Top 5 Azerbaijan Grands Prix
It seems like a lifetime ago since the Australian Grand Prix and finally F1 is back this weekend for our seventh ever visit to the streets of Baku.
And with that in mind, I’m back to once again take a trip down memory lane and revisit the best races we have ever seen in Azerbaijan at what has fast become one of the highlights of the F1 calendar.
A quick note that while there has only been five Azerbaijan Grand Prix in history, there have been six races held at the Baku City Circuit, as the 2016 edition of the race was called the European Grand Prix.
Despite that not technically being the “Azerbaijan Grand Prix”, I will be counting it this time around for inclusion on this list.
So with all that now out of the way, let’s get to the list.
5. 2016 – Winner: Nico Rosberg (Mercedes)
The inaugural race in Baku designated the “European Grand Prix” wasn’t exactly the greatest race ever seen, but it still brought a sense of excitement to the F1 paddock with a high speed street circuit capable of bringing overtaking and exciting racing.
Nico Rosberg dominated all weekend, winning easily from pole position to maintain a strong lead in the Drivers’ Championship. The star of the race though was Sergio Perez, then driving for Force India.
The Mexican driver had qualified second but started seventh due to a five-place grid penalty for changing his gearbox before the race. This didn’t stop him from storming his way through the field, sitting in fourth place on the final lap behind the Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen.
Perez didn’t need to overtake Raikkonen as the Finnish driver had a five-second penalty for crossing the pit entry line and Perez was comfortably within this time and was certain of a podium finish.
However he made sure he earned the podium on track and not through a penalty, overtaking Raikkonen on the final lap to showcase his street circuit skills that he still is renowned for to this day.
4. 2019 – Winner: Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
As you’ll read in just a moment, Valtteri Bottas should’ve won his first Azerbaijan in 2018.
However it wasn’t to be for the Finn. However the year after, he produced a dominant display with a lights to flag victory that brought redemption from the previous year.
This race is perhaps best remembered for a somewhat bizarre incident involving the two Dans, former Red Bull teammates Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo.
Running in 10th and 11th at the time, Ricciardo in his Renault tried to overtake the Toro Rosso driver into turn 3 but locked up and went straight down the nearby escape road.
Kvyat missed the corner as he attempted to miss the Australian and narrowly missed crashing into the wall. However in an attempt to re-join the circuit, Ricciardo put his car into reverse and hit right into the Russian, causing both cars to retire.
It cost Ricciardo a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Spain, with Kvyat saying he would “buy Ricciardo a rear view mirror for the next race.”
3. 2018 – Winner: Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
“I think Ericsson hit us.”
This hilarious exchange between Haas driver Romain Grosjean and his team after he crashed out entirely on his own lives in infamy from this race, but it’s still not the most famous incident that happened in 2018.
That distinction of course belongs to that crash between Red Bull teammates Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, a key trigger point in what would eventually see Ricciardo leave the team and pursue other interests. In hindsight, it was one moment that perhaps could’ve made his entire F1 career gone differently.
The incident occurred on lap 40 after Verstappen had overcut Ricciardo in the pit stops and was attempting to defend from an overtake heading down the main straight into turn 1.
The move was late by Verstappen leaving Ricciardo nowhere to go, and both drivers retired from the race.
Through the safety car that followed there was further chaos, with Valtteri Bottas jumping long time race leader Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari for 1st place, and then having Vettel fall back even further when he botched his attempt to retake the lead at the restart.
It then looked like an easy victory for the Mercedes driver before a tyre puncture on lap 49 caused him to retire, handing the race victory to his teammate Lewis Hamilton.
2. 2021 – Winner: Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
Probably known best for the frantic finish and disastrous crashes to both Max Verstappen and Lance Stroll, the 2021 edition of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix certainly had it all.
After a fairly quiet start, action soon came aplenty with Carlos Sainz the first to send the hearts fluttering on lap 11 after he outbraked himself on turn 8 and did well not to end up in the wall.
From there, the leading Mercedes were soon overtaken by the Red Bulls of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez in the pit stops, and things looked to be going great for the Austrian team.
However a tyre failure to Lance Stroll on the main straight soon brought out a safety car on lap 30, and then on lap 41 Max Verstappen suffered the same fate, this time bringing out a red flag. The race then restarted on lap 50 with a standing start with Perez on “pole” and Hamilton starting beside him.
A quick start by the Mercedes driver was soon undone as he out braked himself into the first turn and went sliding off the track, leaving Perez to cruise to victory, his second in F1 and first for Red Bull.
1. 2017 – Winner: Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
An easy winner for the best ever Azerbaijan Grand Prix. So epic was this race, that I listed it as the second greatest race of the 2010s back when I did that list at the end of 2019.
This race had everything. Incidents galore, overtaking, controversy and a debut podium from one hell of an underrated driver in Lance Stroll, who nearly took second place but was overtaken on the finish line by Valtteri Bottas. Still, third place in a Williams in 2017 was an incredible achievement.
It is probably best known for the incident behind the safety car between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel on lap 19. Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton and promptly accused him of brake-testing him. His response? To drive alongside Hamilton and turn in to the Mercedes driver.
This incident cost Vettel a ten-second stop-go penalty for dangerous driving, with Hamilton being unable to capitalise due to a damaged headrest which also cost him valuable time.
The key benefactor? Australia’s own Daniel Ricciardo who drove a superb race (including one of the best overtakes in recent memory) to claim the win and cap off a hell of a grand prix, cementing Azerbaijan as a stop on the calendar that every F1 fan looks forward to.
Do you agree with this list? Which Azerbaijan Grand Prix is your favourite? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
This article was originally written for The Roar. You can read the published version here