Feature image: Sutton Images via F1.com
Wow, wow, wow. What a race.
Daniel Ricciardo, from 10th on the grid, won a crazy, crazy incident/controversy filled Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Mercedes’ Valterri Bottas and Lance Stroll, who secured his first podium in F1.
Normally we start with the winners but given the weekend that was in it, we’ll start with the losers.
Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton
Oh boy, where to start with this one… Let’s start with ‘Red-5’.
Red is colour of his car and red was what he saw when he was caught napping behind Lewis Hamilton behind the safety car. I initially thought that Hamilton had brake-checked Vettel but the FIA looked at the telemetry and found that Hamilton was consistent in his speed prior to restarts.
I think Vettel was clearly upset that he had damaged his front wing, how the damage could’ve been much more and that his race could’ve easily been ruined and decided to give Hamilton a piece of his mind.
Vettel didn’t understand, at the time, why he received a 10 second stop/go penalty for this moment of madness, but I honestly don’t think he realised what he actually did in the moment.
You can see from the onboard camera that when he pulled out from behind Hamilton to go alongside him he takes his hands off the wheel just as he’s about to pull alongside him. His hand doesn’t actually go back onto the steering wheel when he hits into Hamilton, so I don’t think it was pre-meditated just really careless and clumsy. But he would’ve obviously felt the significant contact, so he would’ve known he hit him…
A rush of blood to the head ultimately cost Vettel victory but he still managed to recover to fourth place ahead of Hamilton.
Hamilton’s race, on the other hand, was not affected by Vettel’s moment of madness but, of all things, a loose headrest which he forced him to pit from the lead to fit a new one and ensure it was secured properly. Of all things… Not an engine/gearbox/suspension element malfunctioning but an insecure headrest… Quite incredible, and it was the difference between catching Vettel in the championship standings to having the gap increase further (from 12 to 14 points).
Post race, the war of words ensued:
Toto Wolff has said that “the gloves are off” now, and you’d figure this ‘lovey-dovey’ stuff between Vettel and Hamilton would eventually end and this will surely do that. With the gloves off, the mind games will surely begin soon and the heated rivalry we’ve all wanted will surely take off.
The “Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve” races…
For many teams and many drivers, a huge ‘what-if’ will be placed upon this weekend. There’s so many of them.
What if Lewis Hamilton’s headrest was secured properly?
What if Max Verstappen’s engine hadn’t failed? Could he have challenged for the win?
What if Felipe Massa wasn’t forced to retire? Could he have challenged for the win?
What if Sergio Perez hadn’t collided with his teammate? Could he have won this race?
What if Kimi Raikkonen hadn’t picked up a puncture from the Ocon-Perez scrap? Could he have won this race?
What if Valterri Bottas hadn’t picked up a puncture and gone done a lap one lap 1?
What if Jolyon Palmer wasn’t forced to retire? Could he have scored some points?
And so on…
A weekend of many regrets and what-ifs for many drivers and teams…
Force India were a hot topic of discussion in Canada for not enforcing team orders and allowing Esteban Ocon ahead of Sergio Perez to challenge Daniel Ricciardo for a podium position before Sebastian Vettel inevitably caught them. With Perez insisting the team to let them race, he failed to pass Ricciardo and was caught and passed by Vettel, consigning Force India to a 5th and 6th placed finishes.
This weekend seemed to escalate the, perhaps, already existing tensions at Force India. With Perez and Ocon running in P4 and P5 after the first restart on lap 20, the two got quite punchy and Ocon didn’t really give Perez the space he should have and the result was a collision between the two.
While Ocon was able to recover thanks to the safety car/red flag, Perez’s race was utterly ruined, and with Massa, Hamilton and Vettel (who all ran into issues later in the race, literally in the case of some) the only drivers running in front of Perez at the time, there was a real sense of ‘what-if?’ with Perez and Force India.
They could’ve easily have had their first race victory and that was taken away from them.
These haven’t been the best two races for Force India. Sure, the points they’ve netted have been alright but it could’ve been so much more…
I would love to be a fly on the wall in that debrief room…
Why are Sauber here? They scored a championship point, why are they losers? They’re losers because they botched a swap-job.
Marcus Ericsson was running P10 when Sauber switched Ericsson and Wehrlein to see if Pascal make a run at 9th placed Alonso, with Wehrlein to give the position back to Ericsson if he couldn’t. But with McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne fast approaching and on their tails by the end of the race, Sauber couldn’t manoeuvre the switch, meaning Wehrlein kept P10, much to the reported anger of Ericsson…
What a race for Lance Stroll but to be fair to him, he was on it the whole weekend. When everyone was going off the road in FP2, Stroll kept his nose clean and followed his first points finish with his first ever podium — finishing in P3, JUST behind Valterri Bottas who nicked P2 from Stroll right at the death.
Though Stroll was cruelly robbed right at the death, I don’t think he’ll ultimately care a bit.
“…Coming into this weekend I never thought I would be standing on the podium,” said an elated Stroll. “It’s an amazing feeling and, for me, a dream come true…”
Star recovery drives from Ricciardo and Bottas
What an eventful race for Daniel Ricciardo. Having being forced to pit in the early stages in this race (due to a piece of debris clogging the brakes ducts which needed clearing), Ricciardo was sat — having started in P10 after his Q3 crash — in P17 with seemingly no chance of a podium, let alone a win. But he just kept at it and made his way through the field, avoiding the mayhem in front of him.
While Ricciardo was one of the many beneficiaries of the carnage happening in front of him, he launched himself into an unlikely podium position when he brilliantly launched past both Williams cars after the safety car restart.
Just as his defensive driving against his teammate Max Verstappen in Malaysia, this move also proved to be ultimately decisive and would help give Danny-Ric victory following the calamities between Hamilton and Vettel.
Having sat in P17 at one stage, this was one of the most unlikeliest victories in F1 for quite some time.
And it wouldn’t be a Daniel Ricciardo victory without…
A fifth career victory for ‘The Honey Badger’, and I wonder where this one ranks…
When Valterri Bottas was forced to pit after the first lap with a puncture (after colliding with Kimi Raikkonen) he was a lap down with seemingly zero chance of any sort of points.
But due to the crazy nature of this race, Bottas was allowed to un-lap himself under the safety car and scythed his way through the field, benefitting from the multiple incidents in front of him: Max Verstappen’s retirement, the Force India scrap and Raikkonen’s subsequent puncture, Felipe Massa’s retirement, Sebatian Vettel’s 10 second stop/go and Lewis Hamilton’s unscheduled pitstop.
He passed Esteban Ocon on lap 40 (of 51) and set about hunting down the Williams of Lance Stroll. As we’ve seen already, he was ultimately successful in catching and passing the Williams, albeit right at the death.
From one lap down to P2…no doubt he had help but still a fantastic drive from Valterri Bottas.
“…for Valtteri, it just goes to show you can never give up”, said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “He did a sensational job from a lap down and it was the perfect finale to steal P2 on the line…”
A half-winner/half-loser here for McLaren-Honda. Though Fernando Alonso secured McLaren’s first points of the year at a track they probably would never have expected, how many more points could this have been on another day?
Eric Boullier certainly wasn’t enthusiastic about McLaren’s first points of the season…
“I’m not smiling, I’m not excited, because it’s not the reason why I’m racing, and especially not racing with McLaren”, Boullier said via autosport.com
On a weekend where Fernando Alonso’s seemingly inevitable departure picked up much more traction, what do two measly points ultimately mean? Were McLaren really winners this weekend? Days like this only heighten the frustration.
They’re ultimately winners because they finally scored some points but deep down…