Luck, or fate, or destiny, or whatever you want to call it, has sure done a long trip in the pit-lane during Sunday's race in Baku, Azerbaijan. First, "bad" luck hit Max Verstappen, who was leading the race and the championship, and then, when the end seemed already written, it turned around for the Dutchman: bad luck hit Lewis Hamilton, and Max Verstappen was a lucky man again.
Let's start over: before Sunday's race in Baku, Verstappen was leading the driver championship with four points of advantage on seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, while Red Bull had just one point more than Mercedes. If luck/bad luck decided to not strike on Sunday, the championship would've seen Verstappen still on the lead, with 10 points over Hamilton who was in third before the red flag.
As soon as Verstappen rear left had a puncture, leading his RB16B into the wall on the main straight, it was clear that something was changing: his run towards the championship could have been over. In Monaco, where Max won, and Baku, Red Bull performed really well: it is well known, for the past seasons, that the Austrian outfit always suits the Principality street circuit, and this year Horner's team was dominant in both calendar's street circuit. Plus, Mercedes had several issues in both venues, with Hamilton starting and finishing in seventh in Monaco, while in Baku the German team stayed out of the top ten on Friday, only for the Briton to understand his issues during FP3. He then managed to qualify 2nd.
In Baku Verstappen and Red Bull played a good game with the overcut on Mercedes, putting Lewis Hamilton behind both the Dutchman and teammate Sergio Perez. The seven-time world champion tried to keep up the pace but couldn't attempt any move on both RBs.
Surely, when Verstappen hit the wall and the red flag was deployed, it was clear that Lewis would have tried to go for the win. But, what happened is well known now: with fresh tyres, Hamilton made the move on Perez, who was sitting in first, but pressed the "magic button" (a system Mercedes uses to generate temperature into the front tyres during formation laps or Safety Cars regime, putting all the brake balance at the front). Hamilton locked up his tyres, went wide in turn one and finished 15th at the chequered flag.
The game is set: it's a tie for both contenders, with Verstappen still with four points over Hamilton in the standings.
"I am still upset and disappointed, because we should have opened up that gap more in the championship - he said when asked by Motorsport.com - yeah, it was unlucky for me, and then of course I had a bit of luck that Lewis then didn't score points".
“But nevertheless, of course it's not what you want today. We should have just had a comfortable win here. Because I think especially it seemed like on the street circuits compared to Mercedes we had a bit of an edge on them, which is good.
“But that's why I wanted to of course outscore them more. Because I know when we go back to normal tracks, they are very tough and very difficult to beat".
As previously written, Red Bull had a solid advantage in both calendar's street circuits, as Verstappen explains:
"I was just initially matching a bit the pace that was happening behind me. And then at one point already before the safety car I was three or four-tenths faster a lap, while I was not even pushing the tyres, so it all felt really comfortable.
“Then after the restart, I opened up my gap, again to like four seconds, quite comfortable - he added - and it was just basically at that point cruising home without taking risk or anything.
“So yeah, that makes it even more disappointing, because I don't expect these races to happen very often where we easily let's say, gain 25 points. Because when we go to normal tracks, like I said before, Mercedes will be back up there, and it will be a really tough fight".
The fight for the championship is firing up conversations in Formula 1, with both teams fighting for every single point - let's just think of the fastest lap point: both Mercedes or Red Bull always try to go for it, as every single point counts in both championship. Red Bull currently sits in front with 174 points, also thanks to Sergio Perez's win, while Mercedes is 26 points adrift, with Bottas struggling in the last races.
Anyway, Verstappen refures the suggestion that the pressure of the title fight is forcing Hamilton into making mistakes.
“I mean, everyone tries to do their best, right? I'm not gonna say that he's making mistakes because he feels under pressure. Everyone tries to do the best they can. And I did I do that as well.
“For sure, I mean, this year, it's not only about his teammate, you know, he has to fight for the championship with a different team. So that always brings a different dimension to it, which I think is great for the sport".