Mercedes’ Nico Rosberg cruised to a comprehensive Grand Prix of Europe win, finishing more than 16 seconds ahead of second-placed Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari, while Sergio Perez recovered from a grid penalty to take a deserved third place.
With plenty of incidents enlivening the support races at the inaugural race in Baku, similar unpredictability had been expected from the grand prix, but when Rosberg went through the first corner in the lead and quickly built up a solid gap to fellow front-row starter Daniel Ricciardo, the identity of the winner, at least, was never in doubt.
Racing in clear air, Rosberg set a blistering pace and by the mid point of the race, jst after his one and only stop to shed supersoft tyres in favour of a set of softs, he was more than 18 seconds clear of then second-placed man Kimi Raikkonen.
From there it was a simply a case of managing his pace, staying clear of the walls and bringing his car home. And after 51 laps, Rosberg did just that, taking his fifth of the season and his first career ‘grand chelem’ for pole position, victory, fastest lap and for leading every lap of the race.
“It’s been an amazing day really, an amazing weekend,” he said afterwards. It’s been spectacular; great track, really exciting racing. Of course, for me the weekend went perfectly: qualifying, race, everything to plan, so it was really awesome.”
The potential stumbling block in Rosberg’s path came from a technical glitch that affected both he and team-mate Lewis Hamilton. The Briton was badly affected by issue, which his race engineer explained was a problem with mode he was in. Rosberg, though, was able to solve the problem.
“I think I had the same [as Hamilton] but I’m not sure,” Rosberg said. “It was just a matter of getting out of it with the right combination of switches.”
Hamilton began the race in 10th position after a Q3 race but recovered well to rise to fifth before the technical problems began to affect him. He was unable to close on Perez and Raikkonen ahead and had to settle for salvaging 10 points from a troubled weekend.
Ahead, Perez had used his Force India’s Mercedes power unit and a one-stop strategy to great effect and in the closing laps he found himself chasing down Raikkonen.
The Finn has risen as high as second in the race, passing team-mate Vettel with an undercut, but he later ceded the position back to the quicker German and then found himself fending off Perez.
Raikkonen was also hit with a five-second penalty due to crossing the white line at the pit entry and while Perez was safe in the knowledge that with a 0.5s gap to Raikkonen he would take P3 in the classification, the Mexican was determined to take the position on the track. He managed it on the final lap to score his
“I knew that the podium was secure but when I saw the opportunity, that it was safe enough to do it and no risk at all, I went for it, because it obviously feel a lot nicer to finish the race P3,” said a delighted Perez who rose from seventh on the grid to take third place, after a gearbox change following an FP3 crash yesterday dropped him from P2 in qualifying.
With Hamilton fifth, Valtteri Bottas took a lonely sixth for Williams, ahead of the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
Ricciardo started the race from P2 but while he held the position in the early stages he quickly went backwards following an early stop for soft tyres and then again when he took on medium tyres in a second stop.
Verstappen was on a similar strategy and while he dropped to as low as P18 after starting in P9, both Red Bull drivers eventually began to climb back through the pack as their more durable tyres gave them an advantage of those on soft tyres at the end of a two-stop race.
Nico Hulkenberg took ninth place for Force India, while Felipe Massa took a solitary point for Williams with tenth position.
Rosberg’s victory extends his championship lead over Hamilton to 24 points, while Vettel closes the gap to second place to 21 points. Raikkonen is 15 points further back in fourth.
2016 Grand Prix of Europe – Race
1 Nico Rosberg Mercedes 51 laps – 1h32m52.366s
2 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari +16.696
3 Sergio Pérez Force India +25.241
4 Kimi Räikkönen Ferrari +33.102
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes +56.335
6 Valtteri Bottas Williams +60.886
7 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull +69.229
8 Max Verstappen Red Bull +70.696
9 Nico Hülkenberg Force India +77.708
10 Felipe Massa Williams +85.375
11 Jenson Button McLaren +104.817
12 Felipe Nasr Sauber +1 lap
13 Romain Grosjean Haas +1 lap
14 Kevin Magnussen Renault +1 lap
15 Jolyon Palmer Renault +1 lap
16 Esteban Gutierrez Haas +1 lap
17 Marcus Ericsson Sauber +1 lap
18 Rio Haryanto Manor +2 laps
19 Fernando Alonso McLaren DNF
20 Pascal Wehrlein Manor DNF
21 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso DNF
22 Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso DNF