Formula One: Verstappen crashes out but stays on top

Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crashes during the Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, on June 6, 2021.
Red Bull's Dutch driver Max Verstappen crashes during the Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku, on June 6, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

AZERBAIJAN (REUTERS) - Red Bull's Max Verstappen rode the Formula One rollercoaster in Azerbaijan on Sunday (June 6), crashing out but staying top of the standings with his lead undented on an afternoon of shifting fortunes.

The final drama played out while the Dutch youngster was lying in the Baku medical centre having his blood pressure measured.

If anything was going to send that reading through the roof it was the knowledge he had just lost a certain win, his car's rear left tyre blowing five laps from the end in a crash that halted the race.

Mercedes rival Lewis Hamilton, in second place, was poised to cash in and take back the overall lead but the Briton botched his re-start and ended up careering out of the points for the first time in 54 races.

Verstappen realised something was up when his mobile started to go crazy.

"I had to go the medical centre but had to do a long route (to get there)," Verstappen told Sky Sports television.

"When I was laying on that bed, they were checking my blood pressure and suddenly my phone was vibrating a lot. I said 'what's going on?' because I could hear the cars of course.

"Then I was done and was allowed to leave and I saw on my phone that Lewis had a problem at turn one. My blood pressure even with those text messages was absolutely fine." Verstappen had not been so calm when he stepped out of the car, angrily kicking the blown rear tyre as he inspected the damage.

"I didn't feel anything up until the moment that I suddenly went to the right," he said of the crash. "The tyre just blew off the rim.

"Up until then I think we had a very strong race. I was just basically matching the lap times that I had to do. We were fully in control." Hamilton ended up 15th, Verstappen's team mate Sergio Perez won and everything suddenly looked a lot better.

In the space of two hours Verstappen had gone from four points ahead of Hamilton at the start, then potentially 15 up when leading, to 14 behind after the crash and finally four clear again.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner felt like he had aged 20 years.

"We were staring down the barrels of our first one-two since 2016 and everything in control," he said. "And then Boom!

"The feeling at that point was like the world had just dropped from under us.

"It just shows the rollercoaster you go through in this sport. We've actually maintained the same lead in the drivers' championship leaving here and extended the constructors'."