The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: Azaerbaijan: Vettel Sees Red In Bizarre Race


By Jack Target

If last year’s race in Azerbaijan was one of the worst of the season, the 2017 edition may have just produced the best race of the season.

The streets of Baku were filled to the brim with drama on a fascinating weekend of Formula 1 with more twists than a summer blockbuster. 

When Lewis Hamilton grabbed another pole position on Saturday, it looked like a foregone conclusion. In fact, halfway through the race you would have felt the same, but what happened on Sunday was almost downright bizarre. 

There were close battles, crashes, engine failures, exploding tyres, an almighty bust up and in the end a very smiley Australian on the top step.

The main talking point will no doubt be the moment of madness from Sebastian Vettel when his championship fight with Hamilton turned quite sour. Just before one of many restarts under the safety car, Vettel bumped in to the back of Lewis, damaging his front wing. The German was not best pleased and decided to drive alongside the Mercedes and bump wheels with him in a very aggressive manner. Some may have seen the funny side of it but it was a stupid heat of the moment incident that did not do his reputation any favours. Karma prevailed later as a ten second penalty was handed to him, ending his chances of a race win, when Hamilton had problems of his own.

Despite all of that Hamilton was still leading for the majority of the race and would have secured a huge win, with his challenger being forced further down the pack, but one of the strangest car failures cost him the win as his head rest popped open and wouldn’t click back in to place. A quick pit stop left Vettel with the lead before his penalty paved the way for Daniel Ricciardo, who started the race in 10th, to finish his climb up the grid to take the race victory for Red Bull.

The surprises didn’t end there as the podium also contained Bottas, who went from 2nd to the very back of the grid after the first lap, to taking 2nd on the final straight. However the biggest surprise on the podium was a grinning Canadian, Lance Stroll, who became the youngest driver to reach the top steps in Formula 1 history. After the criticism he was receiving at the start of the season, the points in his home race in Montreal have inspired the 18 year old, who had a great weekend. After finally out-qualifying his teammate Felipe Massa, he continued to stay out of trouble and battle his way to second place before being pipped at the line. 

This weekend was almost a role reversal as qualifying was the session that wasn’t as entertaining as it has been this season and the race on Sunday providing all the drama.

Once again McLaren had their issues and would start from the back after an engine parts penalty. They would be joined by Jolyon Palmer as his Renault caught fire towards the end of third practice. There was the welcome sight of Stroll qualifying in 8th above his vetern teammate and once again Kimi Raikkonen was in front of Vettel, which may have been a worry for Ferrari. 

But after the lady in her incredibly long Azerbaijani flag themed dress sung the national anthem the most incredible of races was underway. 

The madness started when Kimi and Bottas had a little collision forcing both of them to pit very early. Hamilton had lost his wingman early on and saw the red of Vettel’s Ferrari hunting him down. Sergio Perez in the Force India also took advantage of his and moved his way up the field. 

The battles continued as Fernando Alonso pulled out some great moved to get in to the points positions.  There was a battle for 3rd –  Max Vertstappen and Perez were having a great tussle when it was all ruined by the sadly familiar sight of a Red Bull slowing down due to an engine failure. Once again us fans were robbed of another spectacular showing from the young Dutchman, who would have loved being involved in the type of race that unravelled. 

What followed were a couple of exciting stop-starts as the safety car made a few appearances in a short amount of time. Hamilton pulled away very early after the safety car first went in, catching Vettel by surprise who had to now deal with Perez and just about held him off. 

Just behind them the Force India of Esteban Ocon was in a scrap with Raikkonen and Massa. However this battle saw the return of the safety car as Kimi had some wing damage with more debris scattering itself across the track. 

Then the big talking point. Coming in to one of final corners before the safety car would return, Vettel bumped into the back of Hamilton. The German was furious, believing that the Brit was brake-testing him. Reports after showed that Lewis was keeping a consistent speed and, as race leader, was in his right to dictate the pace. If that was not bad enough Vettel pulled up alongside the Mercedes, gestured to its driver and then swerved in to him bumping wheel to wheel. 

Obviously tensions are running high with the stakes being much higher, but Vettel will be lucky to get away with the punishments he received from this incident. A ten second penalty cost him the race, but he still finished above Hamilton and extended his lead in the championship. However the three points on his license puts him a precarious position as he reaches nine points. If he reaches 12 before Silverstone in two races time, where two points will drop off, he will face a one race suspension. 

Hamilton seemed stern but cool in his post race interview when quizzed about this situation. He did brand his rival a disgrace but what was interesting was his comment about the young fans who have seen a four time world champion act in such a way. Vettel will need to act better if he is going to recoup some of the good reputation has gained since his move to Ferrari.

Another restart caused more chaos as Kimi blew a tyre and the Force India’s clashed, yet again damaging their own chances at a podium. Up came the Williams pair who somehow managed to stay out of trouble the whole weekend. The debris from these clashes was causing havoc and correctly a red flag was waved.  

There was another exciting restart with Ricciardo speeding past both Williams to get in to 3rd. Some of this may have been down to Massa having a problem and eventually had to retire (just from the race not the sport again). 

Just when you thought the race couldn’t possibly take another twist we saw the double drama at the top with Hamilton’s head rest popping open and Vettel being handed his time penalty. All of a sudden we had a top three of Ricciardo, Stroll and Kevin Magnussen in the Haas. 

Kmag, as the Dane is affectionately known, was not able to keep his podium place but still pleased the American team with a fine 7th placed finish. He was overtaken by Ocon and Bottas before the championship leading pair got in front too. 

Bottas was having a quietly fantastic race after his early issue and was up to 3rd with ten laps to go. He then went on to take 2nd, completing a full circle of positions as he passed the Williams on the home straight. 

There were shoeys all round as race winner Ricciardo celebrated with the surprised expression on his face many of us had. His grin was almost as big as Stroll’s whose F1 career has now taken off after two impressive weeks. 

So it turns out street circuits can be fun and Azerbaijan may be here to stay for a little while. We may need that year to recover from that one but we roll on to Austria in two weeks time.