The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was going to be a tale of the tires as Friday’s practice sessions showed us. There was little doubt that the Soft, Supersoft and Ultrasoft compounds were going to be a strategy challenge and getting heat in the compounds in the cool weather on Sunday added to the challenge.
Could Sebastian Vettel convert his pole position into a race win? Was Mercedes really that far off the pace? Could the long-run pace of the Red Bull cars provide a late-race surprise?
Those questions were answered with a few surprises such as a victory by a surprised Lewis Hamilton, a dual DNF by two surprised Red Bull drivers who took each other out of the race and a surprise podium for Force India’s Sergio Perez standing just behind Kimi Raikkonen in third.
A surprise lunge from Sebastian Vettel who blew his chance for victory falling back to fourth and a tragic surprise for race-leading Valtteri Bottas who suffered a puncture on the penultimate lap and lost what was presumably the race win. You never know but had Sebastian not made his ill-fated attempt, he may have inherited the lead of the race and the win given Valtteri’s tire trouble. As it is, he just lost the lead in the driver’s championship.
Lewis Hamilton had been uncomfortable with his car all weekend long and the radio activity showed his uneasiness but by keeping his head down, he capitalized on Safety Car periods, flat tires and miscalculations to steal a win and the lead in the driver’s championship. All is fair in love and racing and attrition is part of the game as is Safety Cars and flat tires.
A win for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton who read the race strategy perfectly and although they are still on the back foot and taking too long to get their tires into the operating window, they managed to capitalize on Safety Car periods, get their drivers in position to win and redeem themselves from the Australian Safety Car strategy that handed the win to Ferrari. They needed help from others but they got that help in the form of a driver error from Sebastian Vettel and a Safety Car and that’s part of racing. Sometimes luck comes in handy.
A win for Sergio Perez who has had a podium slump of late and managed to overcome a 5s penalty for passing before the Safety Car line on the first restart to take third by passing a flat-spotted Vettel.
A win for Carlos Sainz who managed to finish 5th and open his account for a decent points-scoring season by driving a tidy race littered with Safety Car’s and debris.
A big win for Alfa Romeo Sauber’s Charles Leclerc who finished an astounding 6th place well in to the points and making his teammate look like a non-entity. Leclerc delivered a performance that many suspected he is capable of delivering. Leclerc is the first Monegasque to score points in a F1 race since 1950.
With attrition up front, it was a win for both McLaren’s, the Williams of Lance Stroll and Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley who all finished in the points.
A fail for Ferrari and Sebastian Vettel who managed to lose the race despite having things completely in hand. The strategy was neutralized by the Safety Car and as Australia showed us, that can work for you or against you. In this case, It was against Vettel but his late lunge for the lead at the second Safety Car restart was an error that cost him dearly as Bottas ended up with a puncture and this could have handed the win to Sebastian. If Sebastian wants to win the title, he’ll need to tidy up his long game thinking just a s Kimi Raikkonen did in the race to secure second place and Lewis did to take the win. Seb seemed to be thinking race win and not title win on Sunday.
A big fail for the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen who took each other out on lap 40 with the former trying to make a pass down the front straight only to be blocked twice by the latter.
The double move is something that is not allowed and when Ricciardo deked (yes, a hockey term to make Paul Charsley happy) right and then back left, it appeared that Verstappen moved to block the right and then back to block the left. Both cars collided, and team boss Christian Horner was furious. There will be a long discussion about Max’s defense as Ricciardo clearly had a quicker car all day.
A big fail for Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg who looked to be the cat amongst the pigeons and his teammate’s 5th place finish would suggest that had the German no binned it in the wall on lap 11, he may have had a podium finish or at least top 5 performance.
A WTH moment for Romain Grosjean who clouted the wall all by himself during the Safety Car period which extended the session several laps. The Frenchman was trying to get heat in his tires by swerving right and left but lost the back end and hit the wall. He was furious with himself and the team, quietly all stayed seated when he returned to the garage as a sign of their discontent.
Esteban Ocon has taking to the press blaming Kimi Raikkonen for their first lap collision that ended the Frenchman’s race but it seemed relatively clear that Kimi was well up the inside of Ocon and wasn’t simply going to disappear and turning in on the Finn wasn’t going to make that happen either.
A WTH moment for race stewards who didn’t see the chunk of metal on the track that ended a potential race win for Valtteri Bottas who drove and exceptional race executing strategy to out fox Ferrari and take the victory. The Finn suffered a puncture on lap 48 and handed the win to his teammate, Lewis Hamilton, who sheepishly stole the win and the lead in the points race.
|3||Sergio Perez||Force India/Mercedes||51||4.024s|
|10||Brendon Hartley||Toro Rosso/Honda||51||18.030s|
|12||Pierre Gasly||Toro Rosso/Honda||51||24.720s|
|–||Romain Grosjean||Haas/Ferrari||42||Spun off|
|–||Daniel Ricciardo||Red Bull/Renault||39||Collision|
|–||Max Verstappen||Red Bull/Renault||39||Collision|
|–||Nico Hulkenberg||Renault||10||Spun off|
|–||Esteban Ocon||Force India/Mercedes||0||Collision|