Ricciardo triumphs in Azerbaijan as Vettel extends his lead over Hamilton
Formula 1 returned for a second year running to the eye-catching city of Baku on Azerbaijan’s Black Sea coast last weekend and Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel arrived with a 12 point advantage over his main rival for the Drivers’ title, Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton. After an action-packed race with high drama throughout, it was Australia’s Daniel Ricciardo who claimed the winner’s trophy for Red Bull.
Hamilton had not shone in any of the three practice sessions, but got it all together when it mattered at the end of the crucial qualifying hour to add a further pole position to his CV ahead of his team-mate Valtteri Bottas. The Ferraris couldn’t match the pace of the silver cars and Kimi Räikkonen and Vettel had to settle for the second row on the grid, just clear of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Force India’s Sergio Perez.
In contrast, struggling British driver Jolyon Palmer failed to take part in qualifying after his Renault suffered a hydraulic failure and fire during final practice, but was allowed to start the race from the back of the grid. There were also further Honda power unit woes for the beleaguered McLaren team as multiple replacement parts for both cars meant Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne received 40 and 35 grid place penalties respectively for the start of the Grand Prix.
The Baku circuit is very much a mixture of challenging tight corners and one very long straight, with unforgiving barriers lining much of the track close up, punishing any errors. When the red lights went out at the beginning of the race Hamilton made a good start and led the pack into the lefthand opening corner, but immediately to his rear Bottas made contact with Räikkönen, allowing Vettel to claim second place. Valtteri was forced to pit to replace his car’s damaged nose and rejoined in last place, a lap down.
Come lap nine poor Palmer suffered more bad luck as he was forced to retire his ailing Renault and one tour later Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso ground to a halt as the unfortunate Verstappen suffered further engine problems and yet another race ended prematurely for him. A safety car period ensued to enable recovery of Kvyat’s stranded car and most cars were called in for tyre change pitstops. At the end of lap 16 the safety car returned to the pits and racing resumed, only for another safety car period just one tour later to recover debris on track, particularly off Kimi’s Ferrari.
There was an amazing incident towards the end of lap 19 as the drivers prepared for the safety car to again leave them to race. The leading Hamilton appeared to braketest Vettel behind him, the latter throwing his hands up in complaint and then pulling alongside to remonstrate with Lewis, tapping his car at slow speed as they agreed to disagree!
Racing resumed again, only for more contact between the two Force India “Pink Panthers” and Räikkönen picking up a puncture from the ontrack debris. A third safety car period in quick succession was called and this was then amended to a full red flag race stoppage due to all the expensive but dangerous bits of F1 car littering the circuit.
The Grand Prix subsequently restarted behind the safety car and a flying Ricciardo quickly snatched third place behind Hamilton and Vettel. Further drama followed when it became clear that the safety restraint around Lewis’s cockpit was loose and on lap 31 he had to pit to have it replaced and secured properly. Then there was more drama as the stewards dictated that Vettel had to pit for a 10 second stop/go penalty following his early clash with Hamilton. Seb duly pitted on lap 33 and emerged down in 7th place, but crucially two positions head of Lewis.
Out front we now had Ricciardo, with Canadian rookie Lance Stroll an amazing second for Williams. By lap 40 the recovering Bottas had made his way up from dead last to third position and as the race approached its closing stages Vettel and Hamilton followed the leading trio in fourth and fifth places respectively.
Just when you thought this amazing Grand Prix had nothing more to offer, Bottas snatched second place from Stroll just metres before the chequered flag, but the 18 year old was still on the podium and happy to confound some of his critics earlier in the season. Vettel, Hamilton and Esteban Ocon completed the leading sextet. Ninth place for Alonso was sufficient to earn McLaren its first points if the year.
So, after an amazing race Vettel left Azerbaijan having extended his Drivers’ title lead over Hamilton slightly to 14 points, but with Mercedes 24 points ahead of Ferrari in the Constructors championship. As the current Formula 1 season just gets better and better, the teams now head to the picturesque hills of Spielberg in Austria in a fortnight’s time, with our very own British Grand Prix at Silverstone just a week later. Bring it on.
2017 F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Results
1 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) 2hr03m55.570s
2 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) +03.904s
3 Lance Stroll (Williams) +04.009s
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +05.976s
5 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +06.188s
6 Esteban Ocon (Force India) +30.298s
7 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +41.753s
8 Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) +49.400s
9 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +59.551s
10 Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber) +1m29.093s
11 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) +1m31.794s
12 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) +2m04.320s
13 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Lapped
14 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) Retired
15 Sergio Perez (Force India) Retired
16 Felipe Massa (Williams) Retired
17 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Retired
18 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) Retired
19 Daniil Kvyat (Toro Rosso) Retired
20 Jolyon Palmer (Renault) Retired
2017 F1 Drivers’ Championship (after 8 rounds of 20)
1 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) 153 points
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 139 points
3 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) 111 points
2017 F1 Constructors’ Championship (after 8 rounds of 20)
1 Mercedes 250 points
2 Ferrari 226 points
3 Red Bull 137 points