What a strange, painful and intriguing race in Azerbaijan on Sunday. If you were watching, you know it was a “fun-filled” race of power failures, incidents, penalties, comebacks and disaster.
However, the odds were in Red Bull Daniel Ricciardo’s favor as chance and skill brought him to the front halfway through the race in Baku and solidified his win.
Most notable were the incredible amount of retirements and penalties issued through this race.
The symphony of chaos begins with the cue of contact already in the first turn after Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat veers off-course. As the Russian driver tries to return to the track, he runs into teammate Carlos Sainz, causing him to spin in the turn. Luckily Sainz recovered and was able to continue on his way.
The next cue at Turn 2 between Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen and Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, caused a tire puncture for Bottas. Raikkonen also began experiencing issues with the car and both needed to pit for repairs.
Meanwhile, the race winner Ricciardo would pit due to needing debris removal from running through the earlier incidents on the track and rejoined at 15th.
Renault’s Jolyon Palmer would be the first to retire. Earlier Saturday in the third practice session Palmer would suffer a fire in the rear compartment that would retire his car for the session. The extensive damage would keep him from participating in qualifying later that afternoon. The same result would retire his car in Baku and leave him with a DNF and last position.
After talk of Palmer’s seat at Renault in question, car failure from the team resulting in retirement is not helping, although this time can be at least attributed to the team’s failure rather than Palmer’s. But still not a good weekend for the Renault driver.
Kvyat would suffer further in this chaotic symphony as the next car to retire from Baku after hitting the wall, and then causes another yellow in Sector 2.
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen would suffer another engine failure and retire shortly after Kvyat, his fourth retirement in the last six races.
And mind you, this is only the first 13 laps.
Next up in the symphony is contact between both Force India cars. The butting heads between teammates Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon has lead to more butting of cars on track between the two. Perez suffered a complete removal of his wing, needing to pit for a replacement. Ocon suffers a tire puncture and also needed to stop for repairs.
This has been an ongoing issue now in the last two races between the Force India drivers. Between strong (and somewhat stubborn) drivers and a lack of intervention from team orders, it’s creating a lot of problems for the Pink Panthers who have showed some incredible progress this season. If anything the two are starting to get in each-other’s way, rather than having help to work together or get ahead, and it’s an absolute shame.
And in this case, Perez’s damage was substantial enough his car is shut off and he inevitably retires…for now. And you’ll see why here shortly.
Ocon replaces the punctured tire and continues.
All the while Raikonnen suffers tire damage from debris and makes his way to pit lane with his right rear tyre completely off the rim. He also retires.
There has been so much contact and debris on course that a yellow is issued to clean up as much as possible. But there is so much debris from the several incidents already in this race that a red flag is issued on Lap 22.
Meanwhile, just as the safety car deploys for the initial caution, Hamilton would do what looked like a “brake check” on Vettel, causing Vettel to run into Hamilton’s rear end. Vettel would respond by going around Hamilton and running into his car from the left side. Both would be granted penalties served in the pits later on.
On a better note for Ferrari, Raikkonen and Force India’s Perez would be able to rejoin the race with laps down after the long wait to green provided enough time for both teams to repair most of the damage suffered prior to the red flag.
The race returns to green with this top 10 race order:
Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
Felipe Massa (Williams)
Lance Stroll (Williams)
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)
Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
Fernando Alonso (McLaren)
Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso)
Romain Grosjean (Haas)
Ricciardo starts on the right foot when the track goes green and makes a fantastic pass overtaking both Williams’ cars to gain 3rd.
Massa and Hulkenberg would make contact resulting in Massa’s car experiencing problems and cause his retirement. Hulkenberg’s front right tire would be completely turned in after contact and would also retire, meaning both Renault cars were done.
After the Vettel-Hamilton scuffle prior to the red flag, Hamilton is ordered into the pits by race control due to his bolster coming loose creating a safety hazard for the driver. Vettel would serve his 10-second penalty for dangerous driving.
Hamilton rejoined 8th after Bottas. Vettel would rejoin just ahead of Hamilton.
This would result with a top five running order of Ricciardo, Stroll, Magnussen, Ocon and Bottas. At that moment on Lap 35, it was looking to be a Red Bull-Williams-Haas podium.
Bottas makes enough progress to get around both the Haas and Force India cars to make it to 3rd with 11 laps to go.
And although Raikonnen and Perez had been able to rejoin the race, both would end up retiring anyways. Perez was due to his seat coming loose, which was a safety concern.
The last lap of the race looked like it would be a Ricciardo-Stroll-Bottas podium, which it was, but Bottas would sneak around Stroll in the straight just before the finish, nabbing second from the Canadian rookie.
So at least a Mercedes is on the podium, but it’s not Hamilton. Ricciardo gets his fourth podium in a row. And Stroll becomes the second-youngest driver to get a podium finish, as well as his first podium.
Oh, and Fernando Alonso finishes 9th, scoring the very first points for McLaren in the 2017 season. McLaren fans rejoiced in that monumental achievement, however it’s a bittersweet victory knowing McLaren has now just nabbed their first points at already eight races into the season.
And with Raikkonen, Perez, Palmer, Kvyat, Massa, Hulkenberg and Verstappen retiring, one can’t help but speculate they may not have gotten those points if these drivers were still in the race.
Luckily, there were no victims of Turn 8, nor a race end due to an incident in Turn 8. Stroll suffered the wrath of the Shoey, and Ricciardo enjoys a sweet victory in one of the most painful and interesting-to-watch races of the F1 season.
Also with no Vettel or Hamilton on the podium, the championship points are sure to get a little more mixed up.
One last note, Vettel’s penalty for “dangerous driving” Sunday puts him on thin ice with race control, now only one penalty away from being issued a race ban. The way he’s been acting with Hamilton, don’t be surprised if we don’t see him running at Silverstone if he does something rather dumb in Austria in two weeks.
The final results of this Twilight Zone edition of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix:
1. Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)
2. Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes)
3. Lance Stroll (Williams)
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
6. Esteban Ocon (Force India)
7. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
8. Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso)
9. Fernando Alonso (McLaren)
10. Pascal Wehrlein (Sauber)
11. Marcus Ericsson (Sauber)
12. Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren)
13. Romain Grosjean (Haas)
14. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) DNF
NC. Sergio Perez (Force India) DNF
NC. Felipe Massa (Williams) DNF
NC. Nico Hulkenberg (Renault) DNF
NC. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) DNF
NC. Daniil Kvyat (Toro Roso) DNF
NC. Joylon Palmer (Renault) DNF