A kick out of frustration at his rotten left rear tire. Head down back to the pits. What a gigantic dull misery for Max Verstappen, after what for a long time looked suspiciously like a clear race from the book. Was it a tire problem from the failing, softer Pirelli’s compounds? Further research will no doubt clarify it, but what does it matter to Verstappen? He was really on roses, 47 out of 51 rounds. Almost 25 big World Cup points in the bag, two weeks after his win in Monaco. Two victories in a row, it had meant a new uniqueness in his career and a solid proof of even more progress.
Strong start, already past Charles Leclerc on the asphalt and with an ultra-fast pit stop also Lewis Hamilton, who was then also overtaken by Sergio Pérez. A dream scenario for Red Bull Racing, with the grumbling seven-time world champion tamed behind both Bulls. Fixed behind Pérez, as a buffer between the two title candidates. And Verstappen unthreatened for it, on his way to victory 13 and the even firmer lead in the World Cup.
For example, the Bulls seemed well on their way to checkmate the big competitor, in exactly the same way that Mercedes has done so often in recent seasons. Hamilton had to do it all alone today, starting from P10 Valtteri Bottas was nowhere to be seen all afternoon. The Finn, who was already delayed on the outward journey to Azerbaijan, was also in little hurry during the rest of the weekend. After a complete off-day only crossed the line in twelfth place.
It seemed like a gigantic party for Verstappen and co. in the making, especially when the cunning safety-car situation after Lance Stroll’s crash had been survived. But that sudden blowout on the Canadian’s straight, unfortunately turned out to be a harbinger of much more misery. After all, Verstappen smashed the same rear tire on the straight ten laps later. Road tire, road control, full into the wall.
For example, Sunday completely turned around for Verstappen, who seemed to have to relinquish that position instead of being more firmly in the lead. But the day could have been crazier. A restart with two laps to go also ruined the afternoon for Lewis Hamilton. Starting behind Sergio Pérez, he galloped towards turn one with cold tires. Straight ahead and away those extra points and the lead. Hamilton no win, Verstappen no damage.
And in an afternoon full of plot twists, Red Bull was also allowed to cheer, because of the victory of Pérez, the man who kept his head cool during the denouement. Freed from Hamilton, he sprinted to his first win for the Bulls, ahead of the overjoyed Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly.