Nico Rosberg went some way to making up for his three-race run without a podium by dominating the European Grand Prix in Baku to score his fifth win of the season.
Baku played host to its first Formula 1 race on Sunday, offering a surprisingly trouble-free affair considering the tight confines of the street circuit and the drama that had entailed in the support events.
Rosberg started from pole and led every lap en route to victory, finishing over 15 seconds clear of the pack as his championship lead grew to 24 points.
Mercedes teammate and title rival Lewis Hamilton was made to pay for his mistake in qualifying, only recovering to fifth from P10 on the grid after suffering from a power unit issue throughout the race.
Starting from pole, Rosberg made a textbook start to stay ahead of Daniel Ricciardo and Sebastian Vettel who had started just behind, quickly stretching the legs of his Mercedes car to open up a gap over the chasing pack.
The race soon settled down into a strategic battle between the cars choosing to stop once or twice, but with clean air, Mercedes was able to stick to the plan of coming in for tires just once, bringing Rosberg in at the end of lap 21.
The German’s lead was such that he could emerge from the pits still leading, enjoying an advantage that would only be whittled away by a safety car period.
Despite seeing the safety car come out eight times across the course of two GP2 races in Baku, there was no such drama in the F1 race – the biggest concern coming from a plastic bag that blew onto the track early on.
Rosberg hit traffic at one stage, allowing Vettel to cut the gap, but once he returned to clean air the pace advantage of the Mercedes was clear to see, the championship leader finishing 16 seconds clear of Vettel.
Rosberg managed to pick up his second career grand slam – pole, fastest lap, win, lead every lap – and send out a warning shot to his championship rivals.
Hamilton’s race was hindered by an incorrect setting on his steering wheel that was limiting the electrical power of his Mercedes car. Despite asking his engineer for advice, as per the new radio rules for 2016, Hamilton was left to fend for himself, much to his frustration. The Briton suggested at one point that he could try changing everything in a bid to fix the situation, only for Mercedes to advise against it.
By the time Hamilton had fixed the issue, the damage to his race had already been done, forcing him to settle for fifth place at the checkered flag.
It was left to Vettel to lead the rest of the field home, picking up some good points for Ferrari on a weekend that the Italian marque was expected to struggle.
Sergio Perez denied Ferrari a double-podium finish by passing Kimi Raikkonen for third place on the last lap as the Finn’s tires faded. The result marked Perez’s fourth podium for Force India and the fifth in the history of the team, the last coming just two races ago in Monaco again courtesy of the Mexican.
Capping off a strong weekend for Force India, Nico Hulkenberg brought home more points as a long run on the super-soft tire allowed him to finish ninth. Valtteri Bottas finished sixth for Williams, making a one-stop strategy work well even if he was unable to match his podium finish from Canada, while teammate Felipe Massa crossed the line P10.
Red Bull’s decision to two-stop Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen failed to get them further up the field, with the pace of the RB12 leaving much to be desired in Baku. Ricciardo eventually finished the race seventh, with Verstappen just behind in eighth.
Jenson Button was McLaren’s sole finisher in P11 as teammate Fernando Alonso retired with eight laps to go. Felipe Nasr finished an excellent 12th for Sauber ahead of Romain Grosjean, with the Renault pair of Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer following in P14 and P15.
Esteban Gutierrez’s points drought continued as he could only finish 16th, while Marcus Ericsson and Rio Haryanto rounded out the classification.
Toro Rosso endured a miserable race as both Daniil Kvyat and Carlos Sainz Jr. were forced to retire. Kvyat’s race lasted just seven laps, while Sainz parked up 18 from home, both citing suspension issues as the reason for their stoppages.