Nico Rosberg won the first Formula One race held in Azerbaijan on Sunday to turn the championship tide and stretch his lead over Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to 24 points.
Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel finished as runner-up, 16.6 seconds behind, with Force India’s Mexican Sergio Perez back on the podium for the second time this season after overtaking Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari on the last lap.
Rosberg started on pole position, led all the way and also set the fastest lap on his way to a fifth win in eight races this season. With 13 races remaining, he has 141 points and Hamilton 117.
While the German’s cruise in the late afternoon sunshine turned out to be something of a snooze for the global television audience, triple world champion Hamilton provided more entertainment.
The Briton, who had been chasing his third win in a row but finished fifth, sounded increasingly frustrated over the radio as he wrestled with his car’s settings without the team being able to help.
He fixed the problem but finished fifth in a race billed as the European Grand Prix.
“This is ridiculous guys, I don’t know. I’m looking at my dash every five seconds trying to find a switch in the wrong position,” Hamilton said over the team radio.
“I might not finish this race as I’m going to try and change everything,” he continued. “We don’t advise that Lewis,” came the reply from the pitwall, with teams now limited on what information they can give drivers during the race.
“Can I make suggestions and you say if it’s OK or not?,” replied Hamilton. “No, that’s not allowed. Let’s just get our heads down and focus on the job,” he was told.
The Mercedes team’s non-executive chairman Niki Lauda told reporters afterwards that it was a question of engine modes.
“It was a problem they both had and Nico could fix it quicker than Lewis. The (radio) ban is there, so we all have to adapt,” he told Sky Sports.
Raikkonen, who had done as he was told and allowed Vettel to pass him, expressed similar exasperation over the radio to Ferrari.
The outbursts were highlights on a day with none of the mayhem predicted after a series of accidents in the GP2 support series, in F1 practice and qualifying.
Nobody crashed, the tight turns around the ancient city walls were safely negotiated by all and the 350km blast down the long main straight produced no drama.
“I think people lost a lot of money because they were betting on a safety car. I was expecting a couple too,” said Vettel.
Finland’s Valtteri Bottas finished sixth for Williams, with Australian Daniel Ricciardo seventh for Red Bull after starting on the front row.
Dutch teammate Max Verstappen was eighth, Germany’s Nico Hulkenberg secured a double points finish for Force India in ninth and Brazilian Felipe Massa was 10th for Williams.
1. Nico Rosberg (GER/Mercedes) 1hr 32min 52.366sec,
2. Sebastian Vettel (GER/Ferrari) at 16.696sec,
3. Sergio Perez (MEX/Force India) 25.241,
4. Kimi Raikkonen (FIN/Ferrari) 33.102,
5. Lewis Hamilton (GBR/Mercedes) 56.335,
6. Valtteri Bottas (FIN/Williams) 1:00.886,
7. Daniel Ricciardo (AUS/Red Bull) 1:09.229,
8. Max Verstappen (NED/Red Bull) 1:10.696,
9. Nico Hülkenberg (GER/Force India) 1:17.708,
10. Felipe Massa (BRA/Williams) 1:25.375,
11. Jenson Button (GBR/McLaren) 1:44.817,
12. Felipe Nasr (BRA/Sauber) 1 lap,
13. Romain Grosjean (FRA/Haas) 1 lap,
14. Kevin Magnussen (DEN/Renault) 1 lap,
15. Jolyon Palmer (GBR/Renault) 1 lap,
16. Esteban Gutierrez (MEX/Haas) 1 lap,
17. Marcus Ericsson (SWE/Sauber) 1 lap,
18. Rio Haryanto (INA/Manor) 2 laps