OK, who predicted a top three of Daniel Ricciardo, Valtteri Bottas and Lance Stroll? Liar.
And this unlikely outcome only begins to tell the tale. Ricciardo had started tenth after a qualifying crash, indeed dropped to 19th after an early pitstop to clear debris from his brake duct. Bottas dropped to a lap behind after colliding with Kimi Raikkonen on lap one and needing to stop for repairs.
Stroll meanwhile has this year been quite the F1 pariah, yet almost alone scarcely made a mistake all weekend at this most merciless of tracks, and indeed held second place until Bottas pipped him literally at the last gasp.
aYes, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a wild one – the sort of wild one we expected in our first Baku visit a year ago but didn’t begin to get. Perhaps today we got enough carnage for both races. Frolics were several; so were safety cars. We even had a red flag. And there was no little acrimony.
Delays for the usual suspects
Not least from our two usual suspects for 2017 Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel. In the early laps it settled into the familiar pattern of those two out front, though Lewis appeared comfortable in first, having the legs of the Ferrari this time (some think due to the FIA clamping down on using oil as fuel and this impeding the Scuderia particularly).
But it kicked off under one of the safety car periods. Seb thought Lewis ahead had ‘brake tested’ him (i.e. slowed deliberately so to catch him out) and had tapped the Mercedes in the back when unawares. Seb then pulled alongside to remonstrate. Then – either deliberately or due to him being too busy gesticulating to straighten his wheel – he drove into the side of Lewis.
Both continued, but Seb got a 10 second stop-go penalty for his faux pas, which was the least he deserved. The FIA post-mortem cleared Lewis of brake testing wrongdoing.
But before we could speculate as to the winners and losers in the title fight at virtually the same moment Lewis got a delay of his own. His cockpit safety ‘headrest’ somehow worked loose and he had to make an extra stop to re-attach it.
Deliciously Seb emerged from his penalty just ahead of the delayed Lewis, them now seventh and eighth. They came through the pack in unison and got fourth and fifth in the end respectively, Seb just two tenths of a second ahead. It means he got two points over Lewis; his table lead now 14. Neither were minded to kiss and make up afterwards. Their love-in seems over, as perhaps it always was going to be.
The pair’s delay let the afore-mentioned Ricciardo into the lead. He’d made several places when most others pitted under a previous safety car, and at the restart after the red flag vaulted past two more into third place by barrelling down the inside of the first turn.
Others fell away. Kimi later was caught up innocently in another collision, this time between the Force Indias; Max Verstappen was also unlucky with another early technical retirement.
Thus the day was bittersweet. But we shouldn’t dwell on the bitter side. It was one of those races that comes along but rarely. One to relish. And that we’ll remember.
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