Daniel Ricciardo quietly and efficiently won an incident packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix while Valtteri Bottas recovered from an early race problem to snatch second place from an impressive Lance Stroll at the finish line. Meanwhile, Lewis Hamilton's and Sebastian Vettel's on track rivalry got out of hand and Max Verstappen suffered a through a DNF.
At the start of the race Hamilton took the early point while behind the leader Bottas and Kimi Raikkonen made contact in the turn two. The Mercedes driver went low into the turn forcing the Ferrari wide into the wall. Raikkonen suffered minor damage and dropped to fifth while Bottas suffered front wing damage and a front right puncture forcing the Mercedes to pit for repairs dropping Bottas to the rear of the field.
On lap 6 of the 51 lap race Ricciardo was the first of the leaders to had to the pits shedding his starting supersofts for softs. Meanwhile his Red Bull Racing teammate began to slow on lap 13 rolling to a stop on course bring out the first safety car period.
Verstappen said, “After what looked like a promising position at the beginning of the race I was gutted to be let down once again by a technical problem. After an action packed race we were confident we could have had at least a podium here in Baku, so I am very disappointed with this outcome.”
Under the safety car the order had Hamilton leading Vettel, with Sergio Perez in third place followed by the Williams of Felipe Massa and the second Force India of Esteban Ocon. At the back Bottas who was allowed to unlap himself. Also, Hamilton was warned that he had gotten too close to the safety car.
On the restart there was a variety of minor incident littering the track with wing debris bring the safety car back. While following the safety car Hamilton suddenly slowed and Vettel ran into the back of the Mercedes damaging the Ferrari's front wing. Vettel swung around next to Hamilton's car gesturing with his hands, during which the Ferrari ran into the side of the Mercedes.
When racing resumed the Force Indian teammates, Esteban Ocon an Perez made hard contact with Ocon pushing Perez into the wall. Both cars were damaged and forced to the pits. Meanwhile, Raikkonen ran over some debris cutting down a tire which did considerable damage to the rear of his Ferrari by the time Raikkonen made it back to the pits. All this commotion required a red flag to clean debris.
When racing again resumed Hamilton had a problem with his head restraint and was told he had to pit to fix the issue dropping him to eighth place. At the same time Vettel was handed a 10-second stop and go penalty for running into Hamilton. After serving the penalty Vettel exited the pits just ahead of Hamilton.
"It’s difficult to swallow a result like this after a strong weekend." said Hamilton "I drove my heart out today right to the line - I gave it everything. I know the team will be devastated about the issue with the headrest, but what we have to take away from this weekend is the great performance we have shown. We all feel that pain, but it’s on me to gather my thoughts and try and lead the team through this adversity. We’ll pull together and move forwards. I’m proud of my performance and I hope we can take the speed we’ve shown this weekend forward. I definitely didn’t brake-test Sebastian. I controlled the pace under the Safety Car and, just like with the other restarts, I slowed down in the same place on the entry to T15. At that point, it is up to me to control the pace and then I felt a bump from behind. But that wasn’t the issue for me – everybody saw clearly what happened after. All the young kids in other series look up to us, as champions, to set an example and that is not the behavior you expect to see from a multiple champion. But we know that when times get tough, true colors show, and we have managed to apply some good pressure in the last weeks. Personally, I want to do my talking on the track and win this championship in the right way. More than ever after this weekend, I believe we can."
Vettel's view, “First of all, I think that today the car was very good. The pace was strong in the race. I think you could see that we were losing a bit here and there, but overall it was a good race. It was a very busy start, and Vallteri was very aggressive. As for what happened at the restart from the safety car, I don’t know why I got the penalty and Lewis didn’t. It’s disappointing, because it could have been a better result. I don’t have a problem with Lewis but I just think that what he did on the track was not ok. By now the decision is done but, in an episode like this one, I still think that if you give out a penalty, then it should be to both drivers.”
While all this was going on Ricciardo had taken the lead ahead of Ricciardo now led the race in front of Stroll and Kevin Magnussen with Bottas closing fast. Ricciardo quietly finished the race taking the checkered flag for first win of the season.
“I have never really had a boring win and today was certainly not that." said Ricciardo "After all the chaos and the red flag I felt that a podium was in reach but then once Lewis had to pit and Seb had the penalty I knew the win was possible. I kind of said yesterday that after my qualifying mistake and starting in tenth place, today was going to be a race of no mistakes, capitalizing on moments and opportunities and I felt like we did everything we could this afternoon. The odds of a podium or win got pushed even further back when we had to make an unscheduled pit stop early in the race and I think I was back in seventeenth place. Then things fell in to place quite nicely and on every re-start I was able to make up positions and make it happen. The last re-start was the most important and I think it was Stroll, Hulkenberg, Massa and me, all nearly four wide but I managed to get third and I think that was, in a way, the winning move. Once I saw the gap I was going to do everything I could to brake as late as possible and get that position. It was a real shame for Max today but it is great to get this victory for everyone in the team. I felt like this weekend was better for us overall and hopefully both of us can be on the podium together soon. What a day, it’s crazy and it’s slowly sinking in.”
As the laps counted down Bottas moved into third place with his sights clearly set on the second placed Stroll. On the last lap of the race Bottas was close enough to make a move for second place passing Stroll as the pair crossed the finish line.
"Today was a crazy race, especially for me." said Bottas "I had a puncture on the first lap after the contact with Kimi on Lap 1. I was a lap down, then had to overtake the field under the Safety Car. The second Safety Car after that really helped me out and, step by step, I moved forward from there. My main goal today was to fight for the win but that went out of the window after the first lap. I was actually last at one point, but I got my head down, gave it absolutely everything and tried to get the absolute maximum out of every single corner. We didn’t quite manage to win but P2 from where we were is a great feeling. Importantly for the team, we scored more points in the fight with Ferrari and I got some good points for myself as well."
Though he lost second place a the last possible moment Stroll became the youngest ever podium finisher in a rookie season at 18 years and 239 days and the first Canadian to stand on the podium since Jacques Villeneuve in 2001.
"I’m just lost for words right now." said Stroll "It was such a hectic race and so much happened, but the team kept me cool on the radio, the pace was good, we took it to the end and stayed out of trouble. I can’t quite believe what’s just happened. We just lost out to Valtteri at the end there in one of the closest finishes of all time going side-by-side across the finish line. Coming into this weekend I never thought I would be standing on the podium. It’s an amazing feeling and, for me, a dream come true. However, what happened today was a team effort and I can’t thank everyone enough for making this happen."
1 Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 2h03m55.573s
2 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 3.904s
3 Lance Stroll Williams 4.009s
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 5.976s
5 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 6.188s
6 Esteban Ocon Force India 30.298s
7 Kevin Magnussen Haas 41.753s
8 Carlos Sainz Toro Rosso 49.400s
9 Fernando Alonso McLaren 59.551s
10 Pascal Wehrlein Sauber 1m29.093s
11 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 1m31.794s
12 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 1m32.160s
13 Romain Grosjean Haas 1 Lap
14 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari Not running
- Sergio Perez Force India Retirement
- Felipe Massa Williams Retirement
- Nico Hulkenberg Renault Accident
- Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing Retirement
- Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso Retirement
- Jolyon Palmer Renault Retirement
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