BAKU, Azerbaijan: Sergio Perez won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for Red Bull on Sunday, after then leading team-mate Max Verstappen crashed with five laps left owing to a puncture and Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton made a rare mistake in the closing stages.
Perez got his second career win ahead of Sebastian Vettel whose second place was a first podium for him with Aston Martin. Pierre Gasly completed a surprise podium in third for Alpha Tauri.
Verstappen had completely controlled the race since taking the lead from Hamilton during the first round of pit stops but crashed heavily into the barriers on the home straight, unable to control the car after the left rear tyre punctured.
The Dutchman kicked the rubber in disgust before walking away.
It was the second such incident because Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll had suffered exactly the same fate a few laps earlier at the same section.
The race was stopped and a standing start ordered for the last two laps where Hamilton tried to pass Perez from second place but locked up, went straight on in turn one and finished 15th.
It completed a weekend to forget for champions Mercedes with no points at all as Valtteri Bottas was 12th.
And Hamilton’s mishap also meant that Verstappen retained the championship lead four points ahead of him.
“Normally Baku is pretty crazy,” Perez said. “I have to say sorry to Max, it would have been incredible to get that one-two for the team.
“But at the end, it was a fantastic day for us. This is definitely a strong boost of confidence for myself.”
Vettel said: “I’m over the moon. We were not expecting a podium here.”
Charles Leclerc won the start from his surprise pole but it was soon clear that his Ferrari was inferior as Hamilton, Verstappen and Perez moved ahead, with Perez impressively moving up from sixth on the grid.
During the first pit stops Hamilton was held up because Gasly arrived, and the precious lost seconds were enough for the Red Bull duo to move ahead of him.
Stroll was the only driver who hadn’t pitted yet but running in fourth, up from 19th at the start, his left rear tyre then punctured and he hit the wall hard at almost top speed entering the home straight.
Stroll luckily got out seemingly unharmed but the safety car was deployed as the stricken car and plenty of debris had to be removed.
There was no change at the top at the restart and Verstappen seemed comfortably on course towards victory when he shockingly suffered the same fate as Stroll.
Hamilton then tried to snatch first place at the death in the restart but was only left to say “I am sorry guys” via team radio after the attempt went horribly wrong.
The season continues on June 20 with the French Grand Prix. — dpa