It has been four days since the Azerbaijan GP. I think the shouting has just about stopped (please let the shouting have stopped). I thought this would be a good time to look back and ask ourselves “what the hell happened on Sunday?!”. Can you remember last year’s Baku GP? No, neither can I! This was quite the turn around!
With the aftermath of the GP being as it was, you would be forgiven for thinking that that there was only a red car and a silver car on track. But through the carnage, there were some stand out performances that have been somewhat overlooked in light of the ongoing saga at the head of the championship. How did they all end up where they did? Let’s have a look, shall we.
The grid lined up in relatively predictable fashion, with the top 5 teams filling the top 10 slots and the rest assorted behind. Ricciardo was out of position down in 10th, having ventured into the wall in Q3 but, other than that, it was all very much as you’d expect.
The McLaren guys started at the back with a combined total of 75 place grid penalties and, other than some miraculous performances from Alonso of late, this was an unfortunate return to normal order as well.
At lights out, Lewis Hamilton got a near perfect start to retain his position ahead of Valtteri Bottas. The Ferrari guys where not so hot off the second row and after navigating turn one side by side, Kimi Räikkönen took third place. That wasn’t to last though as he saw an opportunity to pass Bottas on the outside of turn two only to find that his fellow Finn had taken too much kerb and was out of control and heading right for him. Both sustained damage but Kimi continued, having lost a few places, as his damaged floor wasn’t something that could be tended to in a pit stop. Bottas, on the other hand had a broken front wing and a front right puncture, so had to limp to the pits for repairs and emerge a full lap down.
The prickly relationship between the Toro Rosso drivers looks set to remain so as Carlos Sainz was sent into a spin at the hands of Daniil Kvyat. Kvyat had had to take to the turn one run off to avoid a collision but, keen not to lose too many places, he kept his foot in it and found himself returning to the track on the outside of Sainz. There was no contact between the two and, to be fair, there probably wouldn’t have been but Sainz took avoiding action anyway and found himself facing the wrong way as the pack streamed past him.
With escalating brake temperatures, Daniel Ricciardo had to pit early to have his brake ducts cleared of debris. This put his down into 19th position but, with the problem solved, it wasn’t long before he was able to get ahead of some of the guys near the back and start making strides back toward the front.
Jolyon Palmer, having completed around 30 laps all weekend thanks, in no small part, to his power unit catching fire in practice, became abruptly aware that he wouldn’t be adding to that lap tally when a misfire he detected in the formation lap put paid to his race. After a ‘difficult’ start to the weekend with his frustrations boiling over in an interview with the BBC, he could have been doing with a good one but never got the chance.
Palmer wasn’t the only Renault runner to drop out the race as shortly after, Max Verstappen’s race was over. He started to slow on track and lose places before pulling into the pits to see if the problem could be solved. The mechanics frantically scrambled him a new steering wheel to see if they could adjust the settings to solve the problem but it wasn’t to be and, for the second race in a row, Max didn’t even see lap 20. He may even literally not have seen lap 20 as, shortly after he got out the car, he left the track all together without so much as a “hello” for the media. This didn’t go down well at all and the FIA had the final say. More on that here.
To compound a day to forget for Renault, as an engine manufacturer, Daniil Kvyat’s car also gave up the ghost on lap 12. He wasn’t fortunate enough to make it to the pits and parked it out on track leading to the first safety car. Quite why it took 4 laps to remove the stricken Toro Rosso is unclear but in this time, tyre and brake temps were through the floor and there were many radio messages to the drivers telling them they had to do more to get close to the window or the restart would be a riot.
The restart was a riot anyway! The safety car line is half way down the main straight and this line denotes where they can start racing again. The trouble is that the straight is so long that by the time they get to the safety car line, they have all had a massive tow from those in front. So, the line comes, everyone pulls out the tow to put the moves on the driver in front and they end up 3 and 4 abreast – it does make for spectacular viewing! If they are lucky, they fall into a relatively sensible line into turn 1, if they are not lucky, there will be shards of carbon fibre where there ought not to be.
They were not lucky so after 1 lap of racing, the safety car was deployed again to allow marshals time to retrieve, what turned out to be more pieces of Kimi’s Ferrari!
Expecting that there may be another dramatic restart, everyone braced themselves as the safety car was due to come in on lap 19. It turned out the drama would be well in advance of the restart.
By now you know what happened so I’ll give you the ugly facts and we can all move on!
Hamilton was leading from Vettel and had begun to back up in anticipation of the safety car coming in. There are many very conflicting opinions about what happened next – Vettel hit the back of Hamilton, sustaining front wing damage and damaging Hamilton’s diffuser. Vettel thought Hamilton had slowed without warning in an area where he should have been accelerating – he thought Hamilton had brake tested him. Incensed by this, he pulled alongside the Mercedes and gesticulated to Hamilton. Then, whether he meant to or not, his Ferrari collided, wheel on wheel with the Merc. He then resumed his position behind Hamilton for the restart.
Turns out the FIA have decided to revisit the incident and decide if any further action is warranted. Make of that what you will but your social media feed is likely to be very broken from the 3rd of July onward as the investigation takes place!
All of that is not to say there wasn’t also drama at the restart though. At the line, Felipe Massa made it past Checo Perez to take third. Esteban Ocon, in fifth at this point saw the opportunity to pass Checo too, revenge for Canada perhaps? The execution wasn’t exactly top class though and in a similar incident to the first lap incident between Kimi and Bottas, Ocon took too much kerb in turn 2 and was heading straight for his teammate. Unlike the previous incident, he managed to rescue the situation with Checo taking avoiding action out wide, but Ocon failed to move back and give Checo room so he drove into an ever-decreasing gap and lost his front wing. Rule number 1 etc!
Kimi, who appeared doomed from the beginning, ran over the debris from the incident and picked up a right rear puncture. Checo pitted at the end of the lap and so did Kimi, but keen not to lose time, Kimi didn’t scrub off enough speed and the carcass of tyre ripped the floor of the car to bits. It looked like it was race over for Kimi. Word from the pits was that Checo’s front left pushrod was cracked, also normally a terminal issue, but the race was to take a turn might change that.
There was debris all over the place so the red flag was waved to allow time for a track sweep and avoid any more punctures or damage. The cars came into the pit and parked in order in the fast lane to await the restart. At this point it was announced that the stewards were looking at the Hamilton – Vettel incident and Arrivabene spent a fair amount of time having hushed discussions with Vettel. Seeing the opportunity to salvage something from the afternoon, Ferrari and Force India toiled away on Kimi and Checo’s cars and were able to get them fixed in time for the restart.
Racing was due to resume under the safety car and the opportunity was given to lapped drivers to go out first and unlap themselves. Bottas took this opportunity, as did Checo and Kimi.
As the green flag waved on lap 23, a safe distance was kept by all until the first safety car line where, once again everyone darted out the slipstream to try and overtake. Having managed to work his way up to 5th at this point, Ricciardo was the big winner into turn 1, making a treacherous late braking move look easy as he took both of the Williams up the inside, snatching a brake on the way in but making it stick and taking third.
Massa had visible suspension issues at the restart, managing to keep going but the car was jigging up and down at the front. He reported the issue on the radio but tried to continue. On the following lap, with the front end doing it’s own thing, he was left vulnerable down the straight and Nico Hülkenberg looked sure to get past. He did get past but the move was completely overshadowed by Kevin Magnussen’s who had kept himself out of trouble and was gaining on them fast. In a similar move to Ricciardo’s one lap earlier, he slid it down the inside and passed them both to take 5th. As good as that squabble was, it wasn’t to last as, on the following lap, Hülkenberg misjudged an apex and clipped the wall, sending him up an escape road and neatly out of the race. Massa’s suspension issue was not getting any better so he pitted and retired the car on the same lap.
In a bizarre turn of events, as Hamilton’s lead from Vettel was being extended, his head rest came lose at the back. A couple of laps passed where he spent the relatively free time (!) on the straight adjusting the headrest, but he wasn’t able to reattach it. Under instruction from the race director, he pulled into the pit to have it correctly fitted. This dropped him into eighth on the road, behind his teammate, Bottas, who has been quietly getting on with it and making his way up the order.
While Hamilton was in the pits, the results of the steward’s investigation into the restart incident came in and it was a 10 second stop-go penalty for Vettel. The wording suggested the stewards perceived his actions to be ‘potentially dangerous’ but Vettel was very much in disagreement requesting clarification on the radio before being told it would be discussed after the race. He put in a couple of flyers in an attempt at an overcut on Hamilton and this paid off as he returned to the track, having served his penalty, ahead of the Brit.
There was a train of pacesetters threatening those ahead as Ocon, Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel seen off Alonso and Magnussen before Ocon dropped off the pace allowing the following trio through and into third, fourth and fifth.
Further down the order, the Sauber drivers were getting a bit too close for comfort with wheel banging (unintentional!) and squabbling over the last point paying position. This was an important position for the team as they came into the weekend on 4 points – 4 points ahead of McLaren who had Alonso up in the points at this stage and were looking like he may earn enough to switch the places at the bottom of the standings. The call came for Ericsson to allow Wehrlein passed to see if he could make some progress and to calm the situation.
Kimi’s Ferrari and Checo’s Force India both threw the towel in on lap 48. Neither had been able to recover from their mishaps early on and retiring the cars allows them to take a fresh gearbox for the next race, so they both called it a day.
Hamilton was putting in fastest laps of the race in 5th, but he was unable to make up significant ground on Vettel ahead. He got on the radio to the team to see if there was a possibility of Bottas slowing and backing Vettel into him to increase his chances of taking the place. This was given short shrift by the team who pointed out that Bottas was gaining on second place and regardless, they wouldn’t be happy to try that when the DRS is so effective here.
Speaking of second place, that was occupied by the much-ridiculed Williams youngster, Lance Stroll. He had stayed out of all the chaos and put in an assured drive to get up in to the podium positions behind only Ricciardo, but the Aussie was extending his lead up front and looked completely out of his reach. That didn’t look like it was about to change as Stroll got a calm but assertive radio message instructing him he would have to start pushing again as Bottas, in third, was catching at an alarming rate. The Canadian put in a mature performance under pressure to try and hold off the charging Mercedes and it looked like he had done enough. But, as the pair crossed the line Bottas just pipped him, the gap between them just 1 tenth!
But it was Ricciardo who took the chequered flag. Having been down in 19th early on with overheating brakes, he made it through the field and steered clear of the collisions happening all around him to take Red Bull’s first win of 2017 and his 4th podium in a row. His reaction? Well he smiled, of course.
Bottas took second having been a lap down at one point in a race that had more comebacks than Le Mans! Stroll didn’t look too disappointed to have lost second, and rightly so. In taking third, he becomes the youngest rookie to take the podium and on this, his eighth race in Formula 1. His initiation was marked with a shoey, obligatory if you’re sharing the podium with Ricciardo it would seem, although Bottas and DC, who conducted the podium interviews, were spared that horror.
Alonso took McLaren’s first points of the season in ninth and, although it wasn’t enough to overhaul Sauber, it is nice to see them having *something* to show for all the team’s efforts. Having said that, the significance of the 2 points he scored was halved when Wehrlein crossed the line in tenth to score another point for Sauber making McLaren’s deficit 3 going forward.
The Sauber situation becoming something of a saga in itself. The drivers were caught up in the melee when Monisha Kaltenborn left the team, with rumours she was unhappy with the team owner’s intention to make Ericsson the number one driver. These rumours were batted away by the team but there were some tense interviews from each of the drivers, giving the impression that there is no love lost between the two. Ericsson was apparently furious that the favour he did the team by allowing Wehrlein through to try and catch those ahead was not repaid to allow him to take the point. The reality is, Stoffel Vandoorne was less than 1 second behind him so making the switch risked allowing him to pass them both, snatching the last point from their grasp.
It was a mixed performance from the Haas team with Magnussen having an outstanding day and finishing up in seventh – cause for celebration. Grosjean struggled, as ever, with unpredictable brakes and was classified thirteenth and last of all left in the race.
So, there was more to the race on Sunday than a split second moment of anger. Some truly impressive performances have been unfortunately overlooked. And credit should be given to Baku too. In 2016, the GP2 race was an absolute shambles and everyone expected that the F1 would follow suit. It was a no show!
This year – more thoroughly entertaining, if still a bit shambolic action from the F2 guys but F1 brought it’s A game.