Well, what a race that was! It’s hard to pick just 5 things from the craziness that unfurled at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a race that sometimes resembled a game of Mario Kart punctuated by safety cars and scandal, but ending with an extremely smiley podium.
Here’s our five talking points from the bedlam of Baku!
STAY OUT OF THE WALL!
The unique backdrop of the UNESCO World Heritage site that is Baku is one that has drawn a lot of fans to add it to their list of races to visit, and as you’d expect with a street circuit, the Walled City itself only accounts for a small proportion of the walls that we saw in action over the race weekend.
When driving on a circuit that is only seven metres in width at its narrowest point, pushing hard whilst staying out of the walls should be at the forefront of a driver’s mind, but some did seem to tempt fate ahead of the weekend;
As we now know, Jolyon became intimate with the wall down at Turn 8 during FP2, and the Hulk clipped a wall down at Turn 7 during the race, terminally damaging his front right suspension.
Daniel Ricciardo was the first to stand up for the wall after his contact during the later stages of qualification, making it clear that it couldn’t be held responsible for him hitting it. Glad he cleared that one up!
We saw a fair amount of reliability issues over the race weekend, which thinned out the contenders somewhat, and even led to commentators on the race coverage asking numerous team principals “what is it about this circuit that these hybrid cars don’t like?”
Jolyon Palmer retired after a misfire detected on the way to the grid was no longer manageable, and Max Verstappen slowed down on lap 12 and again lost power, as we have seen previously with him, but it was Daniil Kvyat stopping on track after a complete electrical shutdown that led to the race’s first Safety Car being deployed – the catalyst for so many of this afternoon’s contentious events, as well as the mixed up field that added to the excitement of the race.
Whilst not ideal for a team, reliability issues certainly do spice things up for the viewers!
DEBRIS, DAMAGE & SAFETY CARS!
In a crazy first half of the race, we saw three Safety Cars deployed prior to the race being red flagged on lap 22! There was debris flying all over the place from the various scrimmages happening around the track, predominantly after the first restart.
Marshalls were leaping over the walls and sprinting onto the track to remove the various pieces of front wing and splinters of carbon fibre, and didn’t seem to have been issued with brooms to perform a quick sweep up, so we subsequently found ourselves watching a mini-road sweeper clearing the main straight whilst the cars parked up in the pit lane after that red flag.
This did afford the teams a bit of time to patch-up their casualties, and saw both Sergio Perez and Kimi Raikkonen return to the pit lane in time for the restart, although after seeing the damage Kimi had sustained both from his first lap clash with Bottas and his tyre damage from Pink Panther debris, it was no surprise when he eventually retired from the race – that just wasn’t going to buff out!
LEWIS & SEB – CLASH OF THE CHAMPIONS
There was a coming together of silver and red on Lap 20 when Sebastien Vettel hit leader Lewis Hamilton from the rear just ahead of a safety car restart, something that Seb perceived to be Lewis brake-testing him, even though we now know that reviews of his telemetry by the stewards showed no untoward activity.
I’m not sure if your jaw hit the floor as mine did when an enraged Vettel pulled alongside Hamilton, clearly angry and gesticulating to him, and steered into him, clashing wheels, but certainly, the ensuing social media meltdown showed I wasn’t alone in thinking this was a huge no-no.
In the following laps, Lewis was incredibly unlucky as we watched his team talk him through trying to secure a loose headrest as he drove at race pace, and then subsequently tell him to pit from the lead for safety issues to have it replaced.
Just as we were watching this, the stewards announced a ten-second stop and go penalty for Vettel, something that Lewis has since said in his post-race interviews was not enough for such behaviour, whilst Seb seemed to be focusing on the rear impact to justify his actions and not really mentioning the side impact at all…hmm!
Although the pair rejoining into the midfield from both of the above stops led to some great overtakes as we watched them progress through the field, I think it’s fair to say that we haven’t heard the last on the above from either side and possibly not from the stewards either… watch this space!
STROLLIN’ TO A PODIUM IN BAKU
It was an event filled race that saw Daniel Ricciardo take the chequered flag first, Valtteri Bottas’ progress from last place to the podium, and nine out of ten teams in the points, including Fernando Alonso to score McLaren’s first of the 2017 season.
However, the exemplary race weekend of 18-year-old Williams’s driver Lance Stroll stands out head and shoulders above others around him.
It’s fair to say that Lance has had a bumpy start to his first season in Formula 1, with his first three races ending as DNF’s and many writing him off as a pay driver only in the series thanks to his father’s funding. Fresh from scoring his first points at his home race in Canada, we saw a new confidence in Stroll, who kept it clean all race weekend when many other more experienced drivers didn’t manage to do the same.
Whether this is due to his training sessions with driver coach Rob Wilson at Bruntingthorpe, or the private test at Austin with the FW36 that Williams have told us about, it was great to see Lance capitalise on all opportunities that occurred during the race and turn his eighth place start into a podium.
It was so very nearly second place until Valtteri Bottas just pipped him to it on the line, but with third, Lance secures the youngest rookie podium in F1 history, and he also picked up the Driver of the Day award too, as voted by the fans.
And of course, the peer pressure from Danny Ric to take part in his first Shoey too! A right of passage!
Next up, the F1 circus travels onward to the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg for Austrian Grand Prix, and I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to seeing how it measures up after the excitement of Baku!