Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton wins a chaotic Azerbaijan F1 Grand Prix, from what looked like a third-place finish four laps from the end of the race, to say Hamilton was “lucky” is the understatement of the year.
The chaos started immediately, everyone seemed to get through turn 1 cleanly, but, that all changed in the run out of turn 2, Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin was squeezed into Fernando Alonso’s McLaren by the Renault of Nico Hulkenberg, Alonso suffering a double puncture, but limped back to the pits and continued. More carnage ensued at turn 3, Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen dived down the inside, only for Force India’s Esteban Ocon for turn in on the Ferrari driver, by turn 3, Sirotkin and Ocon were already out.
All this meant the safety car was deployed to clear up the debris from the track, meanwhile, in addition to Alonso’s unplanned pit stop, Raikkonen joined him in the pits for a set of fresh yellow marked soft tires and a new front wing, thanks to the safety car period, neither driver were out of contention in the race.
On the lap six restart, there was no change for the podium positions, but the ever opportunistic Max Verstappen dived down the inside of his Red Bull teammate, Daniel Ricciardo for fourth place, and as a result of giving Verstappen space, Ricciardo also lost 5th place to Carlos Sainz in the Renault.
Over the next five laps, The Renault duo, Sainz, and Hulkenberg took advantage of their faster purple ultra-soft tires to move past both Red Bulls to run in fourth and fifth places. Then disaster struck for Hulkenberg, the German clouted the barrier coming out of turn 4 and retired the car down the escape road at turn 5. Shortly after, we saw the Red Bull’s battling for fifth place, Ricciardo, twice getting a run on his younger teammate on the main straight, only for Verstappen to stoutly defend his fifth-place position.
The Red Bulls regained 4th and 5th positions as Sainz’ ultra-soft tires gave up, forcing the Spaniard to pit for the yellow marked soft tire. Hamilton pitted for fresh soft tires on lap 23 after having a massive lock-up going into turn 1, returning to the track in third place behind his Mercedes team-mate, Valtteri Bottas.
The Red Bull battle resumed on lap 27, Ricciardo was ahead around the outside of turn 1, only for Verstappen to come back at the Australian, who again lost out to his 20-year-old teammate. Ricciardo finally made the move stick on lap 35 with one of his trademark, last of the late brakers moves around the outside of turn 1; only to find himself behind his teammate after their only round of pitstops.
Race leader, Vettel dived into the pits for a change of tires, electing to run the yellow soft tire, while Bottas took the lead of the race, still setting good lap times on the red super-soft tires he started on. Vettel slotted into a Mercedes sandwich, returning to the track in second place, between Bottas and Hamilton.
Disaster struck for Red Bull on lap 40 with both drivers down the escape lane and out of the race. Ricciardo crashed into the back of Verstappen after the Dutchman had made two distinct moves in the braking zone to block his teammate. Both Red Bull drivers were reprimanded by the FIA, although I would say that it was Verstappen’s fault as his weaving in front of Ricciardo is what caused the incident.
This incident meant the safety car was deployed for a second time to recover the Red Bull’s, meanwhile, Romain Grosjean managed to crash all by himself while following the safety car, which extended the safety car period while marshalls recovered his HAAS. As the safety car was leading the pack through the pitlane, Bottas made his only stop of the race, putting on a set of ultrasoft boots, with Vettel following suit.
When the race restarted on lap 48; Bottas bolted, only to be caught by the end of the straight by Vettel, who made a massive dive down the inside of Bottas into turn 1, ultimately lost not only second to Hamilton but third to Sergio Perez as well as he had badly flat-spotted his left front tire. You’d have to say it was a terrible tactical decision by Vettel, the move was uber-ambitious at best from that far back.
It looked like Bottas was going to get his first win of 2018 leading a Mercedes 1 – 2, but that hope was dashed as the Finn ran over a piece of debris coming out of the final corner causing a high-speed blowout, ending his race with two laps remaining. After Vettel’s mistake and Bottas’ misfortune, Hamilton was gifted an unlikely last-gasp race victory to conclude a manic Azerbaijan Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Due to the carnage up front, we saw some new points scorers in the race classifications, Charles Leclerc scoring 8 points for sixth place and Brendon Hartley scoring a solitary point for finishing in 10th place. Alonso, managed to score 6 points for seventh place despite his earlier double puncture, running almost the entire race distance on a single set of soft tires with teammate Stoffel Vandoorne finishing in ninth.
Lewis Hamilton took the world championship lead for the first time in 2018, sitting four points ahead of Sebastian Vettel. I’m now thinking that this might be a turning point of the season, it was a clear mistake by Vettel that had cost him the championship lead, if he had just bided his time, he could have had a race victory by default, but no, he decided to go for glory and paid the price, a bad tactical choice I’d say.
A final word on Max Verstappen, clearly he is a very quick driver, but you have to question his race craft after being involved in four incidents in the first four races of 2018, to add to his tally of incidents in 2017. I understand that he is still a very young driver, but that, in my view is negated by his four seasons in F1.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2018 Results
|1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1:43:44.291
2. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari) +2.460s
3. Sergio Perez (Force India) +4.024s
4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +5.329s
5. Carlos Sainz (Renault) +7.515s
|6. Charles Leclerc (Sauber) +9.158s
7. Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +10.931s
8. Lance Stroll (Williams) +12.546s
9. Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) +14.152s
10. Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso) +18.030s