No wonder Toto Wolff planned to have a few drinks with Lewis Hamilton during their flight from Baku.
All of us watching this crazy Azerbaijan Grand Prix can sympathize with the idea of a nerve settler after the drama, the outbursts and the unexpected.
The cruelest of all the twists and turns of the afternoon came late when Max Verstappen looked to be on his way to a fantastic victory. But with five laps to go, the Dutchman suffered a flat tire at 200 km/h. His Red Bull hit the concrete wall, but thank goodness he was good enough to walk out and do his best Basil Fawlty impersonation. He didn’t have a branch to hand, but he kicked the offensive left rear tire with fervor.
Lewis Hamilton (center) cost himself the race win with just two laps to go when he ran off the track during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Hamilton’s brakes blew smoke on the standing start and he became too eager to take the lead back on the restart
The standing start after a red flag came when championship leader Max Verstappen crashed while in first place
It was devastating for the Dutchman when his left rear tire gave out and he crashed into the guardrail on his afternoon in Baku. to close
Verstappen tried to dispel his seething anger as he failed to extend a four point championship lead over Hamilton, who was in third when the sudden impact happened.
The race was halted for 34 minutes while the debris was cleared and Verstappen’s car was lifted. Now there would be a two-lap shootout from a standing start. How would Hamilton play it?
With his title rival to the medical center, he was in second place with the other Red Bull of Sergio Perez ahead of him. The Briton pretended to take it easy and came over the team radio to reassure the pit wall that it was ‘a marathon, not a sprint’ – a reflection on the season-long battle for supremacy rather than this short, late dart.
Anyway, Hamilton saw his chance when the lights went out and equalized and then ahead of Perez. The only problem was that he locked up and ran straight down the breakaway instead of turning left into the lead and an almost certain win. “I’m sorry, guys,” Hamilton said. The champion’s 54-race scoring streak was over. He stumbled home in 15th place.
What happened? “Did I leave the magic on?” he asked, what seemed to the uninitiated the opposite of what had happened. “I could have sworn I turned it off.”
It was a brilliant weekend for Sergio Perez as he took the win by capitulation on the mistakes of the two favorites
There were great celebrations at the end as Perez was embraced by the Red Bull team after his win in Baku
Hamilton insisted it was a ‘marathon, not a sprint’ but he grew impatient to pass Perez after a frustrating afternoon race
Well, Hamilton later explained: “Just at the restart, when Checo (as Perez is known) came up to me, I flipped a switch and it basically turned the brakes off (or changes the balance of the brakes), so I just went straight . It is very difficult to take.
“It’s quite a humbling experience. We worked so hard this weekend to come back from a bad start in practice. I’m sorry for the team and we will come back stronger.”
Now back to Verstappen in the medical center. He entered there expecting Hamilton to score heavily, but as he lay on a bed and his blood pressure was measured, his phone started buzzing. It was the news that Hamilton had run off the track.
So the race ended, Perez retired after taking the checkered flag, Sebastian Vettel was second to claim Aston Martin’s first podium and Pierre Gasly was third for AlphaTauri.
At Mercedes, utter dejection. Wolff seemed to be on the verge of tears. “I’m so angry and I want to turn that into a positive force,” said the Austrian. “Both Lewis and I have been destroyed. This weekend we as a team did not give the drivers a competitive package. Far from.
The story was as much about Red Bull’s Verstappen as it was about Hamilton after controlling so much of the race in Azerbaijan
Debris flung across the track and pressure will mount on tire supplier Pirelli with two near-identical crashes – also Lance Stroll
Well, it was almost good enough for Hamilton, but not for Valtteri Bottas. The Finn struggled the entire time, finishing 12th.
The other big blow of the day came mid-race at almost the same point that Verstappen later broke down – on the 1.4-mile straight – when Lance Stroll suffered a high-speed puncture of his own. The left back was again the culprit. Questions were asked to Pirelli suppliers: was there an intrinsic flaw with their product?
Boss Mario Isola said last night that he thought not, but sent the rubber back to the Milan headquarters for testing. He added: “Our initial investigations suggest that the problems were due to an external factor such as debris.”
Verstappen was inconsolable as he walked away, but his lead at the top of the championship was undamaged in the end
It had looked so simple for Red Bull when both their men jumped Hamilton during the early pit stops. The seven-time champion was held back by his team, perhaps a little longer than necessary, to avoid a collision with Gasly in the pits.
Verstappen eagerly seized this opportunity to take the lead and soon had Perez act as his rear shooter after the Mexican’s stop on the next lap. At this point Ferrari pole man Charles Leclerc was out of the picture, slowed by a branch on the track and prey to faster cars. He finished fourth.
Hamilton’s woes began before the race started with the news that his friend, Mansour Ojjeh, the French-Saudi entrepreneur and long-time McLaren shareholder, had passed away at the age of 68. He had been battling ill health for several years.
Ojjeh joined Ron Dennis’ transformation in 1984 and was instrumental in McLaren’s glory years, including Hamilton’s title in 2008. He later feuded with Dennis, but never with Hamilton, often hugging him on the starting grid for the race.
“He was a big brother to me,” said Hamilton. “He wore the biggest smile.”
The car was recovered during the red flag break and it will now try to restore dominance in France within two weeks
RECAP with NATHAN SALT from Sportsmail