The latest addition to the Formula 1 calendar, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, produced one of the most dramatic races of this decade as chaos ensued at the Baku City Circuit.
After polesitter Lewis Hamilton had suffered an unusual incident with his headrest not being secured and Sebastian Vettel being given a time penalty, putting both in the pitlane one more time, Daniel Ricciardo took his fifth win in the sport.
Valtteri Bottas rebounded from a first lap puncture to finish second after beating Lance Stroll on the line.
Every team that had one car left in the event scored, with Renault being the only team to suffer a double retirement.
Ricciardo’s Fifth Win
Red Bull is rarely having a straightforward day in 2017, and Daniel Ricciardo certainly worked hard to claim another victory.
Ricciardo started in 10th after a qualifying crash and was forced to pit on Lap 6 to remove debris from his brakes, pushing him down to 17th.
As drivers around him suffered incidents, teammate Max Verstappen became the sixth team retirement of the year, and he made passes, Ricciardo was already up to 10th by a Lap 13 safety car period and fifth by the red flag ten circuits later. The safety car stint also saw him move onto the faster supersoft tires while the rest of the top-10 continued on the soft compound.
The Australian also again showed his gutsy overtaking abilities on his mission to the front. He passed both Marcus Ericsson and Carlos Sainz in turn 1 on Lap 10 for 13th, jumping on Sainz’s overtake of the Swede. A move by both Williams of Stroll and Felipe Massa took him to the podium positions at the inside of Turn 1 on Lap 24 thanks to late braking before the two leaders disappeared.
His run of four straight podiums since Spain is the best of his career and the chances of a third top-four championship finish are looking brighter by the weekend. That is if Red Bull’s unreliability problems do not develop.
Stroll’s First Podium
Fans of the sport are now left on a cliffhanger over whether the Canadian racer is beginning to blossom.
Stroll looked fantastic all weekend and rarely made an error on track in practice or qualifying.
His first points finish of ninth in Canada and more track time seemed to have given him more confidence.
He out-qualified teammate Felipe Massa for the first time in qualifying, leaving McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne and Renault’s Jolyon Palmer as the only permanent racers to not do this after eight rounds in 2017.
This is Williams’ 16th podium of this decade. Stroll is the fourth competitor to claim a top-three finish alongside Bottas, Pastor Maldonado and Massa.
He is the youngest person to score a podium in their rookie season, at 18 years and 239 days. It happened over a year since the team’s last top-three finish at the 2016 Canadian Grand Prix.
A third top-10 finish in a row in Austria may help the argument over his ability. Only five other Williams entrants have done this in the last 10 years – Nico Rosberg (2007, ’08), Rubens Barrichello (’10), Bruno Senna (’12), Bottas (’14, ’15, ’16) and Massa (’14, ’15, ’16).
Vettel and Hamilton Take Gloves Off
This contest sparked to controversial life as the safety car pitted at the end of Lap 23. Lewis Hamilton prepared for the restart, and Sebastian Vettel made contact with his rear before pulling alongside and hitting his right sidepod.
The German was penalized on Lap 32 with a 10-second stop-and-go penalty, resulting in a pit lane time loss of around 30 seconds. Vettel eventually recovered to fourth place, extending his Drivers’ Championship lead by two to 14 points.
Vettel’s incident had memories of 2010 when he was involved in some dramatic events while fighting for his first title, including his infamous ‘crazy’ gesture towards Mark Webber when the Red Bull rivals crashed at Turkey. In a way 2017 is like 2010 for him, when many may have thought he was not ready to become a champion because of his crashes. It is the first time since then he hasn’t had as much control of his destiny.
From 2011 through 2013, he had arguably the fastest car on the grid and had the mental advantage of being reigning champion. This year, like seven years ago, he is fighting to take the title against the odds.
Vettel now has nine penalty points, and if he were to offend again in Austria and gain another three-point penalty, he would be given a one-race ban for gathering 12 on his license. He may need to be careful and drive conservatively.
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