Azerbaijan on a warm Sunday afternoon, and after his brilliant qualifying lap Lewis Hamilton was planning on a pleasant stroll through the park on his way to victory. Lining up alongside him on the grid was Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas. There was a three place grid penalty for Sainz for taking out Felipe in Canada, and back of the grid starts for both McLaren Hondas for changing engine parts. Last year was the first time the race had taken place in Azerbaijan, and was won by reigning world champion Nico Rosberg.
Hamilton led the grid round on the slowest warm up lap I can remember, the other drivers could have gotten out and walked back to the grid faster.
There was chaos off the start line, as Kimi Raikkonen was hit by Bottas, and Carlos Sainz was hit by Toro Rosso team mate Danil Kvyat. Bottas was forced to pit for a new front wing and dropped to last place a lap down.
In what could prove to be a busy afternoon for the stewards, they announced that they would have to look into both first lap collisions and were investigating Raikkonen and Bottas, but no further action was required for the Toro Rosso collision.
Hamilton was getting settled into his rhythm out in front, as Jolyon Palmer was forced to retire with another engine problem. Ricciardo and Vandoorne both pitted at the end of lap 6, with Red Bull confirming the reason for their early pitstop was debris in Ricciardos brake duct.
On fresh tyres Ricciardo was flying, as he over took both Carlos Sainz and Marcus Ericsson on one corner.
Unfortunately for the other side of the Red Bull garage, his team mate had not been so lucky as an engine problem forced him to retire. Again. For the 4th time in 8 races – at least he is consistent!
Kvyat was also forced to retire, parking the car at the side of the track with the team confirming it was an electrical fault, which caused everything to shut down, including his team radio. Although he may have just been ignoring them!
Kvyats retirement brought out the safety car for the first time at this circuit. The field all headed to the pits for fresh tyres, before lining up behind the safety car.
Lewis Hamilton immediately jumped on the radio to complain that the pace of the safety car was too slow, and that it was impossible for him to keep his tyres up to temperature. This may have been true, but it could’ve still beat the McLarens in a straight line.
On lap 15, the stewards announced that lapped cars could overtake, putting Bottas back on the lead lap, and in with a chance of scoring points.
Perez almost got Vettel off the restart, Felipe Massa and Estaban Ocon both got Raikkonen.
There were bits of Raikkonen’s Ferrari all over the pit straight, and the safety car was brought back out to clear up the debris. Once again Hamilton moaned about tyre temperature.
And then the incident F1 fans will be talking about for years, Lewis Hamilton, desperate for a gap between himself and the safety car, braked heavily exiting a corner, causing Vettel to hit the back of his car. Vettel understandably was furious, however his reaction was to drive up alongside the Mercedes, wave his fist at him and then hit him. There was no doubt that Hamilton was brake testing Vettel, can anyone remember Fuji 2007? But that reaction from Vettel will get him a penalty. He’d be very lucky if he was not disqualified.
Once again there was chaos at the restart as the Force Indias drove into each other, and Raikkonen was forced to pit with severe damage. Perez also pitted, and the safety car came back out for a third time, but this time they made the sensible decision to red flag the race in order the clean up the debris.
Hamilton was leading from Vettel, both were being investigated for dangerous driving, and unsportsmanlike conduct. Felipe Massa rounded up the top three from team mate Lance Stroll, and Hamilton’s walk in the park was turning into a nightmare on the streets of Azerbaijan.
Force India and Ferrari both took advantage of the red flag to fix their cars, removing them from the fast lane back into the garage, even though that’s against the rules. If they could fix the cars then they would both get a penalty – the stewards have done more work during this race than Max Verstappen did!
Once the track had been cleared, the safety car led them all back out onto the track, and we went racing once more.
Felipe Massa was forced to retire from third with a damaged rear damper, and Ricciardo got past Lance Stroll for third.
Hamilton’s head rest had worked itself loose, and the teams initial suggestion of trying to fix it while driving at 200 mph down the straights failed. Their next clever idea was for him to bang his head against the back of the car as hard as he could. Hamilton would rather bang Vettel’s head against the back of his car if his whinging to the stewards was anything to go by!
Hamilton was forced to pit to have his head rest repaired, ruining his chances of winning the race.
AND IT WAS A TEN SECOND STOP/GO PENALTY FOR SEBASTIAN VETTEL FOR DANGEROUS DRIVING!
Vettel was furious with the decision, and he had no idea why he had been given a penalty. Because apparently deliberately driving into another car is not a sign of poor sportsmanship, sorry Vettel but you more than deserved this penalty. If Rossi is not allowed to ride into people, you certainly aren’t!
Vettel was not the only one furious with the penalty. Hamilton too couldn’t help but wade in with his opinion, telling Charlie that it is not severe enough! But to rub salt into Hamilton’s wounds, Vettel served the penalty and came back out in front of him!
Vettel’s penalty handed the lead to Daniel Ricciardo from Lance Stroll and Kevin Magnussen.
Valtteri Bottas was now 5th, Raikkonen and Perez were both hit with drive through penalties and Lewis Hamilton was still complaining on the radio!
Lap 36 and Hamilton had cruised up to the back of Vettel, and we had round two: ding ding ding!
The Sauber drivers decided that if the Force India and Toro Rosso drivers can hit each other, then they can too!
Bottas got Ocon for third, in what was a wonderful fightback for the Finnish driver. Magnussen was falling back through the field and Lance Stroll was desperately clinging onto his second place. Vettel and Hamilton both got past Ocon.
Lewis demanded Bottas be ordered to slow down and back Vettel into him, while complaining about Vettel’s poor sportsmanship, proving not only that poor sportsmanship is not just limited to Vettel, but proving himself to be a hypocrite! Luckily for Mercedes’ sporting integrity, they refused, telling Hamilton that Bottas was fighting for 2nd.
With 3 laps to go Ricciardo was leading from Stroll who was being relentlessly chased by Bottas, Vettel and Hamilton, and everyone in the Williams team surely had their fingers and toes crossed, and maybe even their eyes! Raikkonen retired.
Finally, Ricciardo crossed the line for his first victory of the season, and Bottas snatched second from Stroll right on the line. Vettel beat Hamilton for 4th, increasing his championship lead. Ocon was 6th for Force India, Magnussen 7th, Sainz 8th, Alonso 9th and Wehrlein taking the final point.
Drive of the day: Fan Vote – Lance Stroll
Drive of the day: Fionas vote: Lance Stroll. That was one hell of a race, with a lot of contenders for this award, but Stroll out qualified his team mate for the first time, and scored his debut podium. He drove an impeccable race today, and he more than deserves his F1 seat.
Conclusions from Azerbaijan:
- Banging your head as hard as you can will not fix a head rest.
- Vettel doesn’t think deliberately driving into another car counts as dangerous or unsportsmanlike behaviour.
- Hamilton doesn’t have a problem using his team mate as Vettel bait, or break testing the field behind the safety car.
- Today neither of the championship contenders acted in a way that deserves a championship!
- Lance Stroll is not just a pay driver.
- People will be talking about this one for years!
- Azerbaijan is a beautiful race track, and hopefully is here to stay!