. Tsunoda, whose crash at the end of qualifying ended the session early, said he was still a "bit frustrated" after losing two positions during the last laps - but he's certainly made progress.
Carlos Sainz: 6
Qualified 5th, Finished 8th
In the end a disappointing weekend for Carlos Sainz, who felt there should have been more out of it than an eighth-place finish. "Every time I was on cold tyres - at both starts, at the restart and after the pit stop - I struggled a lot with front locking and with the brakes," he explained. "That led to a costly mistake which compromised my whole race."
That error came on his lap-11 out-lap on hard tyres, locking up the front-left and running down the escape road at Turn Eight. It was the second time he had been down one of Baku's run-offs over the weekend after a reactive spin after Tsunoda's red-flag-triggering Q3 crash right ahead of him in qualifying. But the Sunday miscue was more crucial, with the lost time leaving Sainz playing catch up to recover minor points from there.
Daniel Ricciardo: 6.5
Qualified 13th, Finished 9th
The man who has made quite the habit of profiting on crazy Baku afternoons had to settle for two points on Sunday - but this was at least improvement for Daniel Ricciardo after his Monaco misery. Qualifying certainly was not a high point as Ricciardo, struggling for pace again compared to Norris, crashed out of Q2, but he battled on in the race and would have fancied his chances from ninth upon the restart. Unfortunately for him, that is where he would finish after being squeezed on the outside somewhat.
Kimi Raikkonen: 7.5
Qualified 14th, Finished 10th
After losing a ninth place back at Imola, Kimi Raikkonen is finally up and running on the 2021 scoreboard after snaring the final point amid Sunday's late high drama towards the race's front end. "Not a lot happened in my race until the last two laps," admitted the Iceman, who had qualified as the lead Alfa Romeo in 14th after team-mate Antonio Giovinazzi's Q1 crash and then run a few places outside the top 10 for almost all the race. But a decent weekend all told for Kimi with F1 career points finish 216 to show for it.
OUT OF THE POINTS
Antonio Giovinazzi: 6.5
So close yet so far for Antonio Giovinazzi, who worked so hard to get himself into the points on Sunday before being squeezed into a collision upon the restart, allowing Raikkonen back through. Up until then, it was a sterling race day for the driver who crashed out in Q1 of qualifying, with Giovinazzi making up six spots from 20th on the opening lap before shining in his duel against Carlos Sainz.
"I think we got all we could out of this race," said Giovinazzi. "But we ended up so close to the points." Quite.
Valtteri Bottas: 4
Lewis Hamilton's error may have been the more memorable Mercedes Baku mishap but at least the world champion showed some pace in that W12 car, something Valtteri Bottas could not do all weekend - which has to go down as one of the least competitive of his F1 career.
Unlike Hamilton, Bottas just could not find a setup that suited him and he qualified only 10th - and his race pace was even worse as he struggled towards the back of the midfield, even overtaken by an Alfa Romeo.
"It's difficult to understand," said Bottas, who simply has to capitalise on these sorts of weekends for his rivals. He's rapidly slipping out of contention.
Mick Schumacher: 7
Schumacher's unflappability over team radio has been a feature of his nascent F1 career so far but even the mild-mannered Mick could not but be enraged by his team-mate's sudden flick to the right as they duelled for the finish line and 13th place in Baku.
Had outqualified Nikita Mazepin again, although only just after a mistake on his final lap, and was running well from the race start before losing time with wheel issues at his Safety Car pit stop. He was then overtaken by Mazepin at the full restart before reversing the order in that controversial all-Haas dash to the lap-51 line.
Nikita Mazepin: 5.5
Fourteenth place and higher than Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton? Nikita Mazepin certainly would have taken that coming into the weekend. But this was still a tricky Azerbaijan GP for the Russian, who while closer to Schumacher in qualifying made many mistakes in the race, lucky to gain ground on the field again due to the Safety Car and red flag.
Then, at the end of the race, he very nearly caused an almighty accident with Schumacher when being re-overtaken.
Nicholas Latifi: 6
Not a very fun race for Nicholas Latifi, who admitted his afternoon was "lonely". Just when you would think Williams could capitalise on the stoppages and crashes, his team made what Sky F1's Ted Kravitz described as a "colossal team error".
With every driver instructed to travel through the pits by FIA stewards to avoid Max Verstappen's car and debris, Williams instead told Latifi to "stay out" six times before changing their mind. But by that point, it was too late. A 30-second penalty made Latifi's restart hopes effectively redundant.
Lewis Hamilton: 6.5
In the end, it was wrong kind of magic. What was so nearly one of those typical Lewis Hamilton days suddenly turned into the most atypical: a blunder at a crucial race-defining moment and a non-points finish.
Backs against the Baku walls after a tough Friday, Mercedes and Hamilton worked wonders to haul themselves into contention at the front in the first place and, although the Red Bulls ultimately were still faster and were seemingly headed for a one-two race finish, Verstappen's tyre blowout presented an open goal to reclaim the drivers' title lead. But with that inadvertent flicking of a switch on the steering wheel to alter the W12's brake settings, it was missed. Would have been on a at least a 9 in our ratings without that error, even if accidental.
DID NOT FINISH
George Russell: 7
A gearbox fault meant George Russell was ruled out of the 'mini-race' which concluded Sunday's action. That followed a day on from a water pump leak which stopped the Williams on Saturday morning and required a swift power unit change before qualifying.
Between those stoppages, Russell did what he habitually does on track: qualified for Q2 and then raced hard in the mid-pack. "The car felt fast and I had a lot of confidence in it so there are definitely positives to take away from the weekend," was the Briton's verdict.
Max Verstappen: 9
Max Verstappen and Baku: Not the best of friends.
Max is still waiting for his first podium finish around the streets but he was destined to stand on the top spot on Sunday before that scary crash on the straight with just five laps remaining. Ironically, Verstappen was actually managing his tyres more comfortably than many behind him before that big puncture - dare we say it was a Lewis Hamilton-esque drive from the youngster as he managed his car and the gap - but whatever the cause of that Pirelli blowout, Verstappen, who had more than made up for the pole-missing frustration of Saturday, left Azerbaijan with no points.
He does, however, leave with the consolation of the four-point title lead after Hamilton's unexpected error - although Verstappen wanted to grow that advantage ahead of more Mercedes-friendly circuits.
Lance Stroll: 6.5
It was all looking so good for Lance Stroll, who had shown good pace on a very long opening Hard tyre stint after starting 19th due to his qualifying crash. Stroll, who was about to pit, would likely have rejoined in the points on fresh tyres. But then another crash ended his weekend, and this time the Canadian was blameless as his left rear tyre blew. A scary shunt, and a shame for Stroll after his hard work.
Esteban Ocon: 6
After being out-qualified by Fernando Alonso for the first time since the season-opener, Esteban Ocon did not get a chance to hit back in the race as his Sunday only lasted one lap before a boost pressure loss on his Alpine.