Max Verstappen was well on his way to victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, that was until his left-rear tyre failed in dramatic fashion.
The Dutchman had joined pole-sitter Charles Leclerc, Lewis Hamilton and Sergio Perez in a battle at the front during the opening stint in Baku.
Verstappen was able to pass Leclerc on-track, and aided by a slow pit stop for Hamilton, he then completed the overcut on the Briton, picking up the de facto lead.
On Lap 30 Lance Stroll triggered a Safety Car when his rear-left hard tyre failed, causing a huge shunt for the Aston Martin driver down the main straight, which he thankfully emerged from unhurt.
By this stage Verstappen was running P1, and once released by the Safety Car began to re-establish a gap over team-mate Sergio Perez behind.
— Formula 1 (@F1) June 6, 2021
Disaster struck though on Lap 47 of 51 as Verstappen’s left-rear hard tyre failed in the exact same fashion as Stroll’s, causing him to smash nose-first into the wall down the start/finish straight. Fortunately he too was unhurt.
“It was exactly the same tyre that failed on Stroll, so I think it is a tyre issue,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner was heard telling Helmut Marko, their driver programme boss, on the pit wall.
The anger was clear as Verstappen emerged from the cockpit as he went to kick that deflated tyre, while the red flags were brought out to halt the race.
Pirelli had decided to go one step softer in their tyre selections for the 2021 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, selecting the C3, C4 and C5 tyres, the softest rubber which they have in their range.
And with a pair of tyre failures which created potentially very dangerous crashes, questions will be asked of Pirelli’s choices.
“Michael I know you’re busy, we got zero warning of that failure, nothing, nothing on a metro, vibration,” Jonathan Wheatley, Red Bull’s racing director told FIA race director Michael Masi.
Verstappen was set to extend his lead over Hamilton in the Drivers’ Championship, but that crash will now have major implications in the title race. Or so we thought.
Hamilton was set to be classified P2, a result that would have seen Hamilton take the Championship lead with him into the French Grand Prix.
But at the standing re-start Hamilton would go straight on at Turn 1 with smoking breaks, causing him to drop out of the points. Verstappen’s title lead remains in-tact.