Azerbaijan GP - Sunday - Race Report

The Wild Bunch: How Ricciardo won in Baku

Daniel Ricciardo, Azerbaijan GP 2017

Daniel Ricciardo, Azerbaijan GP 2017 

 © RV Press


By Dan Knutson

If everything had gone smoothly, Lewis Hamilton, who had qualified his Mercedes on the pole, would have led most of the way and won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. But this wild race with a bunch of wild drivers was anything smooth. When the chaos and controversy finally ended, Daniel Ricciardo was in control in his Red Bull and went on to win for the fifth time in his career. Here how he won.


"First of all, you have to survive," Nico Hulkenberg said when asked how he would do in the race. He, like many drivers, would hit the wall, and he retired.


The run from the grid down to Turn 1 in Baku is the shortest on the F1 calendar, shorter than Spa or Montreal. So there was plenty of business to be done in that run and the first turns. Hamilton did it perfectly take the lead. But the first of the wildness quickly unfolded behind him.


Two drivers who would have had a shot at winning - Valtteri Bottas [Mercedes] and Kimi Raikkonen [Ferrari] - eliminated their chances when they collided in the first turn. Bottas had a flat tire and car damage and limped to the pits to for repairs. Raikkonen got off more lightly, but it was the beginning of the end for him.


So Hamilton led and pulled away from Sebastian Vettel's Ferrari. At this point of the race it looked like this duo would run away from the pack, leaving the leftovers to fight for the final podium spot. At the time, it was Max Verstappen [Red Bull] and Sergio Perez [Force India]. Both would have actually had a shot at victory...if they had finished.


One of Ricciardo's front brake cooling ducts had picked up some debris and his brakes were overheating. He had to pit to have the duct cleaned and dropped to the back.


If it wasn't for bad luck, Verstappen would have no luck at all. Running third, he would have had a chance to win but stopped with an engine failure on lap 13 of 51.

At this point the devastated Red Bull team thought their day was pretty much over.


Stranded cars and debris from cars tangling brought out the Safety Car three times. On the third time it came out, on lap 20, the race was eventually stopped so that the marshals could clean up the track. This set up the chain of events that led to Ricciardo winning.


While the Safety Car led the field around for restart, Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton.

"He brake tested me! What the hell is going on!" Vettel yelled over the radio.

An incensed Vettel pulled alongside Hamilton and swerved into him, banging wheels.

"Vettel literally just turned into me and hit me," Hamilton radioed.


A bit of bumping and grinding and car scraping is okay in NASCAR, but not in open-wheel racing and in Formula 1.

The stewards determined that Vettel had steered into Hamilton, deemed the maneuver to be potentially dangerous, and handed Vettel a 10-second stop and go penalty.

"I don't have a problem with Lewis," Vettel said, "but I just think that what he did on the track was not okay. 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."


Studying the telemetry data after the race, the stewards also determined that Hamilton had not braked when Vettel said he did.


Force India drivers Perez and Esteban Ocon both had fast cars and strong races. If they had avoided trouble and each other, they very well could have come through to finish first and second.


When the race was restarted, Ricciardo, who had worked his way up to sixth, swooped by Williams teammates Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll plus Hulkenberg's Renault to snatch third place.

"The last restart was the most important," Ricciardo said. "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."

Third became first after the pit visits by Vettel and Hamilton.


With the Vettel challenge now eliminated, it should have been smooth sailing to victory for Hamilton. But the crew had not properly secured the headrest on his car and he had to pit for that to be done. That stop took about 10 seconds, and he emerged behind Vettel.

"The team, we all feel the pain, it is obviously not something we want," Hamilton said after finishing fifth behind Vettel. "Looking at the positives, we had a fantastic pace throughout the weekend."


So Aussie Ricciardo took the lead on lap 34 and held it for the rest of the race. All he had to do was avoid the walls.


Teenager Stroll wasn't out for a stroll through Baku's streets. He as doing a fabulous job in second place. Teammate Massa had stopped with suspension woes.


Bottas got his lap back with the first Safety Car and now charged. He went from last to third. Then he pipped Stroll at the finish line by a tenth of a second to snatch second place.


So, a lot of "ifs" in this action-packed race. But IF is F1 spelled backwards. And Ricciardo won after all the ifs, ands or buts.


Boring? Who says F1 races are boring?

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