Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen come to blows, while Lewis Hamilton lucks in to a race win and the F1 series lead after a bonkers race in Baku.
THIS STORY ORIGINALLY APPEARED ON REDBULL.COM
Baku was the site of Sebastian Vettel’s angry swerve at title rival Lewis Hamilton’s car in last year’s race, but the Ferrari driver kept his head and rode his luck in Azerbaijan qualifying to take his third straight pole position this year, the first time he’d nailed three poles in a row since his Red Bull days (Italy, Singapore and Korea 2013). His lap of 1min 41.498secs was a strong one in the tricky winds that whipped around the seaside street circuit, but the German made a mistake at Turn 3 on his final lap, and it looked like teammate Kimi Raikkonen would be the Ferrari on pole. A lurid slide by the Finn at Turn 16 on his final run (“it was a f**k-up,” was his analysis of what went wrong afterwards) cost him not only pole, but saw him fall all the way down to sixth, behind both Mercedes’ (Hamilton ahead of Valtteri Bottas by 0.160secs) and both Red Bulls, Daniel Ricciardo nicking fourth off Max Verstappen on his final lap by 0.083secs after stealing an aerodynamic tow down Baku’s endless 2.1km straight as Raikkonen completed his messy lap. “I had to make it clean,” the Australian said. Further back, Nico Hulkenberg’s run of six straight races starting from seventh (as in the best of the rest) came to an end when his Renault needed a new gearbox, triggering a five-place grid penalty from ninth. Both Force India drivers were in the top 10 for the first time this year (Esteban Ocon pipping Sergio Perez at the circuit where the pink cars played bumper cars last year), while further back, we were spared a terrifying shunt between the Toro Rosso drivers after Pierre Gasly somehow avoided Brendon Hartley on the 300km/h-plus run to Turn 15, the Kiwi slowing with a puncture after clipping the wall and not seeing Gasly steaming along behind him. The Frenchman’s reflexes were incredible, and Hartley was quick to put his hand up. “I owe him a big apology for getting in the way and nearly causing a huge accident,” he said after what Gasly called the “scariest moment of my career”.
The race in exactly 69 words*
Vettel looked on course to take his third win of 2018 before Verstappen and Ricciardo collided on lap 40. Bottas led the field after the safety car restart, but debris gave him a puncture with three laps left, Hamilton assuming the lead. Raikkonen, who pitted after lap one contact with Ocon, was second, Perez rounding out an unlikely podium after Vettel locked up and fell to fourth challenging Bottas.
(* 2018 is the 69th season of Formula One)
Last year, Ricciardo won a madcap race on the Baku streets; this time, the race was equally as crazy, but his mood heading home would have been far darker after the incident with Verstappen that overshadowed the (approximately) 200 other talking points from the race …
The scene for what was to follow was set on lap six after the restart following the lap one safety car for debris on circuit after the retirements of Ocon’s Force India and Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams, when Verstappen and Carlos Sainz’s Renault muscled their way past Ricciardo on the first full race lap. The Red Bull teammates later made contact on lap 12 at Turn 1 as Ricciardo tried for a pass around the outside, and came to within centimetres of other incidents at several other stages before Ricciardo finally made his way past at the first corner on lap 35. He pitted two laps later, discarding the supersoft tyres he’d started the race on for ultrasofts to its conclusion, but Verstappen stayed out one lap longer and made the most of Ricciardo’s struggles to get his new rubber up to temperature to edge ahead again after his own stop.
On lap 40, Ricciardo was right in Verstappen’s wheeltracks, the Dutchman desperately trying to break the tow as they came onto the start-finish straight. Ricciardo looked for an opening down the outside again, switched back to the inside, and the pair collided.
After the race, Ricciardo was asked for his views on the incident, and his teammate.
“We’re not into each other right now,” he said of Verstappen.
“It’s more just about saying sorry to the team, just apologise the best way we can.
“We don’t want to be in that situation. Just down I guess, for the situation. Thankful that we’re allowed to race, especially myself and Max, we love to race. That’s cool.
“We did get close already in the race a few times, touching, sometimes we were on the limit. Unfortunately it’s ended how it did. It’s not a nice situation.”
Four races into the season, Ricciardo is in fifth place in the championship with 37 points; Verstappen has just 18 points (eighth overall).
What the result means
Somehow, Hamilton leads the championship by four points after four races despite never being in a position of dominance since Melbourne, where took pole by a country mile and lost a win he should have had because of a Mercedes strategy error under safety car conditions. His celebrations of his 63rd career win were understandably muted after teammate Bottas lost a victory through no fault of his own, but he could be excused for seeing Azerbaijan as some sort of karmic payback for Australia.
Vettel has three poles from four races and could have very easily won all four, meaning Ferrari can return to Spain for the next race to see whether its car can challenge Mercedes at a circuit where the Silver Arrows looked to have pace to burn in pre-season testing. A good result there, and we might have a title fight that lasts the whole season this time, not two-thirds of it like last year before operational and driver errors cost the Scuderia dear.
As for Red Bull, and any future implementation of team orders? Won’t happen. Speaking to TV crews after the race, Red Bull’s motorsport adviser Helmut Marko had this to say: “It was a racing accident between the two, there was not more fault for one or the other. We always let the drivers race, we don’t have a number one, we don’t have a number two, but we expect responsibility from the drivers.”
Team principal Christian Horner said the drivers were “both to blame” for the incident.
For historical purposes …
Perez’s third place for Force India means Baku has now produced the only three races in the past 38 Grands Prix where the podium hasn’t been made up solely of drivers from Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull (Perez third in 2016, Lance Stroll third for Williams in 2017, and Perez third again this year).
The number to know
978: The number of races since a driver from Monaco last scored points in a Grand Prix before Charles Leclerc’s brilliant sixth for Sauber on Sunday. Louis Chiron finished third in the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, the second race of the inaugural world championship; Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was the 980th race in Formula One’s history.
Under-the-radar winner(s)Hamilton’s win got plenty of press, obviously. But plenty of others had reason to smile as others picked up (or swept up) the pieces after a manic race. Leclerc was close to speechless after finishing sixth in just his fourth race, taking Sauber’s best result since Felipe Nasr finished in the same position at the 2015 Russian Grand Prix. Stroll scored the first points for him and Williams this year with eighth, while speaking of firsts, Hartley finished 10th to score his maiden world championship point for Toro Rosso.
The naughty corner
We hate to kick people while they’re down, but the two drivers who haven’t scored points yet this year (Sirotkin and Romain Grosjean of Haas) won’t remember this weekend fondly. Sirotkin was out on lap one after rear-ending Perez at Turn 2, which led to Perez hitting teammate Ocon. Sirotkin then made contact with Hulkenberg’s Renault and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren, breaking the front left side of his Williams and sending Alonso back to the pits with two punctures. Sirotkin was handed a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Spain. Grosjean looked set to score points after qualifying last when his car broke down on Saturday, but bizarrely crashed from sixth place as the field was behind the safety car for the Red Bull shunt with eight laps to go.
Next? After that? Bottas was prescribing “10 pints of beer” to wash away his disappointment … For the Finn and everyone else, we’re back in Europe proper next time out for the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (May 13), the track every driver knows like the back of their hand from lap after lap of pre-season testing. The circuit offers few surprises, but the cars might – Spain marks the start of phase two of the season, most teams bringing significant updates to their cars that have largely been frozen in development terms from when they made the long journey south to Melbourne.