Bottas’ Baku redemption
12 months on from that heartbreaking tyre failure which cost him a certain victory in the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Valtteri Bottas deservedly got his win around the streets of Baku.
Throughout much of free practice and in the opening runs of Q3, Bottas seemed to be struggling to match team-mate. However, he did an exceptional job on his final lap to claim pole position by 0.059s from Hamilton.
He then got his elbows out at the start to hold off the fast-starting Hamilton at turns 1 and 2 to retain the lead. The opening stint belonged to the Finnish driver as he built a nice cushion to the Brit.
Yet, Hamilton came at it hard in the second stint – but he managed to resist the pressure and take his fifth Grand Prix victory. It was a very impressive win on a weekend where Hamilton seemed to have a small pace advantage.
Bottas reclaimed the championship lead by a single point to complete a great event for him.
Sergio Perez: the master of Baku
Another year, another superb performance by ‘Checo’ around Baku.
For the third time in four years, he was the leader of the ‘best of the rest’ group – and he certainly had to work hard for it this year.
The Mexican qualified a brilliant P5. An excellent start got him ahead of Verstappen into P4 before the Dutchman got back in front. Leclerc also came through as expected.
He ended up benefitting from Gasly’s unfortunate retirement to take a superb 6th place. Perez did a fantastic job to stay ahead of the McLarens in the race as they probably had a slightly faster car.
His very strong and consistent drives in all four races at Baku proves how good he is. The strongest driver on the grid at this track? At the moment, yes.
Perez leads the ‘best of the rest’ championship as well now.
McLaren continues to show encouraging signs
After some bold and big statements in previous years that backfired, McLaren’s quiet approach heading into the 2019 season is really paying off. Their car and drivers are fast this year.
At the fourth time of asking, they got both cars in the points on a strong weekend for them in Azerbaijan.
Lando Norris started 7th and looked set to finish in the same position until McLaren risked a stop under the VSC to try and have a go at Perez. It didn’t work and he ended up 8th. The good news is that it was his team-mate who gained the position.
Carlos Sainz finally got off the mark at McLaren and drove a nice race to claim 7th from 11th on the grid. The Spaniard really needed those points. They both put Perez under big pressure during the race and it really proved they’ve got a solid package last year.
The double points finish moved McLaren up to 4th in the Constructors’ Championship. In both Bahrain and at Baku, they were really quick. They’ll hope to consistently continue this trend as the season goes on.
Most importantly, McLaren is moving back up the field and look competitive again. They’ve done a really good job over the winter at Woking.
Leclerc receives the ‘Raikkonen strategy’ treatment – again
Charles Leclerc looked set to be a real pole contender until he hit the barriers at turn 8 during Q2. Starting in 8th, he would have fancied his chances of going for the podium.
After setting his best time in Q2 on the mediums, Leclerc was on the alternate strategy for the race. It looked quite promising for a while as he found himself in P4 and he was delivering great place. The Monegasque was right behind Sebastian Vettel just before the German pitted. Unfortunately, that’s as good as it got.
He led Bottas by 13s on lap 15 after all the other main runners had stopped to switch to the mediums. 10 laps later, that gap had been slashed to 3s. Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel all passed him before he eventually pitted at the end of lap 34. Such was the tyre deg for him on the mediums and losing seconds while the aforementioned drivers overtook Leclerc, he came out right behind Gasly.
For the second straight race, Leclerc got hung to dry by his team as they left him out on very worn tyres and he ended up in no man's land down in P5.
Ferrari had nothing to lose by switching their driver to a two-stopper – but their lack of flexibility on the strategy side was shown once again. It very much reminded you of the bizarre calls for Raikkonen in previous years. They haven’t learned the lessons from it.
Baku delivers.... until race day
Unfortunately, Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a rather quiet, uneventful race. It was quite disappointing compared to the absolute chaos and thrills and spills of the 2017 and 2018 events. Nonetheless, it wasn’t all bad.
Practice proved to be extremely strange as FP1 got cancelled following a loose drain cover which heavily damaged George Russell’s Williams. Lance Stroll hit the barriers during FP2 as the drivers struggled to find a perfect braking point.
The drama continued in qualifying as both Robert Kubica and Charles Leclerc at the extremely turn 8. It’s a track that can bite you very easily.
Let’s hope next year’s race gives us more entertainment.