Australian on top in amazing Azerbaijan
Daniel Ricciardo has claimed an unlikely victory from P10 on the grid after a chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The Australian’s race got off to a bad start, with first-lap damage blocking a brake duct, requiring an early pit stop, but a series of three safety cars and a red flag brought the Red Bull Racing car back into the game.
Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel controlled the first half of the race, the pair racing in close quarters through the three safety car periods, the third of which turned into a red flag due to excessive debris on the circuit.
However, it was a combination of events during the second safety car period and the stoppage that shaped the result of the race.
Hamilton, complaining that the safety car was travelling too slowly for him to keep his tyres in the correct temperature range, was aggressively warming his Pirelli rubber, but an unexpected stamp on the brakes caught the following Vettel off guard.
The Ferrari nudged the back of the Mercedes, and the incensed Vettel pulled up alongside Hamilton to gesticulate at his rival, driving into the side of him in the process.
Neither car sustained damage in the side-swipe, but the stewards deemed Vettel to have driven dangerously, handing him a 10-second stop-go penalty after the red flag period.
The penalty was neutralised, however, when Lewis Hamilton was forced to make an unscheduled pit stop to replace his headrest, which had been incorrectly fastened at the end of the red flag period.
Indeed Vettel emerged from his penalty ahead of Hamilton in seventh and eighth, the pair picking their way forward through the pack to fourth and fifth at the flag.
Other contenders for the win all eliminated themselves with damage or technical problems — Ricciardo’s teammate Max Verstappen suffered another power unit failure from third place, and friendly fire between Force India’s Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon after the second restart sent both tumbling down the order.
Force India will feel particularly aggrieved with the intra-team clash given the pair were running in third and fourth at the time and would therefore have inherited a one-two finish.
Ricciardo’s victory wasn’t without effort, though. The Australian dropped to P17 after an early unscheduled stop after collecting debris in his brake ducts, and his race culminated in a double overtake of the Williams due after the red flag period for P3, which ultimately turned into the lead.
“It was a crazy race,” Ricciardo said on the podium. “Did I think then I could win today? Absolutely not.
“We knew the podium was a chance after the restart, but then the problems with Lewis and Seb… it was just a crazy race.
“This is the race we expected last year with all the safety cars and all the chaos, but we got it this year.
“I honestly I’m speechless. After the race on the cool down lap I was just giggling like a little schoolboy.”
Valtteri Bottas drove a phenomenal recovery race after dropping one lap down after a first-lap crash with Kimi Räikkönen.
The Mercedes driver was able to resume the lead lap during the first safety car period, and a combination of incisive overtaking and the retirement of four rivals brought him into third place.
The Finn then launched himself superbly out of the last turn on the last lap to pass Williams’s Lance Stroll over the finish line to seize second place.
“Just a crazy race, so much happening,” Bottas said. “I was one lap down in the beginning, but I think this just shows never give up.
“You never know what’s going to happen in the race, so I kept my head down and kept pushing.
“I really enjoyed it. Shame Daniel in the end was too far away. But taking the circumstances of what happened in the beginning, it was a good result for us.”
Stroll may have lost a sensational second place, but his third place was scarcely less of a thrill, making the Canadian the sport’s youngest ever podium-getter just on round after his first points at his home race in Montreal.
“I’m just lost for words right now,” Stroll said. “I don’t even know what to say.
“I can’t quite realise what has happened. It was a hectic race. We just stayed out of trouble. I kept my head cool and took it to the end.
“I just lost out to Valtteri in the end. We were side by side crossing the finish line, but what a race. I owe this to the whole team, it’s amazing.”
Esteban Ocon, Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz finished in sixth, seventh, and eighth, but noteworth was Fernando Alonso in ninth place to score McLaren-Honda’s first points of the season.
Alonso and team principal eric Boullier were nonetheless disappointed, with power unit problems preventing the Spaniard from defending a fifth place he held at the halfway mark of the race.