Nico Rosberg dominated the European Grand Prix from start to finish easily claiming victory on the street circuit around Baku.
Starting from pole, Rosberg immediately took the lead and with the Mercedes’ clear pace advantage he was never seriously challenged.
Behind him, Sebastian Vettel changed tactics mid-race to end in second place while Force India’s Sergio Perez turned in another strong performance to take the final podium position.
Lewis Hamilton suffered another dent to his championship hopes after an engine mode problem meant he could only climb to fifth place after starting the race from tenth on the grid.
Total domination from Rosberg
Rosberg came to Baku needing to regain some momentum in his battle with Hamilton for the championship.
His response could not have been more emphatic, and he will leave Azerbaijan content with the outcome.
The German had a strong getaway and immediately began to build a second a lap buffer from those behind him. For much of the race he wouldn’t have been able to see the Ferrari’s in his mirrors.
Indeed, Rosberg was in such control that he completed just his second Grand Slam having led every lap from pole position and claiming the fastest lap.
“Even in the race, it was a special feeling out there in the car because it felt like I could do whatever I wanted,” commented Rosberg post-race.
Hamilton, on the other hand, had ongoing problems with his car on a weekend he would rather forget.
Beginning the race in the middle of the pack Hamilton was cautious to avoid any incidents. The superior speed of the Mercedes helped him to pick up positions to reach fourth but tyre vibration problems – which he caused in qualifying – meant the Britain was unable to pass Perez. He tried to uncut the Force India driver but they responded by bringing in Perez on the next lap.
Stuck behind Perez again, the Mercedes began to slow down and it emerged from team radio that he was in the wrong engine mode. The pit wall saying there is “a problem with the setting you are in” but that “it’s not something you’ve done – it’s a setting that is incorrect”.
The team could not assist due to bans on radio communication and a frustrated Hamilton tried to find the correct mode on his wheel. But that’s not an easy proposition especially while flying around the narrow Baku Street Circuit.
“In the engine switch there are six positions and in those there are about 20 positions so I had no idea what the problem was and how to rectify it. I tried a few different things but it didn’t work so I just went back to where I was,” said Hamilton.
It later emerged that Rosberg also had the same problem after he changed engine settings mid-race but he could more easily rectify it by reverting to the previous settings.
Strong results from Ferrari and Force India
With Rosberg in the distance, the battle was on for the remaining podium positions.
An early flurry of pit activity indicated most teams favoured a two-stop strategy and Ferrari called Vettel in for a stop on lap eight.
A similar mid-race strategy switch cost Vettel in Canada and this time he questioned the tactics.
Raikkonen instead took the stop and it ended up proving critical for both. Vettel easily took second place while Raikkonen was overtaken on the last lap by Perez who claimed third place.
For Perez, it is another great result and a second podium finish in three races.
“I knew that the podium was possible today but it was very hard, very hard work to get it,” reflected Perez.
“We really did an incredible first lap to get around the Williams and the Toro Rosso. I think that was one of the keys.”
Where were the safety cars?
Almost everyone had predicted a race punctuated by safety cars after the errors in qualifying and the warm-up races showing the challenges of the Baku City Circuit.
Remarkably, the only retirements from the race – Alonso, Wehrlein, Sainz and Kyvat – came from mechanical incidents and there was barely a scratch on a finishing car.
Many drivers may have indeed hoped for more safety car action to close the field and create more overtaking opportunities. In the end, Williams had a solid race finishing Bottas in sixth and Massa in tenth. Jenson Button’s McLaren just missed out on the points in eleventh, and Renault performed a little better than expected with Magnussen and Palmer ending in 14th and 15th.