Daniel Ricciardo has scored his first win of the year after the most intense grand prix this season.
The young Australian started from 10th and came through the field, with a lot of drama to boot, to take his team’s first win of the year in a red flagged race.
Under the baking Baku sun, the race got underway with Hamilton beating Bottas and Vettel to the first turn. Near the back, Sainz’s weekend got worse after spinning out trying to avoid his rejoining team-mate.
Up at turn two, the Finns had a battle which resulted in Bottas suffering a puncture and Raikkonen tagging the wall. The slow pace of them both backed up the field and it was Bottas who came off worse, limping back to the pits and coming out a lap down.
Hamilton continued to lead the charge up front, enjoying a sizeable lead over Vettel who had an almost as large gap to Perez behind him. Despite suffering a small amount of damage on the opening lap, Verstappen remained in fourth, closely following Perez.
Ricciardo was the first of the top ten to pit, coming in on lap five for the soft tyres and rejoining the track in 17th place with a lot of work ahead of him. No further action was declared to be taken against both Bottas and Raikkonen from their opening lap scuffle.
Palmer was to be the first retirement, dropping out at the end of lap seven with another mechanical failure for the weekend after his team rebuilt the Renault thanks to yesterday’s fire during practice.
The battle between those who hadn’t pitted and Ricciardo heated up with the Australian getting past Sainz and Ericsson on the main straight. Kvyat in the other Toro Rosso retired on lap ten, pulling over in sector two.
Verstappen fell down the order, dropping power coming on to the main straight with his engine puffing smoke in protest as he finished the lap. He regained power near the end of the first sector with the safety car being deployed to recover Kvyat’s car.
All who had not yet pitted came in for their compulsory stops, Verstappen staying on the jacks for a long time until the team decided to retire the car, his fourth retirement in the last six races. The initial power unit issues took him out of fourth place.
The race restarted on lap 17 as the safety car peeled in, releasing the field. Perez challenged Vettel at turn one but behind it was Raikkonen who was mugged by Massa and Ocon, slipping back through the pack.
The safety car came out only a few moments later to recover debris which had been disposed from Raikkonen’s Ferrari, either from his car or someone else’s. The field was redirected through the pit lane to avoid the debris on the straight.
Before the safety car came in, Hamilton’s slow exit from a corner meant Vettel rear-ended him, pulling alongside to show his distaste with the move. The German decided to pull alongside the Mercedes, swerving in to Hamilton in protest.
As the field took the restart, Vettel lost a piece of his front wing and was surrounded from both sides by Massa on the inside and Perez on the outside. While he held his ground and got out of turn one in front, further drama was to follow at turn two.
While Perez tried a move on the outside of Massa, Ocon got on his inside and forced both Force Indias in to the wall. Perez lost his front wing, Ocon damaged his tyres and Raikknen punctured his rear tyre in the process of getting through the mess, the tyre disintegrating on the way back to the pits, destroying his floor and rear win.
From the melee, Perez and Raikkonen retired while Ocon remained on track. The top five under the third safety car was Hamilton, Vettel, Massa, Stroll and Ricciardo as the FIA decided to red flag the race on lap 22, giving marshals a chance to clean the circuit.
Mercedes mechanics worked on Hamilton’s diffuser while Vettel’s men repaired his front wing after the debacle. Ricciardo was the only driver with a smile on his face, sitting in fifth but out of pit stop sequence.
Raikkonen and Perez had their cars repaired for the restart, rejoining the action by entering the track before the safety car, circulating until they reattached themselves to the back of the pack.
The third restart of the race came at the start of lap 24 with Hamilton again leading the way ahead of Vettel. Massa was passed by Stroll and Ricciardo at the restart, the latter going three wide in to turn one to make up three positions in one turn.
Magnussen repeated Ricciardo’s feat the next lap, passing Massa and Hulkenberg on the inside into one. Massa obviously struggling with suspension drama, getting swamped by the pack. Hulkenberg was the next victim of the race, tagging the wall and breaking his front suspension, pulling up to retire.
Massa pulled in to the pits with a broken rear damper, retiring from the race after a solid drive. Amazingly, at the half way mark the top eight cars were all from different teams, showing the difference in strategies and high attrition rate.
Hamilton’s headrest came loose around lap 28, the safety part possibly not being secured properly before he was sent out for the restart. While the team told him to try and push it back in to position, he was unable to do so, Mercedes having to think about what to do so as to avoid a penalty.
Needing to avoid being knocked back positions due to a penalty, the leader was pulled in on lap 31, Mercedes putting in a new headrest while Vettel was given the lead. Simultaneously, Vettel was handed down a 10 second stop/go penalty for running in to Hamilton under the safety car, effectively giving Ricciardo the lead.
Vettel served his penalty, coming out just in front of Hamilton with Perez between the pair though the Mexican was a lap down. Ricciardo took the lead with Stroll second and Magnussen in third. Bottas made progress through the field, coming past Alonso in to fourth.
Alonso put the blockers on Vettel but the Ferrari powered past with Hamilton following shortly after, the pair charging forwards towards Bottas. While they gained on the front, they were still over 20 seconds back from Ricciardo with under 15 laps to go.
Bottas moved up another spot in to fourth, passing Magnussen who was slipping back towards the cars of Vettel and Hamilton. Ocon remained in front of Bottas though was being honed in by the Mercedes. Vettel and Hamilton made short work of Magnussen’s Haas, relegating the Dane to seventh.
Bottas’ first lap dramas seemed a world away, passing Ocon for the final podium position with only 11 laps remaining. Ocon was to be the next in line for the championship leaders to pass, pushing the Frenchman out of a possible best race finish.
Perez came in to finally retire for good, not able to make headway in his repaired Force India. Raikkonen on the other hand was given a penalty for his team not working on his car in the fast lane of the pits under the red flag period.
Vettel almost threw it away in the dying laps, a momentary lapse in concentration nearly sending him in to the walls at turn one. Despite the scare, he still remained ahead of Hamilton for fourth place. Bottas seemed unable to catch Stroll who had a large gap in front to Ricciardo in the lead.
While Hamilton closed in on Vettel, Bottas ranged up to Stroll, passing the young Canadian at the line. Through all the drama, it was Ricciardo who took an unlikely win, the first for the RB13 and Ricciardo’s first since Malaysia last year.
The top ten finishers were Ricciardo, Bottas, Stroll, Vettel, Hamilton, Ocon, Magnussen, Sainz, Alonso and Wherlein.
Image via Red Bull Content Pool