Robert Shwartzman took his first win of 2021 with a dominant performance in the opening Baku sprint race, while championship leader Guanyu Zhou extended his lead with another podium.
Shwartzman started the race from reverse grid pole ahead of Jehan Daruvala and Zhou, and held first place off the line. Marcus Armstrong jumped Ralph Boschung for fourth, while Theo Pourchaire passed Dan Ticktum for sixth.
As Shwartzman lead the field away, there was big championship drama at the second corner as Felipe Drugovich ran into the back of Oscar Piastri. Piastri was then knocked into Liam Lawson on the outside, and both cars were put out of the race while Drugovich received a ten-second penalty.
With two of his closest title rivals out of the race, Zhou then began putting pressure on second-placed Daruvala, who was struggling to keep pacing with the leading Shwartzman. As Shwartzman pulled three seconds clear of the field, Zhou took second from Daruvala on lap 9 with a DRS move into Turn 1.
But after clearing Daruvala, Zhou wasn’t able to catch up to Shwartzman either. Instead, he and Daruvala then came under attack from Ticktum, who had recovered from losing a place at the start to overhaul Pourchaire, Boschung and Armstrong for fourth by lap 8.
On lap 11 Ticktum got onto the podium with a Turn 1 move on Daruvala, and then moved up to second a lap later by passing Zhou. The Carlin driver looked to have the most pace of anyone on track and started chipping away at Shwartzman’s 4.5 second lead by setting the fastest lap.
But as Ticktum made gains, Shwartzman responded with fastest laps of his own and not only kept clear of Ticktum but eased the gap over 5 seconds by lap 19. Ticktum therefore had to settle for second place, while Zhou completed the podium for his fourth top three finish of the year.
Pourchaire struggled for pace early on, losing positions to Ticktum and Juri Vips, but recovered in the closing stages. After repassing Vips at the halfway stage, Pourchaire then cleared Boschung and Armstrong in the final four laps to finish fifth behind Daruvala, and snatched the fastest lap on the last lap of the race.
Boschung finished sixth for his fourth consecutive points finish of the year ahead of Armstrong and Vips, and Bent Viscaal finished tenth to start the second sprint race from pole.