Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix had all the ingredients to be a wild race. See, the previous three Formula One stops to the Baku City Circuit have been bonkers. Last year, was no exception.
Valtteri Bottas had the race signed, sealed and all but delivered. Unfortunately, bad luck struck towards the end of the race.
This weekend, Bottas earned his second pole of the season on Saturday after the Ferrari’s self destructed again. Charles Leclerc was the fastest driver of the weekend in leading every session, but crashed his No. 16 Ferrari in Q2.
Sebastian Vettel lost speed and allowed the Mercedes duo to lockout the front row. Sergio Perez and Daniil Kvyat shared Row 3, so the recipe was ripe for another wild day.
Unfortunately, we saw a tame race.
Bottas, jumped out to an early lead only to give it up on his first stop on Lap 15. Leclerc, charged up from his eighth starting spot to fifth within the first few laps. When everyone in front pit, he inherited the lead when Bottas brought his No. 77 Mercedes down pit lane.
Leclerc’s plan was to stay out for the first 35 Laps and hope for the best. It didn’t work. Bottas passed him for the lead on Lap 31 and Hamilton a lap later. Without a full course caution to switch up strategy, Mercedes drove a fourth straight 1-2 finish to start the season off and their 10th win in the last 12 races overall. In fact, since the start of the 2014 season, Mercedes has won 78 of the last 97 races.
Bottas, led Hamilton across the finish line for the Finland native’s second win of the season and fifth of his career. It was redemption for his 14th place finish in last year’s race. He also came home runner-up in 2017 too.
Hamilton, earned his sixth straight top two result and fourth straight top five finish in Baku. He trails Bottas in the points standings by one heading to Spain.
Vettel, finished third in his No. 5 Ferrari after Leclerc pulled aside to allow him by not long after the Mercedes duo stormed by. It was Vettel’s fourth straight top five finish this season but just his second podium. Both were third place results.
Max Verstappen finished fourth in his No. 33 Aston Martin Red Bull Racing Honda. It was Verstappen’s first top five finish in Azerbaijan and his third consecutive fourth place run on the year.
Leclerc rounded out the top five after leading 16 laps on Sunday.
Here are my main takeaways.
Mercedes May Not Lose
After four races, it shows that no one can stop Mercedes right now. Even when they’re not at their best, they can’t be undone. For the second time of the 2019 season, the Ferrari’s had the most speed but gave it away. That led Mercedes to another 1-2 result.
Over the last five years, they’ve won 80-percent of the races.
Next up is a race in Spain where Hamilton has won in each of the last two years. Last year, they finished 1-2 as well. After four straight 1-2 finishes to start the year off, what makes us believe they won’t go 1-2 in two weeks again?
Ferrari’s May Have Rough Stretch Ahead
If we thought the season was rough for Ferrari so far, just look at what’s ahead. After their blunder in Bahrain, they nearly did it again in Azerbaijan. Leclerc had the top speed out of everyone but crashed in qualifying. Vettel, was second in both practice sessions but only started third.
With two races in May, they may struggle.
First up is the Spanish Grand Prix where Ferrari finished 4th-retired last year. Their last win in Catalunya was in 2013. That’s their lone victory since 2009 there.
Then, it’s to Monaco where they have one victory since 2002.
With how this season is going, they’re going to be out of the running soon.
Toro Rosso Doesn’t Get The Results They Deserved
The Toro Rosso Honda’s were strong this weekend. In both practice session, Daniil Kvyat and Alex Albon were in the top eight in each. Kvyat was sixth in both practices and even qualified there. Albon, was eighth in both himself and rolled off 11th. But, neither finished in the top 10 in the race itself.
Albon, only came home 11th while Kvyat was forced off course on Lap 34 when Daniel Ricciardo tried to pass him and ended up in the Turn 3 runoff. Unfortunately, Ricciardo tried to reverse out of it and backed into Kvyat. That forced the Russian driver to retire and finish 19th.
Kvyat, now has two straight DNF’s.
Definitely not the day Toro Rosso thought they’d have.
Rough Start To The Year For Ricciardo/Gasly
Ricciardo left Red Bull for Renault this offseason. Pierre Gasly was tapped as his replacement. Neither are off to a very good start to 2019.
Ricciardo, made a mistake as said above and now has three DNF’s in four starts in 2019. He’s finished 18th, 18th, seventh and 20th respectively in his start at Renault.
Gasly, had a malfunction after getting into the top 10. He had to start on pit lane after a penalty in practice on Friday. His best result in four tries this season is sixth in China. His other three finishes are 11th, eighth and 17th respectively.
This is certainly not how either thought their seasons would go in new rides.
Double Points For McLaren, As Them An Racing Point Top Midfield Teams
Sergio Perez may have been best of the rest on Sunday but McLaren overall was the best midfield team. Perez did earn his third top six finish in four tries in Baku but his teammate Lance Stroll finished ninth. Not a bad day as it was his third top 10 in three tries.
McLaren finished seventh and eighth though with Carlos Sainz Jr. earning his third straight top eight finish on the 3.730-mile street course and first top 10 of the year. Rookie Lando Norris finished eighth for his second top 10 of the year too.
It was a great day for both teams.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Results
55 Sainz Jr.
4 Norris R
7 Raikkonen -1
23 Albon R -1
99 Giovinazzi R -1
20 Magnussen -1
27 Hulkenberg 01
63 Russell -2
88 Kubica -2
10 Gasly OUT
8 Grosjean OUT
26 Kvyat OUT
3 Ricciardo OUT