Brought to you by TheJudge13 contributor Mattpt55
Ambient 28° Track 49° Humidity 71% Wind 1.1 m/s
Penalty-palooza for the start of the Azerbaijan GP with Sainz demoted to P15 for his naughtiness in Montreal and Vandoorne and Alonso having an epic battle which was eventually won by Alonso with his 40 spots triumphing over Vandoorne with a grand total of 35. Still, the lanterne rouge was claimed by the hapless Palmer, whose crisped PU left him to be to be part of the race and ensured the last spot would be his, and his alone.
Speaking of burning, the current oil burning dodge has now engendered a full on technical finger wagging at the teams, with Sky reporting that Ferrari’s 2nd oil tank has now disappeared from the car and a full on tech straitjacket for the 2018 season, including single specification of oil per weekend and banning of active valves as well as other bits and pieces.
Lance Stroll’s improved quali is now being attributed to his private test at Austin in the ’14 Williams, but Peter Windsor also reported he had been doing some sessions with noted F1 driver whisperer Rob Wilson. OF course, it’s always possible that BOTH things were helpful but do feel free to argue about which mattered more to your heart’s content.
Gloriously sunny day in Baku, hammering brightly down on the track. Heat still an issue but as per yesterday, keeping front tyres in window during straights will be key. Also key will be managing temps in the event of a Safety Car. Driver’s parade featured inadvertent shots of empty grandstands at precisely the moment Lewis was discussing with Johnny Herbert that attendance that far exceeded his expectation. Unlike other key race moments, the director was remarkably quick to cut back to Lewis.
Vettel starts on an engine that has already done 3500 kilometres, which will be ruining the day for those who chose him in their betting pool. Ferrari are on the back foot this weekend as the worm has turned and the oil crackdown by the FIA is rumoured to have hurt them the worst.
He-who-whall-not-be-named (i.e. Alonso’s manager and banned for life cheater Bernie Bro (Ecclestone for you ‘Muricans) was seen dining out with both Mercedes and Renault management and despite the penalties and failures Alonso was reported to be in good spirits. Feel free to speculate endlessly about that.
Aside from the usual start chaos, the Safety Car is likely to play an important strategic role and despite low deg, it may be a 2 stopper will be faster for some teams if aided by reduced time loss under VSC or SC conditions. Ricciardo in particular has some leftover SuperSoft tyres and it wouldn’t be the least surprising to see him run an alternate strategy to move him forward.
Horner was throwing shade at Wolff on Sky just before the race and more or less said Merc ratted out Ferrari thanks to some recently acquired engineering talent from Italy (Paddy’s replacement, perhaps). Of course, Red Bull did kick the whole thing off according to most accounts so fell free to appropriately dose yourself with NaCl.
Despite much waffling on about the heat the fact of the matter was that with 30 minutes to the race start track temps were within 1°C of yesterdays qualifying. Force India after a particularly brilliant qualifying, had its eye firmly on Red Bull as a target and as always, the midfield battles promise much.
Lights Out!!!! It was a vicious start by Hamilton who covered the inside and immediate carnage as Raikkonen got ahead of Bottas on the outside and then into wall out of T2. Bottas tried to stay inside and they collided with Kimi crunched and Bottas with a puncture and destroyed Front Wing. Vettel was the big winner into P2, trailed by Perez and Verstappen. Raikkonen wound up P5 when it was done and dusted with Bottas a lap down once repairs were effected to his wounded car.
Vandoorne and Alonso both escaped the gravitational orbit of Wehrlein lap 4 with some nifty passing while at the front Lewis was rapidly heading into orbit already 4s up the road. Meanwhile the slo mo look at the first lap incident revealed clearly that Bottas walloped the kerb and was ping-ponged into Raikkonen. It seemed to be a bit self inflicted as there was room left by Kimi.
McLaren animated the early action with both Vandorne and then Alonso escaping the gravitational pull of Wehrlein with some nifty passing.
Up front, Hamilton was meanwhile escaping into orbit, having pulled nearly 4s on Vettel as a sudden issue for Ricciardo loomed.
Lap 6 and Riccardo was in as he was trapped behind Stroll running 3s off the leaders. Out onto the Softs he went, alternate strategy provoked by his troubles.
The following lap saw Vettel up his pace to match Lewis with his ancient PU. And then it all went pear-shaped for Palmer as he was called in and told to switch off as there was a terminal problem with the car. he coasted it into the pit lane.
Lap 11 saw the rather unexpected parking of Kvyat while Verstappen was all over the back of Perez. Ricciardo’s early stop was explained by debris blocking the brake ducts, a problem also plaguing Hulkenberg.
The following lap brought the sad end to Verstappen’s race as his car suddenly gave up the ghost and bang Safety Car!
Hamilton, Vettel, Perez, Raikkonen, Massa, Ocon, Verstappen all in. Soft tyres were the choice du jour. Max stayed put in the pit as they tried to desperately to reboot the car. On track, Stroll had stayed out and as a result took over P3 and Max made it 4 out of 6 as the team called time on their attempts to resuscitate his stricken PU.
Ricciardo was in lap 14 for a pair of the faster tyres and Stroll was brought in as well for his Softs, which put him back into P7, with Hulkenberg, Magnussen and Ricciardo rounding out the top 10. Lewis was on radio demanding more speed from the Safety Car and Toro Rosso revealed it was a total shutdown that took Kvyat out, root cause as yet unknown.
Lap 15 lapped cars were sent forward, which explained why Bottas was kept in the mix by Mercedes. Mclaren were also looking good with Alonso perched in P11 as the Safety Car prepared to come in.
Hamilton crushed the restart and Perez very nearly caught Vettel by surprise. AS they flew down to T1 Massa got round Raikkonen and again carbon fibre flew from the front wing of Kimi. Ocon dumped around as well and in the blink of an eye Kimi was P6 with quite a challenge facing him to regain the lost places. It might well have been debris from his first incident with Bottas but regardless, Safety Car #2 was immediately on track and through the pitlane they went as debris was collected.
Warnings for tyre and brake temps littered the airwaves like bits of wing littered the track. Hamilton was admonished about the Safety Car lines as he cut it about as close as one could without getting a penalty.
Lap 19 and they got to do it all over again as the Safety Car was called in and drivers desperately tried to keep their systems in the operating window.
Boom!! Hamilton very slow out of T16 and Vettel actually tapped his rear end, resulting in much unhappiness and hand waving from Seb. Down the straight as the track went green!! Perez again outside Vettel and Seb was swarmed by Massa as well. Massa couldn’t get by but Ocon shoved his way past and Ocon and Perez came together with massive damage to both. Ocon bounced off the same kerb that unsettled Bottas and it sent him just as unerringly into Perez, who was trapped against the wall. Kimi continued his Nick Heidfeld imitation and somehow picked up a right rear puncture as both Force India dropped to the back of the field. Safety car again!!!
Raikkonen looked done like a dinner as his puncture had chewed through the floor and body work whilst Perez had inherited the whirlwind he created, with terminal damage inflicted on him by his teammate. Massa and Stroll were now P4 and P5. Ricciardo was up to P5. McLaren and HAAS both benefited with Alonso P8 and both K-Mag and RoGro in the points as well.
An investigation of Hamilton’s brake check was announced and at lap 22 the decimation of the field was nearly complete. Alonso called for a red flag and what Fernando wants, Fernando gets as the race was officially red-flagged and the cars rolled into the pits where tyre changes aplenty were being planned.
Oooh, replay of the incident at T16 showed Vettel actually retaliated for the brake check by purposefully hitting Lewis when he pulled alongside. That’s a serious thing indeed and it remained for the stewards to pronounce their doom as the mechanics got busy resetting the cars for whatever remained of the race.
Even worse news for Vettel, as the marshals went about their business, as continued replays showed Lewis maintaining constant revs through the corner in dispute. Force India managed to get Perez out and mirabile dictu! Kimi was out with a new floor as the pit exit prepared to open. Perez and Raikkonen were sent round to regain a lap and then sit at the back. But not before Raikkonen made a rather unusually motivated call for his steering wheel to be run down to his car.
Safety car restart and look for Vettel to be perhaps a bit more cautious as they head onto the start finish straight. Massa radioed in with a potential problem and the potential for disaster loomed yet again for the field.
Down the straight they flew and it was another good restart for Lewis as Vettel maintained his spot and Ricciardo into P3. Stroll took Massa’s spot but it was Danny boy who was the big winner as Felipe eventually managed to stem the bleeding at P5, but only just.
Massa did indeed have problems though and it was down to P8 for the Williams as Magnussen and Hulkenberg both cleared him. Not content with success, Hulkenberg then drove into the wall but to the great relief of everyone he managed to make it down an escape road.
Lap 26 and Massa was into the pits with a broken damper and an end to the day for him. Ocon’s recovery progressed nicely as he swiftly eluded Grosjean and was into P8, trailed by Bottas who was now well into the championship points. Broken suspension for the Hulk and day over for him.
Stroll and Ricciardo looked to be a developing battle and at the sharp end, it was 2s after 2 laps between Vettel and his no longer race buddy Hamilton. Lap times showed Lewis running about 0.2s faster at the moment and the short term was that Vettel was outside DRS.
Lap 29 and Hamilton again set a fast lap into the 1:44’s and continuing to eke out his lead. But his headrest had come loose and Merc instructed Lewis to try and pull it into back into place. The call from the team was that it wasn’t going to come loose but he faced being called in if FIA demand it.
Next lap and indeed the call to box came to deal with the headrest which put him in a bad spot indeed. He looked to be back out in P6 but the time demand of that job remained unquantified as he rolled down the pitlane.
Vettel’s infraction meanwhile was not to be investigated until after the race and as it transpired, no more time loss than a usual pit stop. And contra earlier news, Vettel was being hit over the head with a 10 second stop go. So Lewis was looking to be ahead of Vettel net when all was said and done and in words no one thought they would type it was to be Ricciardo defending from Stroll for the lead of the race. I know, right??!!
Alonso P5, Ocon P6 and it was Bottas ahead of Hamilton who had actually been out in P8. Ocon looked ready to take P5 away from Alonso which was to be P4 as Vettel wheeled it in to serve his penalty and somehow managed to get out ahead of Lewis.
Well, fun times for all 16 laps left and less than 2 seconds between Vettel and Hamilton.
Lap 35 and it was DRS for Lewis. 4 seconds for Ricciardo over Stroll. Magnussen in P3 but both Ocon and Bottas were well on the move.
Lap 36 and Vettel got into it with Alonso and with a vigorous defense Hamilton just about got by the both of them before Vettel popped clear like a cork out of a bottle and Lewis hammered down the track after him.
Lap 37 and inside 0.5s was Lewis and he had to lock up a bit to avoid contact, which sent the gap back out.
Next lap both Ocon and Bottas cleared Magnussen and it was into the podium for Force India and 14s up the road to P2 with 13 laps left. As a bit of a comedic interlude, Ericsson and Wehrlein came together with Ericsson in the points
Vettel and Hamilton continued their march and it was up to P4 for Bottas, with Vettel now contained within a Mercedes flanking maneuver.
Oooh Bottas with a sweet attack on Ocon made it to podiumville lap 40 spitting Ocon into the voracious maw of the approaching Vettel. Lewis looked to be hanging back as Vettel tried to get by Ocon and then it was a big oversteer for the Ferrari which dropped him into the DRS of Hamilton.
Perez retired the car with a broken seat as his race was officially done. Lewis again was trailing Vettel as Ocon made only a token defense before slipping by.
This was not good news for Hamilton as he remained trapped behind the Force India through the twisty bits, not what you’d think a Mercedes junior driver would do.
At the front Stroll had lifted his pace in response to the onslaught from Bottas whilst behind,Lewis was now trying to chew through a 2.5s deficit to Vettel, a gift from his travels with Ocon.
Lap 45 and the long burn started with Bottas chunking the time from Stroll and the slow swing of the pendulum between Vettel and Hamilton as Lewis reset fast lap, into the 1:43’s.
The following lap Vettel responded by going even faster and the lap behind Ocon loomed even larger for the Mercedes man, salved only by the balm that being farther back in the points the gap would not be expanding greatly regardless of their finishing order. Hamilton retook fast lap and Lewis also suggested that they take team tactics to hammer Vettel.
Mercedes responded by telling Bottas to make sure Vettel didn’t get DRS with 4 laps left. Which also left Bottas 4s adrift and then a mistake from Vettel edged a bit of time out of the gap.
1.3s with 3 laps to go and Hamilton could smell the blood in the water. Another tenth through S1 and DRS was on the table, but no! back out it went through S2.
2s 2 laps for Stroll to keep P2, then inside DRS for Hamilton for the last 2 laps. Lots of drama but no action. Stroll managed to stay out of DRS but Lewis was well stuck in and it was inside 0.5s. Twitch of correction for Lewis with Vettel tantalisingly within reach.
Down the straight the final time and as Ricciardo lifted his fist to claim victory and somehow Bottas got by Stroll at the last metre but Lewis was unable to replicate the feat on Vettel.
Thus it was Ricciardo, Bottas and Stroll for the podium followed by Vettel and Hamilton with just 0.1s between Bottas and Stroll and 0.2s between Seb and Lewis.
As for the penalties, or lack thereof, I’ll leave it to the comments to sort out the various historical precedents but a big win for Ricciardo when he needed it most and a rather astonishing and delightful podium for Stroll, who, completing his Cinderfella weekend also claimed Driver of the Day.
As for the ceaseless carnage of the race and immense amount of debris playing its role, it just points out how much is beyond the control of the teams and drivers at any given moment, and the fabulous randomness in the face of long odds is one of the best reasons to watch in my rather humble and well-considered opinion.
Well done to Mercedes for the WCC points hall and it’s 14 points that Lewis is chasing for the WDC, though as today somewhat amply demonstrated, it can all change in the blink of an eye, or lack of a tightened strap.
As a final note, the face Stroll made after doing a shoey was perhaps the highlight of the race.
Thanks, as always, for stopping by.
And remember to play nice in the comments!!