Perez wins at Baku with Lewis Hamilton, Max Verstappen outside F1 points in wild finish

Perez Baku Hamilton Verstappen
Clive Rose/Getty Images

BAKU – Max Verstappen was cruising toward an easy second consecutive victory until an unexpected tire failure turned the Azerbaijan Grand Prix into a two-lap shootout, a shock victory for teammate Sergio Pérez and one of the more memorable races in recent memory.

The finish Sunday just might have been an unintentional preview of changes Formula One plans to experiment with later this season in an effort to add excitement to the on-track product.

“As long as we keep it consistent, going forward, it certainly helps the fans to be sticking to the TV,” winner Pérez said. “I think they have the most enjoyable two laps of the race, you know?”

The unusual sequence began when championship leader Verstappen crashed out of the lead with four laps remaining, halting what seemed to be a sure march to his third win of the season (amid his rear wing has drawn attention from Mercedes).

F1 threw a red flag, allowed teams to change tires during a lengthy delay, then unconventionally restarted the race.

From a standing start.

For two laps.

Seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton tried to pass Pérez for the win but accidentally flicked a switch that “basically switches the brakes off and I just went straight” through turn one and off course.

Verstappen and Hamilton both finished outside the top 10, the first time since 2016 that the top two in the championship standings failed to score a point. Verstappen maintained a four-point lead on Hamilton, who could have gained 25 points on his title rival with a victory.

“So sorry, guys,” Hamilton, who had vowed to keep his eyes on the bigger picture of the championship prior to the finish, told the team after his mistake.

F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan
(Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

That made for an unfamiliar podium as Pérez, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly all finished in the top three for the first time this year.

Verstappen had no warning his tire was about to fail as he slammed into the wall. The Dutchman climbed from his car, inspected the tire and kicked it in anger before stomping off in disgust over the race-changing failure.

“Sometimes you can hate this sport,” Verstappen said.

A tire failure had ended Lance Stroll’s race earlier and Red Bull, insistent that Pirelli had a safety concern, asked F1 that teams be allowed to change tires before the restart.

F1 had previously announced it would experiment with half-hour sprint races in places of qualifying later this season and then the Baku ending became a preview of an even shorter, more explosive format.

Liberty Media, an American company, is in its fifth season running F1 after buying the commercial rights in 2017. The U.S. ownership has brought a focus on a younger audience on social media and in a deal with Netflix on the popular “Drive to Survive” behind-the-scenes docuseries.

“The Americans took over, so I wasn’t really surprised that we go first with the entertainment,” Gasly said. “I was quite happy. It always brings a bit more excitement. It creates some sort of adrenaline inside you and I knew there will be some opportunities because you start only for two laps.

“Everybody is a bit like lions out of the cage and everybody goes for everything and try to make as many positions as they can in a very short time. It was very intense. I really enjoyed it. If anything, hopefully in the future they’ll do the same.”

Vettel cautioned against F1 adopting too many gimmicks moving forward as the focus turns toward “creating a show.”

“I hope that in the future the races are more exciting,” he said. “But I think we just need to watch out that it doesn’t become too artificial and we don’t lose the roots of the sport.”

Pérez was the leader on the restart but Hamilton shot past him in his attempt to win the race and reclaim the points lead from Verstappen, who took over the top for the first time in his career with his win at Monaco last round.

But when Hamilton accidentally turned his brakes off and slid through the first corner, he snapped a streak of 54 consecutive races of earning a points position finish.

Four-time champion Vettel took second, his highest finish since 2019, to give Aston Martin its first ever F1 podium. Gasly was third for AlphaTauri.

Charles Leclerc started on the pole for Ferrari but couldn’t replicate his qualifying pace and finished fourth. Lando Norris took fifth for McLaren, Fernando Alonso was sixth for Alpine and Gasly’s teammate Yuki Tsunoda took a career-best seventh.

Carlos Sainz was eighth for Ferrari and Daniel Ricciardo was ninth to give McLaren a double points day. Kimi Raikkonen’s 10th place for Alfa Romeo was his first points finish this season.

Hamilton’s teammate Valtteri Bottas was never in contention after qualifying 10th and finished 12th after being overtaken by both of the Alfa Romeo cars. Mercedes failed to score a point for the first time since 2018.

Pérez’s second victory in six months tied him with Pedro Rodríguez for the most in F1 by a Mexican driver. In his first season at Red Bull, Perez somewhat salvaged the race for the team that had been headed toward a 1-2 finish before Verstappen’s tire failed.

“I am so, so happy. First of all I have to say I am very sorry for Max because he had a tremendous race,” said Perez, who now has won twice in six months after needing nine years from his 2011 debut until his first victory last November. “We were going to have a 1-2 together, but in the end it was still a fantastic day for us and luckily we were still able to finish the race.”

F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan
Sergio Perez of Mexico celebrates after his second Formula One victory and his first for Red Bull Racing (Maxim Shemetov – Pool/Getty Images).

Heather Lyne, Dennis Erb Jr. make history in the World of Outlaws Late Model Series

Lyne Erb Outlaws Late
Jacy Norgaard / World of Outlaws

More than two decades in the making, the pairing of Heather Lyne and Dennis Erb Jr. produced a historical milestone in Dirt Late Model.

Last month, Erb and his long-time crew chief Lyne won their first World of Outlaws Late Model Championship and with this achievement, Lyne became the first female crew chief to win in a national late model series. Their journey together goes back 21 years and tells the story of hard work, persistence and belief in oneself.

After a career-best season with the World of Outlaws, Erb and Lyne secured the points championship at US 36 Raceway in Osborn, Mo. with three races remaining in the season. The consistency and success of their season came down to pinpoint focus. Lyne and Erb are a team of two living out a David vs. Goliath tale. In order to be as successful as possible this year the duo knew they had to do as much as possible with the resources they had.

“It’s always a challenge when you only have two people, both at the racetrack and at the shop,” Lyne told NBC Sports. “I also work full time, so during the day, Dennis has to do a significant amount of work so that when I get down there I can start working and maintaining. It’s planning ahead. It’s having that system in place and making sure that you’re prepared ahead of time.

“When you have a problem at the track, making sure you have all that stuff ready so it’s a quick change and not a lengthy process to make a repair. We had zero DNFs in the World of Outlaws, we had only one DNF out of 96 races [combined among all series].”

Dennis Erb clinched his 2022 championship before the World of Outlaws World Finals. Jacy Norgaard – World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Taming Time

This was not an easy feat. Between a full travel schedule and Lyne’s full-time job as an engineer, time comes at a premium. What they lack in time and resources they made up for in patience and planning.

“We buckled down, and we got all the equipment that we needed back, motors freshened, and things of that nature,” Lyne said about the mid-point of last season. “We were able to keep up with that. We just had a higher focus. I tried to reduce my hours at my day job as much as I possibly could while still maintaining what I need to get done at work. I got rid of a lot of the other distractions and got a more refined system in place at the shop.

“We did certain tasks on certain days so we had time to recover. We were on the road a little bit more, as opposed to coming home to the shop. So we had to be more prepared to stay out on those longer runs. It was just really staying on top of things a little more. It was a heightened sense.”

This was Lyne and Erb’s fourth full season with the Outlaws, but they’ve been on the road together for the last 21 seasons starting in 2001. Their partnership began with Lyne’s bravery. When one door closed, she was quick to open another. In 2001, Lyne’s dad was ready to stop racing. Her mother wanted to regain her weekends, but Lyne knew this was her life path and wasn’t prepared to lose it.

“I’ve always been a tomboy at heart,” Lyne said. “I watched racing with my dad. Growing up he watched NASCAR. In high school, I got tired of playing at the lake house, so I went to the local dirt track and fell in love with it. I just couldn’t get enough. It took a year for me to convince my dad to come to the track with me. He finally did and we sponsored a car that year, the following year he started to race limited cars. He ran hobby stocks and limited late models.”

At some point, Lyne and her father’s level of commitment drifted apart.

“He did it for about five years,” Lyne said. “And then my mom said: ‘I’m done racing. I want my weekends back. It’s just not fun anymore.’ I wasn’t ready to hang up my wenches and Dennis raced out of the same hometown so I, on a dare, went down and introduced myself; told him if you ever need any help, I’ll drill out rivets, I’ll help wash, whatever you need. Twenty-one years later here I am.”

Heather Lyne became the first female crew chief to secure a national touring late model championship in 2022. Paul Arch / World of Outlaws Late Model Series.

Breaking Through

Lyne entered a male-dominated job in a field that is also male-dominated – and where there were few examples of women creating these places for themselves. In this way, Lyne became a blueprint for other women as they strive to find a place for themselves in racing and in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) overall. She has her mother to thank for providing a strong role model, her father for sharing her passion, Erb for taking a chance on an unknow entity and most importantly herself.

“I was raised to believe that I can do anything, I want to do, as long as I put my heart and soul into it.” Lyne replied when asked about role models in the sport growing up. “My parents did not raise me to have that limitation. But from a racing role model perspective, I went in there completely green and just introduced myself to Dennis, the fact that he was brave enough to take that risk and bring a girl to the racetrack. Someone he didn’t know at all speaks volumes for him.”

Lyne and Erb have learned how to survive and succeed with each other on the road. They do this by leveraging decades of combined experience and an ability to adapt to the everchanging landscape of dirt late models. Next year the World of Outlaws visits nearly a dozen new tracks and Lyne sees it as an opportunity for continued success.

“I just want to do it again,” Lyne says going into next season, “I’m looking forward to the competition, I always do. I wouldn’t do it if I wasn’t competitively driven.

“There are some new tracks on the schedule that I’m looking forward to trying for the first time that I haven’t been to myself,” Lyne said of the 2023 season, “Dennis seems to do well on those first timers. We won out at Marion center, we finished second at Bloomsburg. We have a good solid notebook of information to tackle them over the last three years with these rocket race cars that we’re running. It’s good to have that information and leverage it to try some new things.”