Max took his third fourth-place finish in a row at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but there was disappointment for Pierre. The French driver had driven an excellent race to sit in sixth place after a pit-lane start when his race was cruelly ended by a suspected driveshaft failure on lap 39.
When the lights went out at the start, pole sitter Valtteri Bottas was immediately put under pressure by a fast-starting Lewis Hamilton but the Finn defended well through the first few corners to hold his lead.
Sebastian Vettel held his starting third place, but behind him Max was jumped at the start by Racing Point’s Sergio Perez. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, starting from P8, dropped back to P11 at the start but within five laps he had clawed his way to P7 as the straight-line speed of his Ferrari told.
Max, meanwhile, was reeling in Perez and on the long pit straight he pulled up close to the Racing Point’s gearbox and blasted past the Mexican on entry to turn one to reclaim fourth place.
Leclerc was now on a march and by lap seven he had passed McLaren’s Lando Norris and Perez to sit in P5 two seconds behind Max. And on lap ten, the Ferrari driver took advantage of his better-performing medium tyres and DRS to pass Max on the pit straight.
Pierre, meanwhile, was climbing through the field rapidly. Like Leclerc, he started on medium compound tyres and as soft-shod rivals around him pitted, the Frenchman was boosted up the order. He also maximised the opportunity the mediums gave in terms of performance compared with the more fragile softs and by lap 13 he had climbed to P6.
Vettel was the first of the frontrunners to make a pit stop, on lap 12, and the German’s move triggered a response from the other front-running soft tyre starters.
Max was among those who dived into the pit lane, the Dutchman emerging in P6 behind Pierre. He quickly closed on his teammate and with the drivers on different strategies, the Frenchman sensibly moved across and allowed Max to move into P5.
At the halfway point of the 51-lap race, Leclerc, who had yet to stop, now led Bottas by just three seconds. Hamilton was a further 3.5 seconds back with Vettel three seconds behind the champion. Max was fifth ahead of Pierre, who like Leclerc was also still on starting medium tyres, and was 20s clear of Perez.
By lap 31, Bottas was just 1.1s behind Leclerc who was now holding the Mercedes up before his stop. That was keeping Vettel well in touch of Hamilton with the German three seconds behind the champion and saving tyres.
Bottas finally got past Leclerc on lap 32, and he was swiftly followed by Hamilton and Vettel. That was the cue for Ferrari to pit the Monegasque driver. He dived into the pit lane on lap 35 to take on soft tyres.
He rejoined in P6, behind Pierre. The Frenchman defended well but on his ageing medium tyres there was little he could do against the Ferrari man and on lap 36 Leclerc, armed with fresh tyres and DRS got past. That left Pierre who still needed a pit stop, in P6 again, a comfortable 30s ahead of Perez.
However, there was heartbreak for the Frenchman on lap 39. As he started the second sector he suddenly slowed dramatically and coasted off into a run-off area, his race over.
The incident brought out the virtual safety car and when the track was declared clear again, Max found himself just 2.4s behind Vettel. He pushed to get close to the Ferrari but as the race wound down the gaps began to solidify.
At the front, Bottas was in control, three seconds clear of Hamilton, who was in turn two, three seconds ahead of Vettel. Hamilton closed but with two laps to go he made a mistake and ran wide, handing Bottas his second win of the season.
Max took his third fourth place finish in a row ahead of Leclerc, who grabbed the point for fastest lap after pitting for a new set of soft tyres in the closing stages.
Perez took sixth place for Racing Point, while McLaren saw both Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris in the points in P7 and P8 respectively. Racing Point also saw both its drivers score with Lance Stroll in P9. Kimi Räikkönen took the final point, having started from the pit lane.
OUR RACE IN NUMBERS:
3 – Consecutive fourth place finishes for Max.
4 – Fourth is Max’s best finish in Baku.
6 – P6 the position Pierre was in when he was forced to retire.
Azerbaijan GP Race Result - Top 10:
- Valtteri Bottas
- Lewis Hamilton
- Sebastian Vettel
- MAX VERSTAPPEN
- Charles Leclerc
- Sergio Perez
- Carlos Sainz
- Lando Norris
- Lance Stroll
- Kimi Räikkönen