Max Verstappen was arguably the biggest winner at the end of a fraught 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix after his archrival Lewis Hamilton messed up the restart of the mini-sprint that decided the race on Sunday.
While the Red Bull driver bagged no points after a Pirelli blowout sent him crashing out of a commanding lead with teammate Sergio Perez backing up to perfection throughout the race. A one-two was on the cards, until it wasn’t.
With Verstappen in the medical centre for a check-up post wall crunching, Hamilton was on the front row for the restart and turned a sure podium, even victory, into zero points at the flick of a switch.
What may have been a dozen or so points lead for the Mercedes driver after six rounds, the score remains the same as it was after Monaco: Verstappen leads by four.
With Hamilton exonerated by his boss Toto Wolff, who refused to call out the mistake, Max told Dutch reporters after the race: “It’s clear: Nobody is perfect, everyone makes mistakes. So far I think that we have made fewer mistakes in the championship fight.” For now of course.
In the aftermath of a dramatic afternoon, it was pathetically unfair for Wolff to blame his impeccable Mercedes team on a weekend when their drivers were out of sorts, while the two Red Bull chaps were on a mission, both Verstappen and Baku winner Sergio Perez clicked during this weekend, in more ways than one.
The same cannot be said of the Merc boys in Baku. Valtteri Bottas was nowhere to be found and Lewis only got going in qualifying. Putting the W12 second on the grid. We know he is a good qualifier, but it not a bad car on Saturday, or Sunday for that matter.
Despite the reality of his 13th F1 victory being stolen from him by a blow-up and no fault of his own, Verstappen was upbeat: “I trust my team. Every time I go into the pits, I know 99.9 percent that the pitstop will be great. That’s a very nice feeling.”
As for Hamilton’s error, the Dutch driver said: “I’m definitely not saying that he makes mistakes because he’s under pressure. Everyone gives their best. This year he doesn’t just have his teammates as rivals, he has to fight for the World Championship with another team.
“That always brings a new dimension to the game – and I think its great for sports!”
“We just have to keep pushing and bring in new parts. If we constantly adapt to the conditions and learn from them, then I am sure that we will have a good season,” predicted the 23-year-old.
Stats show that after six of the 23 scheduled races, Verstappen is four points ahead of Hamilton and Red Bull atop the constructors’ standings with 26 points. Advantage the Bulls.