Once again, Baku came true with another crazy, dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The mix of incidents, drivers out of position after Lap 1 and the general track layout meant there was no room for error, and plenty of room for luck. Ironically, this year’s winners were almost identical to last year’s losers, and the other way around:
Lewis Hamilton: Thinking back to Melbourne, karma seems to have repaid the reigning World Champion as the late Safety Car helped sweep all his rivals out of the way. The Briton seemed nowhere all weekend long, struggling with tyre management and handling and having no answer for the Ferraris’ pace. He was racing a recovering Kimi Räikkōnen for P3 up until two laps from the flag when he suddenly found himself in the lead. This win puts him at the top of the Drivers’ Championship standings and this haul of points will prove valuable down the line in the race for the championship.
Sergio Pérez: Karma was working overtime this weekend. Checo’s 2017 race was virtually over when his teammate pushed him into the wall early in the race, which might have cost their team the chance to contend for victory. This year, he steered clear of the trouble and pounced at the opportunity to take the final podium spot from Sebastian Vettel. Perhaps not coincidentally, his last podium finish was at Baku in 2016 and one can’t help but wonder why a driver of his caliber isn’t considered for a top drive in this year’s silly season.
Carlos Sainz: In all of Sunday’s madness, it was easy to forget that Sainz delivered one of his finest drives yet to finish P5. This came as no coincidence as he challenged and overtook both Red Bulls early on but lost out on strategy. This will certainly raise his stock value in the driver market should he be considered for a drive with one of the top teams.
Charles Leclerc (pictured): Leclerc lived up to his Formula 2 Championship winning promise in what is unquestionably the worst car on the grid. His teammate’s pace showed that this was in part down to Sauber being genuinely quick around Baku but Leclerc’s virtue was a wise drive, staying away from the carnage to take a career-best 6th and ‘Driver of the Day’, for what it’s worth.
Valtteri Bottas: For the third race in a row, Bottas was robbed of a well-deserved victory in the final miles. Unlike the previous two races where he lost out on track, this one was a hearbreak all across the paddock. It’s fair to blame the stewards for not having cleared the track of debris after 8 laps under Safety Car conditions, but what’s certain is that had he won, he would have been in the lead of the Drivers’ Championship table, but now he’s 30 points down from his teammate. In a season like 2018, this could make all the difference come November.
Red Bull Racing (pictured): There are few better manifestations of the phrase ‘hero to zero’. After they managed to steal a brilliant victory two weeks ago in China, the drivers once again broke the oldest rule of all: Do not run into your teammate. Red Bull’s policy of letting their drivers race has put them in hot water many times in the past, but in Baku the team failed to cool down two drivers fighting a fierce battle not just for position, but also for number-one status in the team. It was all great to watch two overtaking masters at their craft but the battle was so heated that it was an accident just waiting to happen. Max Verstappen, Daniel Ricciardo and the Red Bull pit wall have only themselves to blame.
Romain Grosjean: Heartbreak after heartbreak. Haas clearly had the pace to haul a good amount of points back from Baku, and they stumbled over themselves. Grosjean weeping behind his car on Sunday was a solid low point from which a recovery drive back to P6 would have been another great result for the Frenchman, but he lost it all heating his rear tyres behind the Safety Car when he crashed into the wall. It was a bizarre mistake for a man of his experience. He was right to throw his gloves like he did, and he has nobody else to blame.
Images via Formula1.com and Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team