Mercedes driver and Championship leader romped home to victory at the maiden Grand Prix held on the streets of Baku, capital of Azerbaijan and host of the European Grand Prix. Rosberg started on pole, led ever lap from lights to flag and set the fastest lap, thus claiming a ‘Grand Chelem’, the second of his career. He was joined on the podium by Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari and Sergio Perez of Force India.
Rosberg’s team-mate and title rival Lewis Hamilton finished fifth. Hamilton struggled in qualifying, locking up and running wide several times before clipping one of the tight walls lining the street circuit and breaking his front right tracking. He started tenth. During the race the world champion struggled to make progress before an incorrect engine setting dented his pace. Despite his team knowing of the problem and its solution, they were unable to inform him how to rectify it due to the restrictions placed on radio messages that was put in place last season.
Despite the carnage seen on the street-circuit in the GP2 feeder series race hours before the Grand Prix, the same chaos was not repeated in the main event. Surprisingly, given the lack of run-off areas present on most of the track no safety car was called into action during the race. The long start finish straight saw several cars run off, and both Torro Rosso drivers retired due to brake issues at turn one.
The race itself was a relatively processional affair. Rosberg led and quickly pulled out a gap. Behind him second on the grid Daniel Ricciardo, Vettel and Raikkonen held station. The Red Bull driver’s tyres quickly degraded, and he was unable to keep Vettel at bay and was passed on lap three. Ricciardo pitted on lap three. Both he and team-mate Max Verstappen would struggle with tyre degradation for the entire race, with Ricciardo eventually finishing a lowly seventh. Ferrari had also considered stopping both cars early, with Raikkonen coming in on lap eight. Vettel questioned the strategy and chose to stay out, eventually pitting on lap 20. When he re-joined behind his team-mate, he was duly let past. Raikkonen was slower at that stage of the race, and had compromised his race slightly by being handed a five second time penalty. Kimi had crossed the pit-lane entry line marked in white on the track while slip-streaming behind Verstappen down the start-finish straight. This would eventually prove to be immaterial as he was passed by the hard charging Sergio Perez on the last lap of the race for third, with Hamilton in fifth a long way behind. Perez continued his purple patch of form, taking his second podium in three races. The Force India driver had qualified third but had been dropped to seventh on the grid due to a gearbox change penalty. The Force India was lightning-quick around the circuit, and should be a car to watch out for on the faster tracks to come this season.
The top ten was rounded out by Valterri Bottas in sixth (he set a record speed of 378kph in the race), the aforementioned Ricciardo in seventh, his team mate Verstappen in eigth, Nico Hulkenberg in ninth and Felipe Massa in the second Williams tenth.
Rosberg has now extended his lead in the championship to 24 points after taking his fifth win of the season. It is precious breathing room over Hamilton but this season has a lot of races yet to come.
F1 returns in Austria on July 1-3.