The Red Bull of Daniel Ricciardo stunned with an unexpected victory at an utterly chaotic and controversial Azerbaijan Grand Prix, as the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel’s title fight finally ignited with serious on track action.
Ricciardo started the race in 10th place following his crash in qualifying on Saturday, but early on in the race he dropped almost to the back in 17th place after an early pit stop to clear some debris from his break ducts. Form there Ricciardo drove calmly through the carnage, capitalising on the opportunities and the misfortune of other drivers, including Hamilton and Vettel to win the race.
“I can’t really believe it. It was a crazy race,” said Ricciardo, who is now a five-time race winner. “We knew the podium was a chance after the restart, then we heard of the problems with Lewis and Seb. I made an unplanned pitstop at the beginning, and I dropped to 17th place. Did I think I would win today? Not for all my money but this was the race we expected last year all the safety cars and the chaos. I said it yesterday we had to stay out of trouble and it certainly pulled off today.”
Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas finished an impressive second today considering he was dead last and lapped in the opening few laps. The Finn had yet another first lap coming together with fellow countryman Kimi Raikkonen into the second corner. Bottas came into the corner a little too hot, missing the apex and bouncing off the kerb, he tried to recover the car as best he could but unfortunately ended up hitting Raikkonen’s left side of the car. The contact resulted in him having to crawl round the lap with a puncture that meant he was a lap down when he re-joined. However after the first safety car period he was able to un-lap himself. Bottas then managed a drive similar to Ricciardo through the field, and pipped the Williams of Lance Stroll to second on the podium just before the line.
Stroll gave Williams something to celebrate this weekend with a third place finish, their first podium of the season, and the first for the team since Canada 2016. Stroll took advantage of the stop-start nature of the race with the multiple safety cars to gain track position, putting his Mercedes engine to good use on the long straight. Staying out of the drama as best he could in his Williams, Stroll did run as high as second place in his Stroll around the city, which made deputy team principal Claire Williams “physically sick with nerves” as well as many team members too. Despite being pipped at the line by Bottas, Stroll has claimed his first podium finish, becoming the youngest rookie driver to do so in Formula 1 history. He is also the first Canadian driver to appear on the podium since Jacque Villeneuve at the 2001 German Grand Prix.
“It was such a hectic race and I kept my head cool, the team kept me cool over the radio and we took it to the end,” he told the media after the race. “It was a bit disappointing at the end to lose P2 but all in all an amazing race. You dream of being on an F1 podium, you work towards that and it finally comes true.”
But while the podium may be full of happy drivers with lots of smiles, the drivers who finished fourth and fifth will be anything but happy, as this will be seen by the pair of them as a race they threw away. The Ferrari of Vettel finished fourth ahead of the Mercedes of Hamilton in fifth, as the love-in between the two of them is well and truly over following a controversial moment during the race today.
Hamilton and Vettel were running first and second respectively at the end of the second safety car period, throughout which Hamilton had been complaining that the safety car had been going too slow. At turn 16, behind the safety car, Hamilton appeared to go a lot slower that Vettel expected, causing the German to hit the back of Hamilton in his Ferrari. Seeing red at what Vettel claimed was Hamilton deliberately brake checking him, he waved a hand from his cockpit before pulling up alongside Hamilton. He then appeared to, in a fit of road rage, to turn right into Hamilton deliberately as he threw his hand up in anger. Resulting in the Ferrari and Mercedes bumped wheels.
The stewards took a dim view to Vettel’s road rage and awarded the German a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for what they deemed to be dangerous driving, though Vettel could be heard on the radio rebuking the claim that his driving during the incident was dangerous. Despite the incident, Hamilton was still on course for victory before he had to make an unscheduled pit stop on safety grounds, when the head rest in his Mercedes worked its way loose. With the Mercedes repairs taking longer than Vettel’s penalty, Hamilton re-emerged onto the track just behind the Ferrari.
The British driver followed Vettel in the closing stages as they both worked their way back up the order, but was unable to get close enough to attempt an overtake and finished fifth as a result. In the post-race comments Hamilton held back no punches, describing Vettel’s actions as a disgrace.
“Driving alongside and deliberately driving into another driver and getting away pretty much scot-free as he [Vettel] still came fourth, I think that’s a disgrace, I think he disgraced himself today.”Hamilton said. When he was asked if he deliberately break checked Vettel as the German suggested, Hamilton insisted that he did not and that the Ferrari driver was at fault. “I didn’t, I controlled the pace,” Hamilton replied. “Like all the other restarts, I slowed down in the same spot. He was obviously sleeping and drove into the back of me.”
Vettel, who also received three penalty points on his race licence for the incident, still refused to acknowledge or discuss the apparent road rage moment after in the post race comments to the media.
“He brake checked me as well, so what do you expect?” said Vettel. “I’m sure he didn’t do it on purpose but for sure it was not the right move. If I’m struggling, people at the back struggling even more, so I don’t think it was necessary. I got damage, he risked damage. He’s done something similar in China at the restart a couple of years ago so it’s not the way to do it, I think. After the incident, we were side by side, I raised my hand and showed him that I wasn’t happy with that.”
Up until this point, Vettel and Hamilton’s championship battle has been rather cordial in nature, with both drivers heaping praise on the other during their various victories over the other. It’s been a stark contrast to the previous all Mercedes championship battle of the last three seasons, where Mercedes former driver Nico Rosberg and Hamilton were often at each other’s throats.
“Nobody wanted to see the schmoozing anyway, so now the gloves are off,” said Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff.
Elsewhere Esteban Ocon finished the race in sixth place, though it was not all plane sailing for the Frenchman. Last time out in Canada Ocon felt that his team mate Sergio Perez denied him the opportunity to fight for a podium, fast forward to Azerbaijan and there seems to be no love lost between the pair as they clashed at the second safety car restart. Perez appeared to be lining up a pass on the Williams of Felipe Massa ahead of him, however he failed to complete the move. This allowed Ocon alongside him where the two of them touched. Both received rear punctures and the damage from the crash would eventually cause Perez to retire.
Kevin Magnussen drove an impressive race in his Haas for seventh place, though it was a case of what ifs for the team. As towards the end of the race he was running in a podium position until faster cars swallowed him up. Carlos Sainz impressed in his Toro Rosso for eighth following contact with his team mate at the start of the race that lead to him pointing in the wrong direction. Much like Ricciardo and Bottas out front Sainz avoided the carnage on an impressive recovery drive. While it was a case of the Hallelujah chorus reigning out at McLaren as Fernando Alonso dragged his car to ninth place, despite a failing battery on his car in the closing few laps of the race, to score the team’s first points of the season.
Pascal Wehrlein rounded out the top ten finishers in his Sauber, though it would appear even a team like Sauber cannot escape drama today. Sauber made the decision during the race to switch Wehrlein with team mate Marcus Ericsson, when Wehrlein insisted he could catch up and pass the McLaren of Alonso. Wehrlien did try to pass without team orders, which just lead to the two Sauber’s bumping into one another and nearly taking each other out of the race. The team agreed to let Wehrlein pass on the understanding that on the last lap, if he had not passed Alonso, he was to hand the place and point back to Ericsson. However in the final laps the other McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne caught up to the back of the Sauber’s, meaning a pass back for position could be too risky as there was a chance Vandoorne could leapfrog a slow Wehrlein. The team opted to not switch back, which resulted in a very angry Ericsson, who felt he had been cheated out of his points finish. The only other driver to finish outside of the points was the Haas of Romain Grosjean, who struggled throughout the race with similar break problems he’s had all weekend.
The race itself saw a raft of retirements for various reasons. Including Raikkonen with a hydraulic issue, Perez with contact damage, Massa with an internal suspension failure, as well as Max Verstappen, Daniil Kvyat, and Jolyon Palmer with what looked like Renault engine issues.
Overall the race was pure chaos from start to finish, with drama up and down the field wherever you looked. Several teams including Force India, Sauber, and Toro Rosso will have some frosty team debriefs tonight thanks to the large amount of team mate’s fighting today. It would appear the cardinal rule of racing, do not hit your team mate, went out of the window for several drivers today. But of course if there is one incident that will dominate the race today. It’s the incident between Hamilton and Vettel, something OM team manager Jordan Groves was quick to pick up on.
“That was crazy. What a fantastically chaotic Grand Prix, much better than last year! So good to see such a happy podium; all three drove fantastically – especially Ricciardo and Stroll. As for the Hamilton/Vettel incident, Vettel’s attitude toward using his car as a weapon is worrying – especially for a four time world champion. It’ll be interested to see how the battle between the pair for the championship will change now that they have come to blows.”
I’m inclined to agree with Jordan in regards to Vettel’s conduct today. This is racing, tempers get high, I can understand and even respect that. I still remember Mark Webber’s rather angry two finger salute to Vettel during the whole Multi 21 debacle. And there are many drivers up and down the grid who have lost their cool with a fellow driver, their race engineer, a strategy call, or a steward’s decision. But to deliberately take the law into your own hands and deliver your own kind of rough justice in the case of Vettel, that I cannot condone. If Vettel felt Hamilton brake checked him, he should have got his team to lodge a complaint with the stewards, not drive alongside and smack into Hamilton himself. Like it or not Vettel is a four-time world champion, and in the same way he looked up to Michael Schumacher as a kid, there are a generation of young karters out there who are looking up to him. His actions today were un-sportsman like and as a role model for the F1 drivers of tomorrow, Vettel set a terrible example of how to behave today.
I’ll leave you now with my highlight of the weekend. And although he may only be 18 years old, Lance Stroll was not about to be allowed to escape the traditional Daniel Ricciardo podium celebration. Despite a plea of “you realise this is going to scar me for life, I’m too young for this!” from Stroll, eventually he had to accept his fate and take part in a shoey celebration. Something I’m sure the young Canadian won’t forget anytime soon.
Azerbaijan GP Race Result
1. Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull, 2:03.55.573
2. Valtteri Bottas, Mercedes,
3. Lance Stroll, Williams,
4. Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari,
5. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes,
6. Esteban Ocon, Force India,
7. Kevin Magnussen, Haas,
8. Carlos Sainz, Toro Rosso,
9. Fernando Alonso, McLaren,
10. Pascal Wehrlein, Sauber,
11. Marcus Ericsson, Sauber,
12. Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren,
13. Romain Grosjean, Haas, +1 lap
DNF Kimi Raikkonen, Ferrari
DNF Sergio Perez, Force India
DNF Felipe Massa, Williams
DNF Nico Hulkenberg, Renault
DNF Max Verstappen, Red Bull
DNF Daniil Kvyat, Toro Rosso
DNF Jolyon Palmer, Renault
Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Racing Press Release