In the relatively short existence of the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan, there are already many moments when the street race in Baku caused a spectacle. The circuit, with its tight corners, fast turners and a straight section on which the drivers reach dizzying top speeds, is known as one of the most exciting races of the year. Ahead of the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, F1Maximum looks back at what has already happened in the port city on the Caspian Sea.
In 2016, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was allowed to join the Formula 1 calendar, although the first edition was known for the European Grand Prix, an honorary title. After kicking off the street circuit’s F1 career, the race is simply called the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The race in the Caspian port city is one of the few Grands Prix that has had a different winner six times in a row.
Like the Singapore Grand Prix, the race in Baku offers the guarantee that something spectacular can happen almost every time. For example, the crash of the Red Bull Racing teammates took place there, Lance Stroll was suddenly on the podium, and Lewis Hamilton ‘threw everything in the well’ when the 2021 GP resumed with a standing restart. Every year something seemed to happen.
That is also the reason why the Azerbaijan Grand Prix has not been won twice in a row by the same driver. However, the race has been won three times by Mercedes and three times by Red Bull. If Max Verstappen also wins the Grand Prix in Baku this year, he will be the first driver to win the race on the street circuit twice in a row.
‘First edition’ Grand Prix of Azerbaijan shows pearly moments
Prior to Verstappen’s victory in 2022, there were therefore five other winners. One of them is Daniel Ricciardo. During the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in 2017, the Australian showed a fantastic overtaking action in which he managed to overtake no fewer than three drivers. The 33-year-old celebrated his victory in a real Ricciardo way, which of course consisted of a shoey.
Stroll was the surprise guest on the podium that race. The Canadian fought a nice battle with Valtteri Bottas where he was overtaken by the Finn just before the finish. Stroll, then-Williams driver, was of course delighted with his podium, although he was less than enthusiastic about drinking champagne from Ricciardo’s sweaty shoe.
Hamilton was missing from the podium, as was Sebastian Vettel. The two men clashed earlier in the race. The safety car came out a quarter of the way into the race and it was up to Hamilton to restart the race later. Vettel drove into Hamilton and then claimed the Briton was brake testing him, but the FIA could later read from the telemetry that this was not the case.
2018 saw Alonso on two tyres, the famed Red Bull crash, and Grosjean crashed by Ericsson.
During the opening round of the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan 2018, there was immediately bumblebees. Esteban Ocon drove over the front of a Ferrari and was able to park his car on the sideline as a result. Because of the carbon that was scattered, the safety car came out. That worked out well for Fernando Alonso, because his McLaren had two flat tires. The Spaniard wanted to come in, but the front right and rear right tires were both torn.
On two tires and two rims, the two-time world champion managed to get his car into the pit lane in one piece, and the team was able to change its tires there. After the first safety car it was fairly quiet on the track for a while, although the tension between Ricciardo and Verstappen was palpable. The two drivers of the Austrian racing team were chasing each other for a long time, but it went well every time.
Until lap 40 of the race, when Ricciardo parked his car in Verstappen’s gearbox and they crashed out of the race together. The situation was obviously far from ideal for Red Bull, and Adrian Newey, who took his notebook and moved away from the pit wall, was pretty much done with it. He wasn’t the only one who was quite nasty, Romain Grosjean was also furious when he was in the wall during the safety car period, as he would have been kicked out by Marcus Ericsson, which was completely untrue.
Ricciardo proved in 2019 that he had forgotten looking at mirrors
The 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was actually quite boring compared to the two previous editions. The race went quite smoothly, someone spun out here and there, Mercedes was comfortably in the lead for the most part, and nobody made any really crucial mistakes. Until Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat drove into the run-off lane together and the Australian drove back without checking where Kvyat was.
The former Red Bull driver thus damaged his Renault and Kvyat’s Toro Rosso. Pierre Gasly had taken over the Red Bull car for the first part of the 2019 season and he did quite well in Baku. Towards the final phase of the race, he managed to keep his good friend Charles Leclerc behind him for a while, and that resulted in beautiful images. However, Gasly later dropped out.
2021: Verstappen devilish, ‘Sucker’ Hamilton ‘flickers it in the well’, Vettel takes a brilliant P2
The race of 2021 was discussed for a very long time. The year before, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was not held due to the corona pandemic, but the 2021 edition made up for that in terms of excitement and sensation. For the Dutch viewers, the race did not have the result they had probably hoped for, as Verstappen retired due to a blowout with a handful of laps to go.
The two-time world champion looked set to storm to his maiden victory in Baku, but fate had something else in store for him. Earlier in the race, Stroll also crashed due to a blowout, which led Pirelli to investigate the cause extensively afterwards. The crashes of the two drivers could have ended much worse. Anyway, the race resumed despite only having four laps left.
The race resumed with a standing restart and it was up to Sergio Pérez to outwit Hamilton and take victory for Red Bull after all. The Briton’s brakes were smoking heavily as they lined up, as he had moved the brake balance far forward to warm up the tyres. At the start he pressed the button for that same brake balance, not exactly optimal for normal braking, and that sent the seven-time world champion straight into the first corner. It prompted the comment of former Ziggo Sport F1 commentator Olav Mol, who said that ‘Hamilton shook it off’. Pérez was then in the lead and had to keep that up for two more laps, and he managed to do that.
Behind him, Vettel did very good business in his green Aston Martin car and managed to drag into P2 in the race with the crazy end. Gasly was on course for P3 and absolutely did not want to relinquish it, so he defended tooth and nail when Leclerc was aiming for that podium spot. The Frenchman managed to keep third place and was allowed to join the podium.
Double Ferrari bad luck and Verstappen’s revenge
The curse of the 2021 seemed to have passed on the Dutchman to Ferrari. Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz both retired due to reliability issues at the 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Sainz was the first casualty. However, the moment did not yield much spectacle. After that, Red Bull was comfortably in the lead and Verstappen and Pérez were briefly fighting each other.
In the twentieth lap of the race, Leclerc’s Ferrari started to smoke and it was game over for him as well. Where Gasly had been fighting with Leclerc in the previous two years, he was now fighting with Hamilton, although the seven-time world champion did not easily pass him. In any case, the battles happened far behind the head, because Verstappen won the race in 2022 with two fingers in the nose.