In what is becoming an increasingly common event, Sergio Perez took victory this weekend in Baku from teammate Max Verstappen (+2.137 seconds behind) with Charles Leclerc (+21.217) rounding out the podium. Fernando Alonso (+22.024) continued his strong season with a fourth place finish, followed by Carlos Sainz (+45.491) and Sir Lewis Hamilton (+46.145) who battled for most of the race and ended P5 and P6, respectively.
As I mentioned in last week’s preview, this was a sprint weekend with a special format. The sprint race proved to be a boring prologue for an equally uneventful race. The podium was the same, with 2nd and 3rd swapped for the Saturday race. The bulk of the action came on the first lap, when George Russell (P8, +74.240 on Sunday) and Max Verstappen made contact while vying for position. The contact left a hole in the side of the Dutchman’s car that cost him performance on Saturday. After the race, Russell came up to apologize, claiming he slid into the championship leader due to cold tires and a lack of grip. Verstappen was not satisfied and fired off a fiery warning and an expletive as the Briton walked away.
Per the special sprint format, qualifying for Sunday’s race was on Friday and offered a fair few surprises and disappointments. Nyck De Vries (P20, DNF) and Pierre Gasly (P14, +91.332) suffered from early trouble in Q1, with the former crashing his car head-on into a barrier and the latter sliding his rear wheel into a wall; both suffering terminal damage. This added to an already challenging day for Gasly, whose car caught fire in the earlier practice session. George Russell suffered a shock elimination in Q2, as his initial time was not fast enough to move him to the final qualification round. As more laps were done and the sun went down, track conditions continued to improve, putting drivers who placed their laps earlier at a disadvantage. The shock of Q3 was Charles Leclerc achieving pole, beating out both Red Bulls. Although this did not translate to race pace on Sunday, it could be a sign of what’s to come from Ferrari.
Sunday’s race started well with Leclerc initially able to maintain his lead. However, it only took until lap 3 for Verstappen to catch and pass the Monegasque driver, with teammate Perez following suit soon after. On lap 9, De Vries broke his suspension after coming in contact with a wall and brought out a safety car. This disadvantaged a couple drivers, including Hamilton and Verstappen, who pit shortly before the incident and lost out to those who put under yellow flags. For Verstappen, it meant he lost the lead and he never got it back. On the safety car restart, Alonso made his way past Hamilton and soon after made his way around the Ferrari of Sainz.
The DRS zone (for Drag Reduction System, a way of speeding cars up to overtake on straights) on the start/finish straight was shortened by 100 meters (328.1 ft) compared to last year, which proved fatal for overtaking. As a result, no car could stay within the required distance from the car in front to use DRS on the straight, causing a race that was rather devoid of action, besides what I’ve already mentioned.
After Round 4, the standings look like this:
Baku was the first of a back-to-back on the schedule, so the next race is this weekend in Miami on the purpose built track around the Hard Rock Stadium. As it will be in our time zone, the race will actually be at a sensible time — with qualifying at 4:00 p.m. Saturday and the race at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday.