“Did I leave the magic on?” is a question Lewis Hamilton asked his Mercedes team after he blew a sure podium late on in a dramatic 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday.
The answer of course was he did not. “I could have sworn I turned that off,” Hamilton replied as he went straight instead of turning right into Turn 1 after he blitzed the restart of the three-lap sprint race that the race in Baku became in the end.
Sniffing victory, Hamilton simply flicked the wrong switch at the wrong time and instead of slowing down the Merc went straight into the nowhere-to-turn escape road traps the errant. Game over.
No matter how his team try to sugarcoat the missed brake-markers, it was a rare and also costly mistake by the seven-time F1 World Champion. With luckless Max Verstappen out of the running, it may have been wiser to err on the side of a safe result but that’s not how Hamilton is wired.
Nevertheless, points for second place would have ensured he headed to France with a lead of 14, instead 15th today was worth zero and he heads to Round 7 trailing Max by four points, as he did before the race in Baku. Today was a stalemate.
Hamilton explained to reporters in the media pen: “I’m not entirely sure but I hit some sort of switch… There’s a button we have to help keep the front brakes up and as Perez pulled over, I reacted and accidentally latched on the switch and just locked up and went straight.
Two tyre blowouts changed the complexion of the race, but Hamilton did not focus on that: “I wasn’t really thinking too much about it, to be honest. I didn’t have enough information, so I didn’t know if it was tyre failure or debris. You just can’t let that sort of stuff get in your mind.
“I think it’s been an incredibly difficult two races and I think today it’s really, it’s obviously a painful experience. I think today was really a stroke of bad luck. Max had bad luck too and these sorts of things happen.
“Naturally sorry to all the team, we’ll just regroup and try and come back stronger. I think there are lots of positives to take from the weekend in terms of where we recovered to get back to, and yeah, we’ll come back stronger.”
Despite Verstappen’s failure while in control of the race, Red Bull had Sergio Perez on his A-game all day and, with Valtteri Bottas anonymous all weekend long in the other Mercedes also failing to score points, Red Bull leave Baku with a handy 26 points lead.
Hamilton continued: “Naturally you can see clearly the Red Bull is the quickest at the moment. Very, very hard to keep up with them today and so to be in the mix and in that position was really amazing experience, and it’s quite a humbling experience to come away with nothing after all the hard work, but these things happen.”
As for title rival Verstappen also jetting out of Baku empty-handed, Hamilton said: “It’s irrelevant, it doesn’t really make any difference to be honest.
“These lessons are sent to try us and it’s just quite difficult also because I lost a friend this morning and so just a mixture of emotions. But yeah, we live to fight another day,” added Hamilton. (Additional reporting by Agnes Carlier)
Today was a humbling experience. We worked so hard to put ourselves back in the top 10 today after a rocky week here in Baku. We gave it our all today and a small error caused the brakes to switch off. Sorry to the team, we’ll come back stronger for the next race 🙏🏾 pic.twitter.com/oHy75S07L3