Daniel Ricciardo miraculously victorious at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
After qualifying in 10th when he crashed out of Q3, Ricciardo started the day immersed in the midfield before plummeting to the back with an early pit-stop. But after a storming drive while others crashed and retired, Ricciardo immerged victorious from Bottas and podium debutant Stroll having capitalised on the misfortunes of Hamilton and a frustrated Vettel.
A year ago it was a nightmare in Baku for Lewis Hamilton as engine issues hampered his charge through the points after crashing in qualifying. Leading to the question this year being; Baku nightmare of city success? as Hamilton hunts down Vettel in the 2017 Formula One Drivers’ Championship.
At first, it appeared as if the race now named after the country it is homed at would be another nightmare weekend for Hamilton, with Mercedes struggling to tame their ‘diva’ of a car. That was, though, up until Saturday – when Hamilton blitzed qualifying to out-do Vettel and Ferrari’s best efforts by 1.1 seconds. Securing his 66th career pole position to take second place outright in the all-time standings.
With pole, Hamilton headed a Mercedes front row. Leading his team-mate off the line for the first time, after Valtteri’s record of third place starts bar pole in Russia.
Bottas’ high standing, though, was soon a thing of the past as a lock-up into Turn 1 forced Vettel to edge towards his gearbox and Raikkonen moved alongside. Leaving Valtteri without a choice taking the inside line at Turn 2, a route that involved bouncing over the kerb and collecting the Ferrari of his countryman.
With Bottas collecting the Ferrari, the Silver Arrow was left limping down the order with a right-front puncture. Taking to the pits for a front wing change, while the Ferrari, too, took damage as the bargeboard became dislocated and scrubbed the floor – hampering Kimi’s early race pace.
Behind Bottas and Raikkonen, contact was close between the two Toro Rosso’s as Kvyat ran wide with a lock-up into Turn 1. Quickly trying to rejoin the race, but on the piece of track occupied by his team-mate – with Sainz forced to jink away and into a spin.
Yellow flags briefly waved and the opening corner chaos calmed to leave Hamilton looking to stretch his lead with Vettel matching his pace. But while the margin to third place grew, it was fourth placed Verstappen laying down the pace despite debris from Raikkonen and Bottas being lodged in his radiator. Debris also had become stuck in his team-mates car, seeing Ricciardo make an early stop that plummetted the Australian down the order.
Issues, too, struck at Sauber and Renault with Ericsson declaring “I have no battery” while he was hounded by Alonso and Sainz. Yet, despite the power loss, the Spaniards could not at first move ahead. While Jolyon Palmer cruised into the pits after a puff of smoke exited the Renault which caught alight in final practice and missed qualifying.
Like Ericsson, Grosjean joined the radio waves. Declaring concerns of reliability on his brakes once again, a recurring problem for the Haas team since their debut a year ago. Yet, despite concerns in the Haas and Sauber, neither retired and both continued. Something Daniil Kvyat could not match as a sudden loss of electrics ended his race.
With a Toro Rosso sat aside the track, albeit offline, more yellow flags waved around the track for marshals to clear the car breezing smoke from the brakes.
But before a safety car was inevitably called, more drama could unfold as Max Verstappen’s pace fell away while fighting with Sergio Perez. Suffering yet another engine issue to follow his retirement in Canada while fighting for the lead. Making it 4 retirements in the last 6 races for the Red Bull racer.
“Yup, here we go again,” said Verstappen as he retired from the Azerbaijan GP.
Eventually, though, the safety car for Kvyat’s car was called for and the leaders were welcomed into the pits. Taking away Lewis’ lead and allowing Bottas to unlap himself. Handing the Finn a chance to rejoin the fight while Hamilton cried the pace of the safety car was not enough to maintain tyre heat, during a weekend suggestions had been made that Pirelli’s offering was more like bringing the hardest compound than the second softest.
After laps behind the safety car seeing heat disperse from the Pirelli rubber, the restart was eventually taken. Leaving Hamilton setting the pace, before dropping the throttle to leave Vettel behind in a drag race with Perez for second.
In a drag race down the long main straight, too, came Kimi Raikkonen with Massa and Ocon. Dispensing more debris on the track, leading to another safety car period before the field could move through the first sector.
Eventually, however, the greater amount of debris was cleared and the race could get going once more. Seeing the field bunch back up, with Bottas now amongst the train having caught the cruising queue.
A queue led by Hamilton, who became the pace setter when the safety car’s lights went out and dashed off towards the pits. And having been told that his previous restart was close to catching the safety car before the first safety car line, Hamilton maintained a slower pace for longer. A circumstance that left Vettel accelerating at the wrong moment, collecting the rear diffuser of the Mercedes.
But despite Hamilton coasting off throttle through the corner as Vettel accelerated, Sebastian felt the Mercedes driver had brake checked him into the corner and cost him part of his Ferrari’s front wing. A result that saw Sebastian pull alongside and gesture his frustrations while hitting wheels with a bemused Hamilton.
Hitting wheels left Vettel with a 10-second stop/go penalty later in the restarted race, but first came the restart on which he lost pace with Hamilton and dropped into the chasing pack.
A chasing pack all jousting for position, seeing Vettel, Perez, Massa and Ocon pull into a four car group – with Perez losing out when Massa dove down his inside. Perez then looked to fight for his position back, but as he ran out of space on the outside of Turn 2, Ocon mounted the inside kerb like Bottas on the opening lap – forcing his team-mate into the wall and leaving Sergio driving over his own front wing.
Having no front wing and severe damage, Sergio began limping behind his also wounded team-mate. Following in order back to the pits, but ultimately too damaged to continue to race. Just as Kimi Raikkonen was after running over the debris left by the Force India, ruining the Ferrari’s rear wing and floor thanks to speeding with a puncture.
With even more debris spread across the racing line than ever, the safety car was no longer an option and the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was red flagged. Seeing the field flow back to the pits and hand Mercedes the chance to inspect Hamilton’s rear diffuser.
Ferrari, too, took the opportunity to change Sebastian Vettel’s front wing. But more importantly, the red flag window gave Raikkonen and Perez the chance to rejoin the race after their teams swiftly repaired their machines. But having been worked on in their garages rather than the fast lane, Perez and Raikkonen were under an investigation that led to both being handed drive-through penalties.
Unfortunately, after getting out of his car, Lewis Hamilton’s head rest was not correctly secured. And upon the restart, the safety device began to creep out of place. Leaving Hamilton not only fighting Vettel – after the German latched onto his rear-wing better – but fighting to re-secure his headrest while speeding around Baku. An aim he was unable to meet and was forced into the pits for it to be fastened.
Hamilton pitting, and Vettel serving his 10-second stop/go penalty, now promoted Red Bull’s sole remaining driver into the lead of the race. After Daniel Ricciardo pulled off a brave move on Massa and Stroll at the restart. Driving around the outside of the Brazilian before lunging down the inside of rookie Stroll under braking.
Massa, meanwhile, continued to lose places as the opening laps rolled on. Losing places to Magnussen and Hulkenberg as the trio went three abreast down the main straight.
Felipe had noted damage immediately upon the restart but had attempted to continue racing at first. But the damage Felipe noted turned out to be a broken rear damper, leaving the car shaking and forcing Williams into a retirement.
Renault, too, were forced to soon see one of their cars fall out of the race. Making the Azerbaijan Grand Prix a double DNF for the constructor, with Hulkenberg snapping his front-right suspension after turning in too early for Turn 7.
While Massa and Hulkenberg fell from the race, having not retired after contact Esteban Ocon now moved back into the points and ahead of Bottas – the Mercedes that sat a lap down to the leaders after the very first lap.
Yet despite being that lap down after the opening lap, Bottas was now ahead of the pole sitter after Lewis emerged in ninth following his undesired pit-stop. With Hamilton also soon seeing Vettel pull out of the pits marginally ahead once the German served his stop/go penalty.
Vettel, however, was still perplexed as to why he was handed the penalty. Vocalising his queries on the radio with questions like “when did I do dangerous driving?” and after the race being quoted as doing nothing wrong while Hamilton was in the wrong for slowing ahead of the restart.
Now back down the order, though, Vettel’s primary focus was on charging back to the front of the field. Lining Alonso up at Turn 1, but a strong defence slowed his exit speed and allowed Hamilton to close the gap.
Vettel, now on nine penalty points – three away from a race ban, did, however, move ahead of the Spaniard and put a car between himself and Lewis. But when Lewis dispatched his one-season team-mate from his rookie year, he began to lap faster than the Ferrari as they closed on the train forming behind podium placed Kevin Magnussen.
The Haas, unfortunately, did not have the pace to fend off the attacking Ocon and Bottas. And when Vettel and Hamilton moved ahead with ease to leave Magnussen in seventh place, it seemed as if the Haas had an issue to go with the returning concerns his team-mate held on his brakes.
Any such concerns, however, were muted and the Haas’ pace solidified his position in seventh as the two Saubers made contact while fighting for the final point scoring place. Capitalising a difficult week for the team, having seen their now former team principal – Monisha Kaltenborn – depart over differing views on the future direction than the owners.
Wehrlein did, though, hold onto the point having moved ahead of his team-mate while Vandoorne closed in from 12th place.
Also closing was Vettel and Hamilton as Bottas moved ahead of Ocon for third place, while setting the new fastest lap of the race. Taking a second out of Stroll’s now 16-second strong advantage and teeing up a chase to the flag.
Ever closing became the gap with Bottas taking more and more time away from the Canadian. Though Stroll later responded to marginally match the pace the Finn was laying down, reducing Valtteri’s chances of gaining another place.
Vettel, meanwhile, was gaining another place as he deposed of Ocon while Hamilton was not. Leaving Lewis tucking in behind until a move around the Force India’s outside emerged on the following lap, running close to the outside wall with tight margins between crashing and taking fifth – of which he claimed.
After matching pace, Bottas picked his up once more to close on Stroll. Continuing to eat into the Williams’ margin and leave a last lap lunge all that separated himself and the second place held by rookie Lance Stroll. Taking 1.4 seconds out of the Canadian on the final lap, to edge his nose ahead across the line by 0.1 tenths of a second.
Further back, Vettel headed Hamilton across the line and even further back, Alonso dragged his McLaren home in ninth place – the first points McLaren have scored in 2017. A sad story that this is considered a good outcome for the once championship winning constructor.
As for the race-winning Daniel Ricciardo, his victory came from 10th on the grid, via a detour to the back of the pack and a brave move on the restart to jump ahead into what would be the lead of the race.
Despite losing second place at the death, Lance Stroll still secured a podium finish in what was only his eighth Grand Prix – making him the youngest rookie to ever secure a podium finish in his debut season, aged 18. Showing vast improvements from the racer failing to finish the opening rounds.
|1||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull||TAG||2:03’55.570||25|
|6||Esteban Ocon||Force India||Mercedes||30.298||8|
|8||Carlos Sainz Jr.||Toro Rosso||Renault||49.4||4|
|13||Romain Grosjean||Haas||Ferrari||1 lap|
|15||Sergio Perez||Force India||Mercedes||DNF|
|18||Max Verstappen||Red Bull||TAG||DNF|
|19||Daniil Kvyat||Toro Rosso||Renault||DNF|