For the first time in history, the European Formula-1 GP was held in Azerbaijani capital Baku. After some setbacks earlier in the season, Mercedes’ championship leader Nico Rosberg returned to the winning ways. Four-time world champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari was second but for Indian Motorsports fans, the reason for cheer in Baku’s inaugural race was the third-place finish for Sahara Force India’s Sergio Perez. Despite being penalized for gear-box change during the qualifying, Perez still managed to claim third place and the podium for second time this season. Less than a month ago on May 29, Perez had also claimed podium at Monaco GP. Other Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg finished ninth. Held 12 days ago, it was a hugely entertaining race on City’s street circuit and every race analyst agreed that Baku had made a very impressive debut. Rosberg’s teammate Lewis Hamilton finished fifth while grappling with engine settings all the way and allowed Rosberg to re-inflate his championship lead to 24 points.
For Indian Motorsports enthusiasts, Sahara Force India’s Sergio Perez taking the third podium spot at Baku’s inaugural GP brought huge cheers. The Mexican had taken the podium at Monaco GP as well and Team Principal Dr Vijay Mallya described the success at Baku as incredible. Unlike Monaco, the Baku result was achieved completely on merit and Mallya added that the entire team deserved credit for throwing up two successes in such a short period. The race also brought season’s another victory for Mercedes’ championship leader Nico Rosberg and since his teammate and closest contender Lewis Hamilton could only finish fifth, Rosberg’s lead over Hamilton jumped to 24 points. There was never any doubt about Rosberg winning because he led from start and never looked like ceding his top finish to Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel. In the qualifying on Saturday, Rosberg was supreme in winning the pole with Perez giving him a tough time. The qualifying ended with Rosberg and Perez as the top two, followed by Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen were fourth & fifth; Williams’s Felipe Massa sixth, Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat seventh, other Williams’s driver Valtteri Bottas eighth, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen ninth and Lewis Hamilton, who finished tenth despite crashing earlier.
As the race began on Sunday, Force India driver Perez didn’t start from his second place on the grid but had to move back 5 places as a grid-penalty was slapped on him for changing the gear-box. Regardless, Perez improved to the fifth place in lap-3 itself in a smooth start of the Baku race. Pole-winner Rosberg easily held off Daniel Ricciardo and headed the bunch. The other Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg was a bit unlucky as Haas-Ferrari driver Esteban Gutierrez slammed him from the side on lap-3. On lap-13, Kimi Raikkonen earned a 5-second penalty for crossing the line on his pit-stop. The drivers’ going through city streets was a great spectacle for residents, who watched the event from their homes. It was earlier expected that Baku might throw up hurdles on account of winding narrow paths with limited run-off areas but after 16 laps, Daniil Kvyat was the only one leaving the race because of a broken suspension. By lap-18, Rosberg still kept his lead from Vettel, Bottas Ricciardo and Raikkonen. Sergio Perez was 8th ahead of Hamilton. On a cheeky turn on lap-23, Perez overtook Ricciardo from his inside and Hamilton did likewise. In lap-25, Hulkenberg also reclaimed his tenth position. Ferrari’s Vettel and Raikkonen kept fighting for second spot but Ferrari managers asked Raikkonen to let Vettel go past. Race leader Rosberg was driving in solitary splendor with more than 18-second lead over Vettel by lap-31. By lap-32 Hamilton had a problem with engine setting and his Team didn’t help him despite knowing fully about the issue. That irked the reigning world champion even more. Meanwhile by lap-34, Sergio Perez was right behind Raikkonen. With barely 17 laps remaining, it became apparent that Rosberg would finish the winner with his hefty lead over Vettel. The most interesting factor was the fight between Raikkonen and Perez for the third podium spot. By lap-44, Hamilton could fix what he wanted to but by then, it was too late for him. Still, the British driver delivered the fastest lap. Fernando Alonso of McLaren retired prematurely in lap-45 but to Baku’s credit most other drivers completed the race that didn’t have to send the safety car even once in the 51-lap race.
With 3 laps left, Perez was still behind Raikkonen but the Force India driver knew that Raikkonen would be hit with the 5-second penalty in the end. Therefore, all he needed to do was to finish right behind Raikkonen’s Ferrari and he would still get the final podium place. Behind the bunch, Ricciardo and Hulkenberg were fighting for lower positions. In the end, it turned out to be an easy victory for Rosberg, who finished 16.6 second ahead of second-placed Sebastian Vettel. Force India driver Sergio Perez attacked Raikkonen in the last lap to take the podium outright, Hamilton improved to fifth place; Valtteri Bottas was sixth; Ricciardo seventh; Verstappen eighth; Hulkenberg ninth and Williams’ Felipe Massa finished tenth.
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