F1 Blast from the Past: Formula 1 Produces Stunner in Baku
Formula 1 returned to Baku in 2017 for round eight of the World Championship. The street circuit had hosted the European Grand Prix the previous year, but ran under the title of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the first time.
The 2016 race was a dull affair which meant that few had high expectations for this round. However, we were treated to one of the best Grand Prix of the 21st century and one that produced some incredible results.
Despite a Mercedes one-two finish in Canada two weeks earlier, Sebastian Vettel continued to lead the World Championship by 12 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton. The Silver Arrows continued their excellent form in qualifying, with Hamilton leading a Mercedes front row lockout ahead of teammate Valtteri Bottas.
Vettel was outqualified by his teammate Kimi Raikkonen as the Ferrari’s lined up on the second row. Max Verstappen qualified fifth ahead of the two Force India’s of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon. Lance Stroll managed eighth ahead of his Williams team mate Felipe Massa, while a crash for Daniel Ricciardo saw the Australian line up tenth.
51 laps of the Baku City Circuit got underway on a beautiful sunny afternoon, Hamilton maintained his lead from the start ahead of Bottas, Raikkonen and Vettel. At the first corner, Daniil Kvyat ran wide in the Toro Rosso, as he re-joined the circuit his teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. spun in avoidance, the Spaniard just surviving a tap with the wall.
In Turn 2, Bottas clipped the kerb and collided with compatriot Raikkonen. The right-front tyre of the Mercedes was punctured and Bottas headed to the pits for repairs, falling a lap down on the leaders in the process.
On Lap 6, Ricciardo made a pit-stop after picking up debris in his brakes, he re-joined in 17th. Kvyat’s day went from bad to worse on Lap 10, as his Toro Rosso came to a halt with an electronic failure. Red Bull’s senior team ran into more trouble when Max Verstappen’s race came to an end after just 12 laps with an oil pressure problem.
The marshals were unable to move Kvyat’s stricken car, so the Safety Car was deployed. Racing briefly resumed on Lap 17, but debris from Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari warranted another Safety Car period.
Contact between the championship contenders
Under the safety car on Lap 19, Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton, damaging his front wing and Hamilton’s diffuser. Vettel believed his rival had brake tested him and proceeded to drive alongside Hamilton and display his anger, in doing so, he made contact with the Mercedes.
One lap later, the race restarted with Hamilton leading and Vettel was under pressure from Felipe Massa in the Williams. Further back, the two Force India’s engaged in a fratricidal tussle, Ocon made a move down the inside of Perez but they came to blows on the exit as Ocon squeezed the Mexican into the wall. The Frenchman escaped with a punctured right-rear tyre, while Perez suffered damage to the front left wishbone which would later end his race.
The debris also had consequences for Räikkönen who picked up a puncture, this damaged the floor and rear wing of his Ferrari as he made his way to the pits.
The Safety Car was deployed for a third time and, after Fernando Alonso complained over the radio about the debris on the track, the race was red-flagged so that marshals could clear the track thoroughly. The red flag allowed the teams to work on their damaged cars, Vettel received a new front wing, while Mercedes judged the damage on Hamilton’s diffuser to be minimal.
Raikkonen was able to re-join, albeit a lap down. The Finn comically pleaded with his team over the radio to be handed his gloves and steering wheel abruptly. An oil leak would later end a miserable day for Raikkonen.
With the track now clear, the race restarted, Hamilton again kept the lead from Vettel, the Williams pair of Massa and Stroll and Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault. Ricciardo made a bold move down the inside of turn one to move ahead of the Renault and both the Williams cars to take third place.
Massa’s race was compromised by suspension damage. He was quickly passed by Hulkenberg on the straight, while Kevin Magnussen in the Haas made a similar move to Ricciardo and overtook them both into the first corner. On Lap 25, a promising run for Hulkenberg came to a premature end as he clipped the apex of turn seven too hard and collided with the wall. A lap later, and Massa was forced to retire as his suspension problem became terminal.
On Lap 29, Hamilton was looking set for victory until his headrest became loose. Two laps later, he was forced by race control to pit for safety reasons. At the same time, Vettel’s earlier Safety Car shenanigans came back to haunt him, as he was given a 10-second stop/go penalty for dangerous driving.
The German came in to serve his penalty on Lap 33, re-joining the track in seventh place just ahead of Hamilton. All this had allowed Valtteri Bottas, who had lost a lap at the start of the race but regained it under the first safety car period, to jump back into contention and after passing Alonso, Magnussen and Ocon, the Finn found himself third.
Frantic Final Laps
At the front of the field, Ricciardo was leading comfortably ahead of Lance Stroll, but the Canadian could not relax as Bottas was closing quickly. Hamilton was running behind Vettel in fifth and tried to get the Mercedes team to instruct Bottas to slow his pace and allow Hamilton to close on Vettel, but this was refused as Bottas continued to pressure Stroll.
As the chequered flag fell, it was Daniel Ricciardo who took his and Red Bull’s first victory of 2017, but behind him, it was not over, as Bottas utilised his DRS to beat Lance Stroll over the line and take second place. The Canadian still had plenty to celebrate, becoming the second-youngest F1 podium finisher in history.
The only consolation for Vettel was that he managed to outscore Hamilton by two points, rounding off a bad day for the title contenders. Ocon finished sixth ahead of Magnussen and Sainz. Fernando Alonso scored McLaren Honda’s first points of the season in ninth with Pascal Wehrlein scoring another point for Sauber in tenth.
Grid Talk Podcast
Want more content to preview the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend? The Grid Talk have you covered with their Azerbaijan Grand Prixview. Ruby Price hosted George Howson, Steve Jackson and Phil Mathew in the latest GT Podcast. Audio and video versions of the show are linked below:
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