The Ferrari Owners’ Club
of Great Britain

GRAND PRIX: Baku: Hamilton Takes Advantage

05-05-2018

By Jack Target

Baku provided another dramatic race as the 2018 Formula 1 season continues to deliver the goods.

There was near crashes on Saturday, followed by a big one between team mates on Sunday. Three drivers looked like they were going to win the race before Lewis Hamilton took advantage of Sebastian Vettel’s gun hoe antics and the misfortune of his teammate, Valtteri Bottas, whose tire blew whilst in the lead with a handful of laps to go.

It was a weekend full of incidents so let’s get to it starting with qualifying. 

Qualifying started with some problems for Haas as Romain Grosjean locking up, causing some issues with his gear box. Then at the end of Q1 we almost had an almighty accident between the two Toro Rosso’s. Whilst going on a flying lap, Pierre Gasly came round a corner to be met by a slow Brendon Hartley in the middle of the track and was inches from going straight in to the back of him. The on board footage showed how close we were to a terrible crash in what was a very scary moment.

Raikkonen had a bit of a struggle to get a decent lap in to get in to Q3 but pulled out a very quick lap. Elsewhere both Williams, who had already improved by getting in to Q2, almost had a car in Q3 with Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin qualifying in 11th and 12th. If they would have gone through it would have been ahead of Daniel Ricciardo who only just scraped in to Q3. 

Vettel held on to pole despite not having a great last lap. Both Mercedes couldn’t improve but Hamilton got himself on to the front row, setting up a tantalising start with his rival. However it could have been very different if Kimi would have just kept his car from having a little wobble as he entered the final sector. After posting purple times in the first two sectors and looking like pole was his for the taking, the Finn lost a bit of control coming out of a corner and couldn’t improve on his 6th place.

Come race day the conditions had turned as the wind swept through the city streets, almost causing Raikkonen to spin off on his way to the grid. It was also noticeable during a dramatic rendition of the Azerbaijani national anthem, as the singer’s dress flapped in the wind accompanied by a theatrical piano player.

As expected there was contact early on. Raikkonen and Esteban Ocon collided going through one of the many tight corners in the circuit. Ocon’s race was over but Kimi could use the incident to his advantage by getting in the pits early to change to the soft tyre that could last him the rest of the race.

From the restart Vettel slowed his car down as expected before putting his foot down, but the weaving and slow speed seemed to be a clear message to Hamilton to not to try anything like the supposed brake check in the same race last season.

It was a good start for Max Verstappen and Carlos Sainz as they both went ahead of Ricciardo in to 4th. The two former Toro Rosso teammates then had a good scrap, changing positions and battling in nearly every corner. Both of their teammates were behind them, setting up an intriguing Renault v Red Bull battle which was being won by the French team. Ten laps in both Renault’s were in 4th and 5th in front of the Red Bulls.

Just when things were looking great for Renault, Nico Hulkenberg hits the wall and ends his race in similar fashion to how it ended in Baku last year. 

All eyes were now on the two Red Bulls who were having a great scrap, bumping each other and overtaking often. But behind them was the Sauber of Charles Leclerc, who was having a great start to the race after a very good qualifying session, getting his car in to 13th.

Raikkonen made his way back up the track and was back in 6th before long. He managed to pass Leclerc, who could potentially replace the Finn one day, to get there and was then chasing down the Red Bulls whilst trying to close the gap on Vettel at the front who still needed a pit stop.

Behind the German was still Lewis Hamilton who was trying to eat in to his rivals lead. However just before the halfway stage Hamilton made a mistake, locking up in to turn one and being forced to pit. When the Brit did come back out he had only lost one place but he seemed to struggle to get up to speed. Both Red Bulls were fast approaching, but both were in need of a pit stop at some point.

It took a while for that pit stop to come as Ricciardo, who was the lead Red Bull with 13 laps to go, came in first. Both Max Verstappen and Valtteri Bottas, who was in the lead, were waiting and probably hoping for a safety car before they finally came in. Once Verstappen had come in, he had somehow managed to come out in front of his Aussie teammate. 

But then what seemed the inevitable happened. With 11 laps to go the Red Bulls hit, ending both of their races. Ricciardo was weaving behind Verstappen on the main straight before going right in to the rear end of the Dutchman, causing both of them to spin off. Usually an incident involving the Red Bull’s has seen the blame laid at Verstappen, but this was one that Ricciardo would have to take responsibility for. 

Lost in the drama was the fact that this had worked perfectly for Bottas. He came in to the pits, giving Vettel the lead as expected, but both the German and the Mercedes of Hamilton also came in for new tyres. Bottas was now in the lead with 8 laps to go.

The safety car was out for quite some time and just when it looked like it was going to come in to set up a fascinating sprint finish, Grosjean put his car in to the wall, extending the safety car period. It was a shame for the race up front but also for the Grenchman was had done well to get in to the points after starting last.

The safety car came in with just four laps to go starting a dramatic finish from the first corner. Firstly Vettel tried to go for the glory all in one go as he caught up with the race leader and passed him through the corner, breaking extremely late, only to come out wide and letting both Mercedes cars through. A flat spot on one of his tyres caused him to go back to 4th behind his teammate, as he tried to hold on to his place. 

It then felt like it was going to be a perfect race for Mercedes as they aimed for a one-two finish and their first win of the season. But disaster struck as Bottas got a puncture and was out of the race. Hamilton now had the lead with two laps to go. He was being followed by Raikkonen and then unbelievably Sergio Perez in the Force India. The Mexican had swept past the struggling Vettel and saw Bottas go off, giving himself a podium place. It was a historical podium for Perez as he becomes the Mexican with the most podiums in Formula 1 history and also became the first person to have multiple podiums in Baku.

But as the checkered flag came down Lewis Hamilton, who hadn’t even got a podium in Azerbaijan, won his first race of the season to reclaim the championship lead. There was a switch in the constructors championship too as Bottas’ terrible luck meant Ferrari held a four point lead.

There were some fine results for some of the other teams too, not just Force India. Young Charles Leclerc made a big step up this weekend and finished an amazing 6th for Sauber with Lance Stroll, who finished 3rd in Baku last year, getting the struggling Williams in to 8th. Both McLarens were in the points as was Brendon Hartley in the Toro Rosso. 

Once again Baku provided a fascinating race full of drama and another surprise podium. Who said street circuits were boring? In fact who said Formula 1 was boring? Not any more my friend.