Nico Rosberg bounced back to winning ways and extended his championship lead to 24 points when he made the most of Mercedes team-mate Lewis Hamilton’s nightmare problems to take a comfortable win in the European Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old German, who had seen his lead cut to nine points after three poor races and two Hamilton wins, produced a comfortable lights-to-flag victory on the tricky, fast and new Baku street circuit in Azerbaijan’s maiden F1® event.
Compatriot and four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari came home a solid second ahead of Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India, who passed Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari on the final lap.
Hamilton finished a frustrated fifth after starting 10th on the grid following what he described as the worst qualifying of his career, but his race – and, for many observers, the spectacle -- was wrecked by technical problems exacerbated by the ban on using team radio to send technical information to drivers.
The defending three-time world champion made several attempts to solve his ‘engine mode’ difficulties, which had reduced his power, but was rebuffed in his requests for help from his team.
“It's just a shame I could not race,” he said. “I wanted to race and if I had been able to fix it, I would've been part of the show and tried to catch the guys ahead…
“But I had no idea what was wrong… It was like 16 different engine positions and, in each, there are 20 different engine settings.
“I had no idea. It was just low power. I didn't do anything -- it just fixed itself. I then turned the engine down, as I was 14 seconds behind the guys at the front, with only seven or eight laps left -- and 10 seconds in front of the guys behind me. I just saved the engine.”
His Mercedes team chief Toto Wolff explained that both cars had problems with “a configuration with their switches.”
He said: “There is a way of changing it on the dashboard, which we are not allowed to communicate to the drivers. It took a while for Lewis' to reset.
“Nico had done a switch change before and he changed it back a couple of laps later -- and Lewis was trying to work out what it was and it took 12 laps.
“The reason why we have those radio regulations is we want more unpredictability and we don't want them to be engineer driven….”
Raikkonen was another frustrated finisher. He picked up a five-second penalty for crossing a pit-lane line and, like Hamilton, also suffered from the radio ban.
“You would think they are allowed to say 'yes' or 'no', but that's not the way it is,” he said, after failing to have any questions answered by his engineer during the race.
Fernando Alonso, who retired in his McLaren Honda, also chipped in with criticism of the radio ban.
“From the beginning, this rule was not making much sense,” he said. “They give us a spaceship to drive, with the technology we have, but now we have no information available.
“Sometimes it’s difficult to know what is happening with the car — and what solution to do. Maybe in the future we can address this…”
After two successive wins had lifted him back into contention for a fourth title, Hamilton slipped back to 24 points behind Rosberg whose return to form brought him his 19th career victory. Had he been on full power, for those 12 crazy laps, Hamilton may have claimed a podium finish and with it affected the championship points and, possibly, his position at the end of the year.
Four-time champion German Vettel took full advantage of the Englishman’s woes and an off day for Red Bull by driving steadily, almost unchallenged, to second ahead of Perez.
Finn Valtteri Bottas finished sixth for Williams ahead of Australian Daniel Ricciardo and his Red Bull team-mate Dutch teenager Max Verstappen with German Nico Hulkenberg ninth for Force India and Brazilian Felipe Massa 10th in the second Williams.
Ricciardo, who enjoyed the challenge of the track, was baffled by his tyres. “We went back quite quickly. We had rear tyre issues, I couldn't keep the grip in them, couldn't keep the temperature out of them.
"It felt like they were getting really hot, wheel-spinning in fourth gear. It's a bit unexpected. We race at some hot circuits – and Singapore, for example, is always one of our stronger ones.
“So, we didn't expect to suffer with that today, but it was our biggest limitation.”
Rosberg now has 141 points in the title race and Hamilton 117. “The weekend went perfectly for me, it was an awesome day,” said Rosberg. “I’m ecstatic and I’m looking forward to enjoying some celebrations.”
Vettel prasied the ‘incredible’ circuit, with its long straight and tight turns past ancient castles.
“It’s got high speed corners and very close walls – but for us, today was a great recovery after a bad day on Friday. Now, I’ve had two second-places in a row. We are coming along ok…”
Perez, linked with a Ferrari seat in place of Raikkonen, claimed his second podium in three outings and said: “Yesterday, when I hit the wall in qualifying, I was so frustrated with myself, but the team did a great job to repair the car for me. Starting from P7, it was a fight all the way!”
On a day of the unexpected, the last word went to Hamilton and his views on the radio ban. “I don't see the benefit of it,” he said. “The FIA have made Formula One so technical, to have 100 or 200 different switch positions -- and there was no way for me to know what the problem was…”