Lewis Hamilton ‘destroyed’ after failing to capitalize on Max Verstappen crash
Lewis Hamilton has been “destroyed” after failing to take advantage of a 200mph tire explosion from rival Max Verstappen during the frenzied Azerbaijani Grand Prix on Sunday.
In a two-lap sprint race after the terrifying crash at Verstappen, Hamilton accidentally flipped the wrong switch on his Mercedes steering wheel, knocking him off the road and down from second to 15th place.
In the chaos, Sergio Perez won for Red Bull, with Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel turning back the years to finish second. Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri completed the most improbable of the podiums during an extraordinary afternoon in Baku.
Verstappen drove superbly and was ready to extend his championship lead over Hamilton before his left rear tire exploded on the fastest part of the Formula 1 calendar.
The devastating setback left Verstappen a helpless passenger as his Red Bull raced straight into the concrete wall in the start-finish straight with just five laps to go.
Earlier the grid had observed a minute of silence in memory of former FIA President Max Mosley, who died last month, and it was Mosley’s drive to improve the safety of the sport, following the death of ‘Ayrton Senna in 1994, which allowed Verstappen to walk away without a scratch.
Questions were immediately put to F1’s sole tire supplier, Pirelli, after Lance Stroll also crashed with a left-rear puncture at an almost identical location to Verstappen 15 laps before. He too got out of his wreckage of Aston Martin safe and sound.
Pirelli has launched a full investigation, with the destroyed tires shipped from Azerbaijan to Milan by plane for immediate analysis.
The Italian manufacturer claims that an early probe indicates that the failures were caused by external factors, such as debris or curbs, rather than a fundamental problem with their rubber.
Pirelli boss Mario Isola revealed on Sunday night that Hamilton also suffered a deep cut to his left rear tire and may have been fortunate enough to escape a high-speed blowout as well.
The safety car was deployed in the wake of the Verstappen crash, but worried Red Bull sporting director Jonathan Wheatley urged FIA race director Michael Masi to stop the action, fearing a another catastrophic failure.
The grand prix was suspended for 30 minutes while the remaining drivers took on fresh rubber before what became a seven and a half mile race for glory.
Hamilton, second in the restart, told his team to remember that the championship is a “marathon, not a sprint”, apparently content to take the 18 points awarded for the second.
But as he pulled away from his benchmarks and headed for Perez to take the lead, he inadvertently pressed the so-called “magic” button on the back of his steering wheel.
The tuning helps Hamilton raise the temperature of the tires for the restart by altering the brake balance, but it left him with virtually no brakes for the opening left turn. He went straight through the first corner in a plume of tire smoke.
“I’m so sorry, guys,” an inconsolable Hamilton said on the radio.
Hamilton, who remains four points behind Verstappen in his attempt for a record-breaking eighth title, later added: “I put it all on the line and fought as hard as I could today.
“On restart, when Perez walked up to me, I cut a switch that essentially disables the brakes.
“I didn’t even know I touched him. It’s very hard to take and I’m sorry for the men and women on the team who worked so hard for the points.
“But today was a stroke of bad luck [following Verstappen’s crash]. We will try to come back stronger.
Hamilton boss at Mercedes Toto Wolff said: “Lewis and I are destroyed. For him to be so close and then it’s all gone, and then for me, leading the team too.
“It was a perfect start and a perfect movement. It’s just that the brakes weren’t there.
“It’s painful because we got our hands on the trophy after Max didn’t score. The emotion and the frustration are so overwhelming.
Verstappen revealed he was at the medical center when he found out about Hamilton’s plight.
“I was lying on the bed and they were taking my blood pressure and all of a sudden my phone was vibrating and I was like, ‘What’s going on? because I could hear the cars, ”he said.
“I was allowed to leave, so I looked at my phone and saw that Lewis had had a problem.”
Poleman Charles Leclerc finished fourth ahead of Lando Norris of McLaren and Fernando Alonso sixth.
A day to forget for Mercedes, who was desperately bad about himself all weekend on the Caspian Sea, Valtteri Bottas started 10th and finished in a sad 12th place.