Nico Rosberg eased his way to victory at the European Grand Prix in Baku, beating Sebastian Vettel by 16.6 seconds to claim his fifth victory of the season. Sergio Perez secured another podium, bringing his Force India home in 3rd after showing incredible pace all weekend.
There were predictions of a messy start, but most drivers played it cautiously and there wasn’t much contact throughout the race. Estaban Guttierez got it slightly wrong going into turn one, his Haas clipping Nico Hulkenberg’s Force India and resulting in a damaged front-wing for the Mexican.
Lewis Hamilton wasn’t able to make up any places on the opening lap from 10th. Jenson Button managed to make some ground up after a disappointing qualifying yesterday, his opening lap bringing him from 19th to 15th, the biggest gain on lap one.
Nico Rosberg was in a race of his own from lap five, the German had pulled a seven-second gap over Daniel Ricciardo’s Red Bull by that point. The Red Bull’s had an issue with tyre degradation this weekend, and were the first to bring their cars in for new tyres. Raikkonen pitted to cover Ricciardo and prevent him from pulling the under-cut on fresher tyres, but the Finn made a bit of a mess of his pit entry, taking his car over the white lines and getting himself a five-second time penalty as a result.
The Flying Finn did manage to catch Ricciardo and pass him on fresh rubber, the Ferrari’s both looking much stronger on Sunday compared to their worrying lack of pace in Practice sessions.
Up front, Rosberg was able to make his only pit-stop and retain the lead on lap 21, which secured the victory as long as no mechanical or electronic issues hampered him. In the sister Mercedes, Lewis Hamilton did a stellar job of keeping his Mercedes in contention with the points despite having an ERS issue that affected him for half of the race. The issue prevented the Brit from fighting for a podium, but finishing 5th and securing 10 points might still prove vital in the Driver Standings at the end of the season.
Good night, Baku… pic.twitter.com/vs5WL2diHt
— Lewis Hamilton (@LewisHamilton) June 18, 2016
Towards the end of the race, Vettel caught Kimi Raikkonen, who was given the order to move aside as Sergio Perez hunted the Ferrari’s down in his Force India, which was up there fighting for a podium on pure merit, the small team based at Silverstone punching well above their weight yet again.
Rosberg finished the race comfortably and dominated, with Vettel finishing 2nd. Raikkonen was overtaken by Perez on the final lap, although the Mexican was on for 3rd anyway because of Kimi’s five-second time penalty.
Perez rose to 3rd from 7th on the grid, he played a defensive role against Hamilton at the start of the race, before the ERS issue had arisen on Hamilton’s car. This highlights the underlying pace of the Force India this weekend.
— Sahara Force India (@ForceIndiaF1) June 19, 2016
The 2016 radio regulations audibly frustrated Hamilton this weekend, and ultimately denied viewers the chance to see Hamilton fight his way back through the grid. As a result of the regulations, Hamilton repeatedly tried to ask his engineer how to reset the ERS system via the buttons on his steering wheel, but the engineer was unable to provide a solution to Lewis, as it would breach regulations. He managed to fix the problem and set the fastest lap on lap 43, but the gap to Kimi was around 23 seconds. He had a relatively lonely race and secured 5th.
Bottas finished 6th for Williams, ahead of the Red Bull pair of Ricciardo and Verstappen, who were the only team to use the medium compound tyre in the race, highlighting their issue with tyre degradation on the softer, faster compounds.
Hulkenberg finished 9th, outclassed again by Perez, and Felipe Massa secured the final point for Williams with 10th. Overall, Jenson had a good race for McLaren and was able to pull some decent overtakes in the final stint to claim 11th, but yet again, it’s another race on the calendar in which McLaren have failed to score points.
Rosberg’s win gives him a 24 point lead over Hamilton in the driver standings. Hamilton just needs to somehow avoid these issues, because attrition is gifting too many points to Rosberg.
In the Constructors Standings, the gap between Ferrari in 2nd and Red Bull in 3rd grew, and Force India find themselves in 5th, pulling away from Toro Rosso in 6th and starting to look like they could even mount a challenge to Williams in 4th.
I am seriously dancing in the rain with Force India's 2nd podium in 3 races. My guys are the very best. @ForceIndiaF1
— Vijay Mallya (@TheVijayMallya) June 19, 2016
The next round of the Formula One World Championship takes us to Austria, a race that Rosberg won by nine seconds over Hamilton last season. The momentum between the Mercedes drivers keeps shifting in the context of the Drivers Championship. Let’s hope for a race free on mechanical/electrical issues so we can see a proper race between the Silver Arrows.