Azerbaijan Grand Prix: Ricciardo survives the chaos

Where to begin? Let’s start at the end…

Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo defied the odds to win an incident packed and chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Valterri Bottas stormed from last place in the Mercedes, thanks to a first turn collision, to steal second place on the finish line from 18 year old Lance Stroll who claimed third place for Williams, on a day the boy became a man and some of the biggest names in Formula 1 tripped up.

The Australian secured his fifth career Formula 1 win, while Bottas overtook Stroll’s Williams on the finish line to take second place by a tenth of a second.

For Ricciardo who crashed 24 hours earlier in qualifying, and a start that forced him to pit early it was one of his sweetest victories, one which even he would have not predicted before the race.

Beaming from ear to ear he said on the podium, “I can’t really believe it. It was a crazy race. 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, ” he added.

Bottas was involved in a first lap collision with his fellow countryman (and nemesis) Kimi Raikkonen which resulted in a puncture on his Mercedes. A slow return to the pits saw him drop a lap down the field. But credit to him for never giving up, and seizing the moment to unlap himself during the safety car period.

Thereafter he blitzed around the challenging confines of Baku, relentlessly carving his way up the field and benefiting from the shenanigans and hard luck of others. Late in the race he was up to third and half a dozen seconds behind Stroll in second.

Bottas would have been forgiven if he had decided to play it safe and settle for an unlikely third. But that’s not how he thinks and went in pursuit of the Williams. On the final lap,on the main straight it looked done and dusted but somehow the Finn caught a mega slipstream and pipped the young Canadian on the line. It was riveting stuff.

He summed up his afternoon, “Just a crazy race with so much happening. I was one lap down in the beginning and had to overtake under the Safety Car and catch them all again. This just shows never give up as you never know what is going to happen.”

“The team managed to fix the car a bit in the red flag. It was just really fun. With what happened in the beginning, it’s a good result for us.”

“Going into Turn Two I was on the inside, Kimi was on the outside, and there was no space for me to go but over the curb. The car obviously jumps and I couldn’t keep the line. It was a racing incident,” concluded Bottas.

Although he did not win or even finish second, the day belonged Stroll. The teenager put behind him a torrid start to the season which prompted a great deal of criticism from all quarters, and after his first points finish in Canada last time out he went even better in Baku.

He out-qualified his vastly experienced teammate Felipe Massa a day earlier and then delivered a mature performance, of the highest order, to stay out of trouble and set an impressive pace to claim his first podium and becoming the second youngest top three finisher in F1 history.

The boy who was not long ago the target of many jokes, became a man who won the respect of fans on the day in Baku – voted by them as the Driver of the Day – and a thoroughly deserving accolade  indeed. 

It was a very happy podium, with Stroll perhaps the happiest of all, “I’m just lost for words right now. I can’t quite realise what’s just happened. It was a hectic race, people crashing and we just stayed out of trouble. I kept my head cool, took it to the end and my pace was good.

“Valtteri just took me at the end, it must have been one of the closest finishes of all time, side by side at the finish line. I couldn’t believe ahead of the weekend that I’d be standing on the podium, it’s so amazing.”

“Motorsport is a love-hate relationship. We had a couple of hard races but the last two have been amazing and I’m just over the moon right now,” he added with a huge grin and thumbs up to his billionaire father oozing pride at the foot of the podium. 

In a stop-start race, the safety car came out three times in quick succession before a red flag stopped the race near the midway point because debris littered the track.

Shortly before that, Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel were involved in an incident that threatens to sour their good relations.

Hamilton appeared to stop his car right in front of Vettel, causing Vettel to collide into him. An irate Vettel then accelerated alongside Hamilton and appeared to deliberately swerve back into him.

Vettel was given a 10-second stop-go penalty, but Hamilton lost valuable time – sacrificing the lead which he held comfortably amid the three restarts – changing a loose headrest at the same time while Vettel served his time penalty.

The pair were running one-two before destiny intervened. First Hamilton’s headrest worked itself loose and forced him to stop and adjust it. Then Vettel was slapped with a ten second penalty for a case of ‘road rage’ during the third restart, the Ferrari nearly slamming into the back of the very slow Mercedes.

Vettel’s reaction, moving alongside and swerving at Hamilton, was uncalled for and did not escape the stewards’ attention and they penalised him accordingly.

When they returned to the track, Vettel led Hamilton and it stayed that way despite the Mercedes driver pursuing with all he had but to no avail. Vettel was fourth and Hamilton fifth.

It was Hamilton’s race to win, after another stunning qualifying lap he was untouchable around Baku and was in control of the race until bad luck intervened.

While Vettel made a good start to hang on to second place, and looked set to challenge late on in the race until fate dished out a most unexpected script.

Vettel claimed Hamilton had braked in front of him and he responded by driving into the back of his rival before then bumping the Briton from the side.

“I think it’s just not driver conduct. It’s dangerous driving and to get a 10-second penalty for that… I don’t need to say anything else,” Hamilton said afterwards.

Vettel pleaded innocent and told reporters, “Nothing happened, did it? He brake checked me as well, so what do you expect?”

“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.

“I passed him because he pitted. After the incident, we were side by side, I raised my hand and told him, well I didn’t say anything, but showed him that I wasn’t happy with that.”

No doubt the knives are now sharpened in the battle for the title, and afterwards the animosity was palpable which sets the scene for an intriguing duel between the two for the remainder of the season.

Esteban Ocon of Force India, survived a collision with his teammate Sergio Perez, was sixth ahead of Kevin Magnussen of Haas, and the Toro Rosso of Carlos Sainz, who recovered from a first-lap spin to avoid his teammate Daniil Kvyat.

Two-time champion Fernando Alonso, scored McLaren’s first points of the year in ninth, with Pascal Wehrlein claiming the final point for Sauber. Only 13 cars finished the race.

Blow-By-Blow

A dramatic start saw Bottas go into Turn 2 on the inside of Raikkonen. The Mercedes driver appeared to take too much kerb in the corner and he was launched into the side of his fellow Finn’s Ferrari. Raikkonen shipped damage and dropped to fifth, but Bottas suffered front wing damage and a front right puncture. He was forced to pit for repairs and dropped to the rear of the field.

At the front, Hamilton, who had taken the lead at the start began to swiftly build a gap to second-place title rival Sebastian Vettel. By lap eight the margin was 3.6 seconds but Vettel responded with a fastest lap on the following tour to stay within touching distance.

Further back, Ricciardo made an early stop, shedding his starting supersofts for softs. The Australian, who also had debris removed from brake ducts during the stop, then began to haul his way back up the order from the ninth position he had taken at the start.

Debris was a worry too for team-mate Max Verstappen. Soon after the start the Dutchman reported that he was unhappy with the behaviour of his car and he was told he may have had debris in the radiator ducts and that the situation would be monitored.

On lap 13, though, Verstappen suddenly slowed and began to fall down the order. At the same time Kvyat’s Toro Rosso expired and he pulled over at the side of the track.

The need to recover the car brought out the first safety car of the race and that caused a flurry of pit stops with all of the frontrunners taking on fresh tyres. Verstappen too headed for the pit lane, but unfortunately for the Red Bull man, his visit wasn’t temporary and he retired from the race.

Under the safety car the order saw Hamilton leading Vettel, with Perez in third place ahead of William’s Felipe Massa and the second Force India of Esteban Ocon. At the back Bottas was allowed to unlap himself and the Finn began a comeback.

On the re-start Hamilton kept his lead but Vettel came under heavy pressure from Perez who drew alongside the Ferrari. Vettel protected the line well, however, and kept second place.

Within seconds, though, the Safety Car was again deployed, this time to clear debris at several locations on the track, and cars were directed through the pit lane as the wreckage was removed.

Just before the Safety Car left the track again at the end of lap 19, the key incident of the race unfolded.

Hamilton slowed dramatically to back up the field and Vettel ran into the back of the Briton’s Mercedes. Vettel responded by running alongside Hamilton and banging wheels with the Mercedes man’s car.

Then, as the racing resumed, Vettel was attacked again, not just by Perez, but also by Massa and Ocon.

The Brazilian got past Perez and tried to pass Vettel down the inside. Vettel again resisted and held P2 but Massa’s move dropped Perez into the clutches of Ocon who tried to pass his team-mate. The team-mates collided and Perez was forced to the pits where it looked like he would retire.

Caught up in the mess was Raikkonen. The Finn ran over the debris from the Force India collision and suffered a right-rear puncture. By the time he made it back to the pits his car had sustained too much damaged and it looked like he too would be forced out of the race.

The Safety Car was deployed yet again, but this time, with debris strewn across the track in a number of places, the red flag was eventually displayed.

Cars were directed back to the pit lane and the dissection of the events that had just taken place began, with the incident between Vettel and Hamilton being placed under investigation by the stewards and the two drivers engaging engineers and team principals in animated discussion.

Action resumed just after 1815 local time, with both Perez and Raikkonen rejoicing the field having been repaired. However, as the SC got set to leave the circuit, third-placed Felipe Massa reported that he had a car problem.

When racing resumed the Brazilian was immediately in trouble. Team-mate Lance Stroll passed on the right but Ricciardo was smarter and went down the inside, outbraking both to rise from fifth to third with a standout move. Behind them Renault’s Hulkenberg made a mistake and clipped a barrier, breaking his right front suspension, and exiting the race.

On lap 27 Hamilton now led from Vettel, Ricciardo and Stroll with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen in fifth place. McLaren’s Fernando Alonso was in an unlikely sixth place after starting 19th, while Sainz was seventh ahead of Bottas and Grosjean. Perez was in P14 ahead of Raikkonen but both were under investigation as it appeared their crews had worked on the car outside the fast lane in the frenzy to get them going again.

Hamilton, though, had a problem with his head restraint and was told he had to pit to fix the issue. That dropped him to eighth place. The damage was minimised when moments later Vettel was handed a 10-second stop and go penalty for the SC incident with Hamilton. The German served the penalty at the end of lap 33 and dropped to P7 ahead of Hamilton.

Ahead, and somewhat improbably, Ricciardo now led the race in front of Stroll and Magnussen. The Haas driver didn’t hold the podium position for long, however, and on lap 38 the Dane was passed by both Ocon and a resurgent Bottas.

The Finn then passed the Force India driver and began setting fastest laps as he chased down Stroll. As the laps counted down it didn’t look like the Mercedes driver had done enough but on the final lap he closed hard and after Ricciardo had taken the flag to claim his fourth career victory, Bottas managed to pass Stroll across the line in a hugely exciting finale.

Stroll took third, becoming the first Canadian to stand on the podium since Jacques Villeneuve at the German Grand Prix in 2001.

Behind them Vettel held Hamilton at bay to finish fourth, while behind the Mercedes driver Ocon took sixth ahead of Magnussen, Sainz, Alonso and Wehrlein.

Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku City Circuit – Race Result

POS NO DRIVER CAR LAPS TIME/RETIRED PTS
1 3 Daniel Ricciardo RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 51 2:03:55.573 25
2 77 Valtteri Bottas MERCEDES 51 +3.904s 18
3 18 Lance Stroll WILLIAMS MERCEDES 51 +4.009s 15
4 5 Sebastian Vettel FERRARI 51 +5.976s 12
5 44 Lewis Hamilton MERCEDES 51 +6.188s 10
6 31 Esteban Ocon FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 51 +30.298s 8
7 20 Kevin Magnussen HAAS FERRARI 51 +41.753s 6
8 55 Carlos Sainz TORO ROSSO 51 +49.400s 4
9 14 Fernando Alonso MCLAREN HONDA 51 +59.551s 2
10 94 Pascal Wehrlein SAUBER FERRARI 51 +89.093s 1
11 9 Marcus Ericsson SAUBER FERRARI 51 +91.794s 0
12 2 Stoffel Vandoorne MCLAREN HONDA 51 +92.160s 0
13 8 Romain Grosjean HAAS FERRARI 50 +1 lap 0
14 7 Kimi Räikkönen FERRARI 46 DNF 0
NC 11 Sergio Perez FORCE INDIA MERCEDES 39 DNF 0
NC 19 Felipe Massa WILLIAMS MERCEDES 25 DNF 0
NC 27 Nico Hulkenberg RENAULT 24 DNF 0
NC 33 Max Verstappen RED BULL RACING TAG HEUER 12 DNF 0
NC 26 Daniil Kvyat TORO ROSSO 9 DNF 0
NC 30 Jolyon Palmer RENAULT 7 DNF 0