BAKU • Sergio Perez won a dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix for Red Bull yesterday after a tyre blowout denied championship-leading teammate Max Verstappen a certain victory while Lewis Hamilton failed to score after an inexplicable mistake.
The race was red-flagged when Verstappen crashed five laps from the end while in the lead.
The Dutch driver clambered out of the wrecked car and kicked the left rear tyre in fury with his hopes of a maiden win in Azerbaijan in tatters.
But Baku's street circuit then provided another crazy twist at the standing restart when Mercedes' seven-time world champion Hamilton lined up second with two laps remaining.
The Briton looked set to take back the overall lead but got it all wrong, locking up and going straight down the escape road in the sprint to the first corner, ending his race in 15th spot.
Had Hamilton kept hold of his position, he would have collected 18 points, moving 14 points clear at the top. Instead, he failed to finish in the points after 54 successive top-10 finishes going back to his July 2018 retirement in Austria.
"I'm so sorry, guys," he said over the radio.
However, Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff absolved his star driver of any blame, saying: "I have a four-hour flight with Lewis now and I just need to let him know that this wasn't because of a mistake by him.
"He doesn't make mistakes and I wouldn't have anybody else in that car.
"This is a team that's so strong. I am so angry right now but I've got to transfer that energy into something productive so we can improve next time out at Paul Ricard (the French Grand Prix on June 20)."
Hamilton's blunder allowed German four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel to secure his first podium finish for Aston Martin, finishing second, with Frenchman Pierre Gasly taking third for Red Bull-owned AlphaTauri.
AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX
1 Sergio Perez (Mex) Red Bull 2hr 13min 36.410sec
2 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Aston Martin +1.385sec
3 Pierre Gasly (Fra) AlphaTauri +2.762
4 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari +3.828
5 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren +4.754
1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 105 points
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 101
3 Perez 69
1 Red Bull 174 points
2 Mercedes 148
3 Ferrari 94
The bonus point for fastest lap was not awarded because Verstappen, who set it, did not finish in the top 10.
Perez, who won his first F1 race at last December's Sakhir Grand Prix, was delighted with his first chequered flag for Red Bull even though he wished Verstappen was beside him on the podium.
"Normally Baku is pretty crazy," said the Mexican, who finished third here in 2018 with the now-defunct Force India.
"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. We were close to retiring the car but luckily we managed to finish the race."
Verstappen, who managed to retain the championship lead by four points from Hamilton (101), later used a heartbreak emoji to describe his race but tweeted: "But happy for the team and a huge congrats to Checo on the win.
"The car, pit stops and strategy were amazing again, thanks to Red Bull Racing.
"Not much more to say at this time other than we'll keep pushing until the end."