Whoa! What a race. We had yellow flags, we had a red flag, we had contentious restarts, we had teammate crashes, we had intentional crashes and we had people gaining 15+ positions over the course of the race. Let’s get in there!
The Finns Tangle
On the second turn of the race, the two Finnish drivers, Bottas and Raikkonen, resumed their multiple-season long feud with contact. The second corner is a 90 degree left turn. Raikkonen was on the outside and Bottas on the inside. Bottas was a bit too optimistic in trying to cut the corner tight and he put his left tyres too far into the curbing. That caused the entire car to jump and, with the loss of traction, sent the car straight into the outside, where Raikkonen was. Raikkonen was knocked with considerable force into the wall and lost some pieces of carbon.
Bottas wrecked his front wing and had to come in for a replacement. He rejoined the race at the back and a lap down.
The Red Bulls Are Wounded
Raikkonen’s spare carbon was picked up by the Red Bulls. Ricciardo has a big piece lodged in the front brake duct, which blocked the cooling air and led to dangerous overheating of the brakes in the opening laps. The team called in Ric to clear the ducts and make a tyre change in the process. Ricciardo came back out second to last.
Meanwhile, Verstappen thought he was having brake trouble but the team engineers told him to carry on. Unfortunately for the young Dutchman, he suffered an engine failure and had to retire the car for the 4th time in 6 races. Verstappen was pretty pissed. Will he force his way out of the team over these reliability issues?
Force Indias At It Again
After Perez’s failure to yield to Ocon in Canada, many were wondering how the teammates would get on in Azerbaijan. We found out when they clashed in Turn 2 about 10 laps into the race. Ocon pulled off a pass on the inside of Turn 2, but then drifted into Perez on the exit from the turn. Perez had nowhere to go with the wall on his right and the two cars came together. Perez took the worst of it but they both lost some more carbon on the track.
Vettel Sees Red
After the first Safety Car, Hamilton backed the field up and then jumped out to a good gap on the field on the restart. Vettel was actually put under pressure by Perez in third place. For the second Safety Car, Hamilton was backing the field up again. Hamilton either failed to accelerate out of a corner (his version of events and backed up by the data) or he braked unexpectedly (Vettel’s version). In any event, Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton (rather gently), but was incensed by the the “brake test.” Vettel pulled alongside Hamilton as they rolled along at about 15 mph and gestured in anger. Then, Vettel unmistakably steered to the left into Hamilton’s car, bring the wheels into contact and causing Vettel’s car to jump. Both Hamilton and Vettel immediately called over the radio for the other to be penalized.
In the end, Vettel got a 10 second penalty for the dangerous contact, but he ended up a position ahead of Hamilton because Hamilton had to come in to refit the headrest in his car. After the race was red flagged (stopped), the Mercedes team did not properly reattach Hamilton’s head bolster. At speed, the negative pressure above the car was sucking the bolster up and the FIA ordered Hamilton into the pits to have it secured. Hamilton’s pit stop took more than Vettel’s 10 second penalty and Vettel stayed ahead of Hamilton until the checkered flag.
With all of the contact during the race, there was carbon aplenty on the track. Alonso wisely suggested over the radio that the race be redflagged to really clean the track.
Ricciardo, who had to pit early to clear his brake ducts, used the speed of his Red Bull to pick his way through the back half of the field and back into the points. Then he used the Safety Cars and others’ unforced errors to inherit the top spot. Ricciardo made a habit of passing multiple contenders, including the Williams cars, on Turn 1 after the restarts. He drafted behind them down the long straight and then braked late on his fresher tyres to execute the passes. Then the two Force Indias took themselves out of the top spots with their crash and Hamilton and Vettel both had to make extra pit stops as described above. The end result was that Ricciardo finished the day on the top podium, a result that had even him laughing with giddiness and surprise at his good fortune.
Bottas, who had been in last place after the first lap as a result of his nose repair was also working his
way back through the field. He spent the last 10 laps furiously chasing down the Williams of Lance Stroll for P2. With his superior talent and faster car, he was able to pip Stroll by about 2 one-hundredths of a second at the finish line!
What recap would be complete without a shout out to McLaren for scoring its first points of the season, as Alonso finished in 9th. Alonso recognized over the radio that because of all the carnage and confusion of the race, which he was able to avoid, they should have been contending for the win with even a somewhat capable engine. It doesn’t sound like Alonso wants to be in a Honda-powered car next year.
P1, Ricciardo (Red Bull); P2, Bottas (Mercedes); P3, Stroll (Williams); P4, Vettel (Ferrari); P5, Hamilton (Mercedes); P6, Ocon (Force India); P7, Magnussen (Haas); P8, Sainz (Toro Rosso); P9, Alonso (McLaren); P10, Wehrlein (Sauber); P11, Ericsson (Sauber); P12, Vandoorne (McLaren); P13, Grosjean (Haas)