Mercedes continued their dominant start to 2019 with a record-breaking 1-2 finish at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, as Valtteri Bottas earned redemption for his lost win in last year's race by beating team-mate Lewis Hamilton to regain the lead of the championship.
Here, Rob Watts looks back on Baku to see who caught the eye and who had a weekend to forget.
Valtteri Bottas (1st)
This was the kind of impressive performance from Bottas that we saw in Melbourne, but perhaps more significantly, it was the kind of performance that will put him right in contention to win the 2019 world drivers’ championship.
Bottas got the job done in qualifying, making use of the tow on his final Q3 lap to edge ahead of team-mate Hamilton, but as always, he needed to make it count heading into the first corner on Sunday.
Racing side-by-side with Hamilton into Turn 1, Bottas looked every inch a more confident and decisive driver than we’ve seen in recent years, threading his way through Turn 2 to edge out Hamilton before building up a gap over a second by the end of the first lap.
With Ferrari’s strategy team seemingly on a leave of absence, the Mercedes pair were the only genuine contenders to win this race. With Bottas’ lead being reduced to just over a second with just a few laps left, it appeared we might see a last gasp bid from Hamilton to snatch the win away but the Finn was undeterred.
He cleverly used the Williams of George Russell ahead to pick up a tow, and from there on the win was all but secured as Hamilton touched a wheel off track, losing a few crucial tenths as he pushed flat out to keep pace with Bottas.
It’s hard to imagine the Bottas of last season coming out on top in battles like this, but in 2019 we genuinely appear to have a new Bottas and one that Hamilton should be very wary of.
Once again, Perez showed his repertoire of street-fighting skills at a circuit he’s grown to love in recent years with a very strong drive to sixth place.
While there was no repeat of the memorable podiums he delivered in previous years, this was a superb performance all weekend from Perez and his Racing Point team. As the Mexican commented afterwards, he spent much of the race at “full limit” trying to keep the faster McLarens at bay, and he did it.
So far, 2019 has been a difficult year for the Racing Point team, but in Perez, they know they possess a driver who’ll consistently deliver whenever the car is in the performance window to do so, and Baku was a super example of just why he’s so valuable to this team.
Four races into his McLaren career and Sainz can finally breathe a sigh of relief. A series of incidents and car failures left the Spaniard pointless after three rounds, but a spirited fightback in Baku gave him the chance to show his worth, finishing ahead of team-mate Lando Norris in seventh despite starting two places behind him on the grid.
In fact, his ninth-place grid start could have been even better but for some ill-timed bad luck. Sainz would likely have qualified ahead of Norris too had he not been faced with a yellow flag on his final Q2 run.
Aided by a few penalties ahead, ninth was a sufficiently good starting spot for Sainz to compete for points, and he kept up his strong Baku record by grabbing a top 10 finish for the third time in as many visits to the Azerbaijani capital.
It seems that Gasly cannot buy a result at the moment, and his poor start to his Red Bull career continued Baku, a weekend he’ll want to quickly forget.
The Frenchman’s weekend started to unravel almost before it had properly begun when the FIA informed him that he was to start the race from the pit lane after failing to stop for at the weighbridge when requested at the end of FP2. Things went from bad to worse when he was later disqualified from qualifying altogether after a fuel flow irregularity was found on his RB15.
An aggressive opening stint meant he’d worked his way up to sixth place behind
team-mate Max Verstappen prior to his pitstop. Unfortunately for Gasly, his pitstop never came as a driveshaft failure brought a premature end to his afternoon.
There’s still for him to recover, but weekends like this do not help when trying to settle in at a new team. He’s already 38 points adrift of Verstappen and desperately needs a change of luck before the questions begin regarding his future.
A race to forget for Ricciardo as his nightmare start to life with Renault goes on. He is 13th in the championship after another non-score in Baku, a position certainly not what he’d had in mind when making the switch from Red Bull.
The Australian missed Q3 for the third time in four races, and neither he or Nico Hulkenberg looked comfortable all weekend. A clumsy lunge on Daniil Kvyat led to an embarrassing incident whereby Ricciardo overshot the corner after missing his braking zone, and then reversed straight into Kvyat’s car after failing to look in his mirrors.
His day went from bad to worse soon after when he was forced to retire his car with damage and was then slapped with a three-place grid penalty for hitting the low-speed hit on the Russian.
The Williams team (15th and 16th)
Their weekend in started in the most bizarre fashion when George Russell ran over a drain cover during FP2. The damage suffered was bad enough for Williams to have to change his chassis completely before he could compete in FP3.
Their resources were then stretched even further when Robert Kubica went into the wall hard in qualifying. Another rebuild was required, and after getting him ready for the race, the team picked up a drive-through penalty for sending him out a full NINE MINUTES before they should have.
The race, for obvious reasons, was a non-event for both cars as their pace shows no signs of improving. After lapping more than three seconds off the pace in Q1, the Williams pair were once again left rooted to the back row of the grid, a staggering 1.5 seconds behind the next slowest car.
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