The Azerbaijan GP provided us with one of the most exciting and eventful races in recent years. With three safety car periods, a red flag and only 12 finishers, the race continues to stir debate days after it took place.
Daniel Riccirdo took a surprise victory after dropping as low as P19 early on. Eight drivers had a shot at victory but the two who will rue it the most were Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton dominated proceedings until a loose headrest forced him to pit from a lead he never recovered. While Vettel’s chances were undone when he had to serve a 10-second stop/go penalty. Vettel was caught unaware by a slow Hamilton during a safety car restart and vented his anger by driving into Hamilton’s side, meaning he couldn’t capitalize on the Briton’s misfortunes, and landed himself in hot water with the FIA who are launching an investigation into the incident.
Lance Stroll continued his run of form, this time with a podium finish, making him the youngest rookie to finish in the top 3, at just 18 years of age.
So, who were the winners and losers from the action-packed event? Majd Khalil provides his say:
Daniel Riccardo: If the opportunity is there, Daniel is sure to grab it. Daniel moved up from 19th before the red flag to first after that and whether he was the deserved winner is very hard to argue, because nearly 8 drivers had a shot. However, he kept himself out of the entire jumble that was happening around him, and overtaking three cars at once will sure be one of Formula 1’s classics, probably one of the top 20 overtakes of all time. And yet another Shoey, which we all like. But still, he should leave Baku with a bitter sweet feeling since he was once again out-qualified by Verstappen.
Lance Stroll: It was a bit fun to make a joke out of the rich spoiled kid whose daddy bought him a Formula 1 car and he kept crashing it, but Lance seems to be way above that now. The teenager kept his calm while he was being made to look like the new Maldonado, and drove a clean race on one of the most difficult tracks where we saw experienced drivers and multiple world champions crashing into each other and into the barriers. He was one of the winners by merit of being a Canadian Point scorer in Canada, but in Baku, he deserves all the praise. He also won best shoey reaction when he said to Ricciardo “You realize this is gonna scar me for life, I am too young for this”
Kevin Magnessun: Haas seems to be giving Kevin the support he couldn’t find neither at McLaren nor at Renault. He seems to be a different driver this year, and was up to third place at one point in the race. He made a double overtake after the restart, and is now leading Romain Grosjean in the standings, whereas his more experienced team mate is still struggling with the brakes. We still have to figure out if that make us think more of him or less of Grosjean.
Fernando Alonso: It’s almost never right to celebrate two points when you are Fernando Alonso. But considering it’s a track with one of the longest straights in the calendar, and a battery failure in the late stages of the race meaning he had to nurse the car home, one has to think what would have happened if Honda actually got the extra 15 KM/H spec engine they tested on Friday ready for this race.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix: After last year’s race, Baku seemed like the track we must go through to get to the next race. But this year it offered one of the best races in the last 3 years, and all for the wrong reasons that the fans love. We wanted an event that really tested the drivers’ skills as well as their concentration and it delivered just that with a race where all drivers made silly mistakes, giving us a lot of drama and crashes. The drivers must have enjoyed the race just as much as we did, with Ricciardo giggling on the team radio and telling the team during the stoppage that this is so much fun. We need that one track where anything can happen. That used to be Monaco, but now we have a less claustrophobic alternative.
Sebastian Vettel: “I think through difficult times true colors show” was Hamilton’s post-race evaluation of Vettel crashing deliberately into him. While everyone is debating whether it was intentional or not, Vettel himself admitted it in a post-race interview when he was asked if he turned in deliberately, his answer was “I think it was very clear”. He added “I don’t have radio to him” which was his way of translating his fury. And it is now obvious that Vettel has these Machiavellian traits. We all remember how he passed Webber in Malaysia 2013 after both drivers were asked to save fuel, depriving the Aussie from his last ever F1 win. These traits helped him become a four-time world champion, and in a competitive environment like F1, maybe they are needed. But one thing for sure, Sebastian has set a new tone to the championship and to his rivalry with Lewis. With recent reports that the FIA will look further into the incident, whether this will turn ugly or not will be something to look forward to.
Lewis Hamilton: He did everything right this weekend, but instead of leading Vettel in the standings by 15 points, he has now fell two points further behind, and the extremely improbable headrest issue is something that Mercedes will remember if Lewis ends up losing the title by a 17-point margin. After pulling away in the lead from Vettel, Hamilton lost his early-race pace after the extra pit stop for a new headrest. A closer look shows he was especially losing time behind the German in the middle sector by nearly 6 tenths of a second, bringing back memories of the tyre temperature issues Mercedes were suffering from early in the season as the shadow fell on the streets of Baku and even though his super late-qualifying, one-lap effort suggests otherwise, Mercedes might still want to look at why his pace faded during this particular crucial stage.
Sergio Perez: Perez could have won the race, as simple as that. He was in front of Riccardo before his accident with Ocon, which was not his fault. But he was one of the losers for failing to pass Vettel twice, as in both restarts he decided to take his straight line toe from Vettel to the German’s right, on the outside of Turn 1, failing in both attempts, a position that could have easily been his. Drivers rarely get a second chance at an F1 race, but Perez did, and he failed twice. Considering how Riccardo passed three cars at once at the restart, on the inside of Turn 1, Perez failed to pass the one car that was standing between him and the win.
Force India: They didn’t learn from Canada were they lost a podium due to team-mate rivalry, and in Baku they lost at least a win or -worst case scenario for them- a chance of a one-two, the squad’s first since 1998 when they were still Jordan. Ocon was very keen not to get stuck behind Perez again, and he made a hasty move which would have put them both out had they not got the chance to rejoin after the red flag.
Kimi Raikkonen: He failed to capitalize on his third place in qualifying, and seemed to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, every time. There are three drivers who are still in F1 since 2003: Kimi, Alonso, and Massa, and other two are doing a far better job than him, all things considered.
Felipe Massa: He was one of those “what if” winners. A podium finish was all that Massa needed considering how since his return to F1, nobody seem to be paying much attention to him. Apart from his retirement, he has been out of the spotlight for a while now.
Red Bull: With their reliability issues, the team is depriving themselves and Verstappen of some great results, and depriving us from watching some great racing.
Image via LAT Images