Following the conclusions of Formula 1’s qualifying and practice sessions, Sunday’s inaugural running of the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan, was lining up to be one of pandemonium.
Tight racing grooves of the Turn 8-9-10 section, multiple 90-degree corners and limited run-off areas – which were noticed negatively by 2009 World Champion Jenson Button before the weekend – were expected to bring havoc and turmoil to the Formula 1 grid.
Additionally, the GP2 Series races saw numerous off-rack excursions and collisions, leading to multiple Safety Car periods and even a one-race ban being handed down to Honda protégé Nobuhara Matsushita.
However, it seems the F1 field got their lawlessness out of the way early, as Sunday’s 51-lap event went without a Safety Car and saw very little contact among the 22 drivers and the circuit walls.
“I think the experience helps in that case,” said race winner Nico Rosberg, who led every lap from pole position.
“We’re all much more experienced and we’re able to avoid the incidents better and we also learned a lot from what was going on in the GP2 [races]. That was mayhem.”
When calamity takes center stage, it can open up opportunity to the smaller teams, like Manor Racing, to possibly take home a solid finish while laying in the weeds. Rio Haryanto was disappointed, yet surprised, to see such a calm race after qualifying a career-best 17th-fastest.
“I think everyone was expecting some opportunities today,” the Indonesian driver said. “We had to try to put ourselves in a position to respond to them. In the end, no such opportunities [came]; it was a very straightforward race.”
Finishing second, more than 16 seconds behind Rosberg, was Sebastian Vettel, who spoke highly about the level of talent currently in the F1 paddock. To him, that’s where most of the credit should stand.
“I think it speaks for the quality [of the drivers],” Vettel said. “I think we’ve talked a lot about this track being high-risk, dangerous. I think we had some corners here where you don’t want to think about what’s happening if you get it wrong. Then it definitely makes you more alert, you’re awake and obviously you try to go as hard as you can and push.”
Despite being alert behind the wheel, Vettel ensured there was no ‘playing it cool’ when the lights went out.
“I don’t think we were taking it easy, any one of us,” he said. “But equally, obviously, you don’t take any stupid approaches to risk because it could end quite badly.”
Completing the podium for the second time in the last three races was Force India’s Sergio Pérez, who jumped Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen to take third position. Becoming the only team outside Ferrari or Mercedes to achieve multiple podiums in 2016, Pérez mirrored Vettel’s thoughts on the clean Sunday race.
“To be honest, I’m very surprised, given how difficult this track is,” he said. “It also speaks for the quality of the drivers that we have in Formula 1. It’s not that we were taking it easy out there, I think we were all pushing and every braking point you really feel it can go wrong at any point.
“There is no room for mistakes in any place. The very least that can happen to you if you make a mistake is you lose a couple of seconds but I’m really surprised. I think well done to everyone because nobody made a mistake. Very surprised for that.”
Images via GP2 Series and XPB Images