As my esteemed colleagues at Badger GP are always saying, F1 isn’t boring. And boy, how right they are. For the second year running, Azerbaijan was the scene of an absolute belter and this race fan could not be happier. Highs, lows, controversy, gaffes, good fortune, cruel fate and raw emotion. But enough about Eddie Jordan’s punditry!
Throw in some stonking wheel-to-wheel racing, add a couple of safety cars and mix with some exceptional midfield performances and you have all the ingredients of an instant classic. There are so many talking points, which Badger will no doubt wax lyrical about in their official Race Report and Badgerometer.
But my task is to choose one of our four-wheeled friends as the top Barker of Baku. In a race chock full of incident, accident and white-knuckle overtaking, this is not an easy pick. I could pretty much stick a pin in the starting list and make a case for whoever it lands on (not you, Romain!). So who has triumphed this time out as the cream of the Caspian canines?
Who kept their doggie fur from blowing in the notorious Baku wind?
The answer, my friends, is…
I think this is what you call a breakthrough moment. Just as Pierre Gasly demonstrated in Bahrain, Charles Leclerc has shown he is more than capable of mixing it with the big boys. The 20-year-old rookie has been touted as a hot F1 prospect for a few years now, and I was chuffed to hear he would be on the grid in 2018. Trouble is, he’s in a Sauber, which has been languishing nearer the tail end of race proceedings for a few seasons now. You can have driving talent oozing out of every pore, but if you’re in a slow car, it’s tricky to get yourself noticed. But the lad from Monaco knows an opportunity when he sees one.
Charles has already triumphed in both the GP3 and F2 championships and few would bet against him ending up in a Ferrari in the future. That day could come sooner rather than later on the basis of this standout drive.
IT IS I, LECLERC!
Granted, we didn’t see much of the lad during the race coverage. That’s what happens when all hell is breaking loose and the director’s in a quandary about where to point the camera! It was already a Herculean effort to qualify 14th (13th on the road after Hulkenberg’s penalty), but young Charles was confident of his car’s race pace and believed he could score a decent result. He kept his nose clean at the start and negotiated his way through various incidents to find himself up in 9th spot early on.
On Lap 12, he pulled off a sweet overtake on Lance Stroll (last year’s Top Dog of Baku) to move up to 7th. Impressive stuff. His sole pit stop at the halfway point went like a dream and he rejoined in 11th. Being brutally honest, I didn’t expect him to move much further forward than that. Yes, he was helped out by the likes of Romain Grosjean (a classic WTF moment!), the Red Bulls charging out of control (such a pity after some stupendous racing between the two) and Bottas’s puncture (so, so cruel). But you still have to negotiate your way through the chaos and carbon fibre to get to the finish line. And Monsieur Leclerc managed to do just that, keeping his cool at the final restart – and those harum-scarum final few laps – to bring the Sauber home in a remarkable 6th place.
Driving a car beyond its performance capability is not something all drivers can do. Charles clearly can and was justifiably ecstatic in his post-race interviews. His efforts have helped bag the team a tasty haul of points and keeps them ahead of Williams. It’s rare for a rookie to be named Top Dog, but our King Charles spaniel totally deserves the prize. C’est magnifique!
Several drivers were knocking on the kennel door this week, vying for the Top Dog crown. Will Carlos, Checo, Fernando or Kimi be victorious next time? Check in with Badger GP for the next thrilling instalment in Barcelona. We have a real competition on our hands, folks. Enjoy!