Max Verstappen looked set for victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, however a stunning crash with just laps remaining handed the chequered flag to teammate Sergio Perez.
The Dutchman was on course for his third win of the 2021 F1 season after leading for much of the race, however a tyre failure sent him crashing into the wall down the main straight. The race was eventually red flagged, with Perez holding on to claim his second career win with Lewis Hamilton, who was in second, running off track at Turn 1 to throw away his chance at retaking the lead in the Drivers' Standings. Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly rounded out the podium.
It was a stunning end to what looked like a standout day for Red Bull, as they were on course for a one-two finish. However it wasn't to be, though the team will take comfort in Perez's win and Hamilton's late mistake as they remain atop in both standings.
Unlike in Monaco, Leclerc made it to the grid and he got off the line well and kept his first place position into the first corner ahead of Hamilton and Verstappen. Perez climbed up to fourth with Gasly and Carlos Sainz just behind.
It didn't take long for Hamilton to make his way past the Ferrari driver. Leclerc made a mistake into Turn 15, opening the door for Lewis to close up and use the slipstream down the main straight to take the lead.
Esteban Ocon's race lasted just a handful of laps. His Alpine lost power, with the team opting to bring him in and wheel him into the garage. Meanwhile at the front, Verstappen finally found his way past Leclerc on Lap 7, with Perez doing the same a lap later to make the top five Hamilton, Verstappen, Perez, Leclerc and Gasly.
After both Ferrari cars came in for fresh tyres, Sainz had a moment and went off at Turn 8 which forced him to reverse out of the corner and dropping him down the order.
Hamilton pitted on Lap 12, however it was a slow stop for the Mercedes team at 4.6s as they had to hold him that much longer due to some pit lane traffic. This opened the door for Red Bull, with Verstappen and Perez both coming in and getting out ahead of Hamilton, with the Mexican missing out on the lead after his stop was slow as well.
Race - Azerbaijan
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Meanwhile Sebastian Vettel found himself leading the race on his old soft compound tyres while Verstappen built a gap over Perez and Hamilton. The Aston Martin driver eventually came in on Lap 19, coming out in seventh place just behind Leclerc.
Although Hamilton was able to close the gap to Perez down the straight when getting a slipstream, he then dropped off through the slower corners. The Mercedes driver eventually dropped a few second back to get out of the dirty air as he and team continued to work out ways to get past the Red Bull. Meanwhile Verstappen continued to cruise away at the front, extending his lead to 6.3s on Lap 29.
It was all thrown into disarray on Lap 31 as Stroll had a left-rear tyre failure down the main straight, hitting the wall hard and sending debris all over the track. The Canadian was able to get out of the car, with the Safety Car brought out and thus bunching up the pecking order.
The pit lane was initially closed and it did open, Mick Schumacher came in for new tyres. However he stopped just outside his pit box with an improperly fit wheel nut, with the team wheeling him back.
The race resumed on Lap 36 with the top spots remaining unchanged, though Vettel continued his impressive performance on fresher tyres by getting past Leclerc for fifth. A lap later the German found his way past Gasly for fourth, opening the door for a possible late charge on Hamilton for third.
Fastest laps were exchanged in the closing stages of the race, however victory was snatched from Verstappen with just a few laps remaining. The Dutchman crashed down the main straight with what looked like a tyre failure, bringing out the red flags with just three laps remaining.
The race resumed with a standing start and the drama continued, as Hamilton got off the line and looked certain to pass Perez for the lead. However the Mercedes driver locked up into Turn 1, running off the track and falling all the way to the back of the grid. Perez eventually crossed the line first to take his second career victory ahead of Vettel, while Gasly fended off Leclerc to take the final spot on the podium.