Ferrari driver Sebastian Vettel lead the championship going into today’s race by 12 points over Lewis Hamilton. He would hope to try and extend this lead however it would be a difficult job as he would be starting from 4th on the grid. The Baku street circuit is the fastest street circuit on the calendar with the longest straight in F1. After a relatively uneventful race in 2016, we were certainly given a fabulous race to watch this year.
The start was action packed as Bottas and Räikönnen collided at turn 1 leaving Räikönnen’s car with heavy damage to the left side. Bottas suffered a puncture. The two Toro Rosso teammates had issues too. Carlos Sainz had a spin, blaming it on Daniil Kvyat. Sainz went down to 17th place whilst Kvyat got away unscathed. The Bottas Räikönnen collision really played well into Vettel’s hands, as he moved up to 2nd place and started to put the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton under pressure. At the end of lap 4, Hamilton led from Vettel from Perez. Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean were running 10th and 19th respectively for Haas, after Grosjean pitted from 13th. For Toro Rosso, 17th for Sainz after his tangle. Kvyat was running well until lap 11, when he stopped on track, bringing out the safety car. The stewards decided to take no further action on the collision between Räikönnen and Bottas. Verstappen retired with another engine failure. Due to his engine failure, we were able to see the McLaren Honda of Fernando Alonso move past the limping Red Bull down the straight. Verstappen pitted to retire during the safety car period.
The safety car came in on lap 17 but the green flag racing was short lived as some debris flew off Räikönnen’s damaged Ferrari. Then, the drama started. On lap 20 under safety car, Vettel was running close to Hamilton’s Mercedes. Hamilton braked suddenly and Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton. Out of frustration, Vettel pulled out and drew level with Hamilton’s car. Then, he sideswiped Hamilton. This is what would eventually ruin Vettel’s race.
We were back to green flag racing for a few corners on lap 21 before the next safety car was called out after a few corners. Both Force Indias collided leaving debris on the track. On lap 22, the race was red flagged. Both Ocon and Räikönnen had bad damage to their cars, however this wouldn’t take them out of the race. Perez was thought to be out of the race, but he was able to make the restart after his team made repairs during the red flag. Kimi Räikönnen was able to make the restart after a phenomenal job from his Ferrari team to fix some of the damage. On lap 24, we were back to green flag racing and no, there wasn’t another safety car corners later. Daniel Riccardo made a fantastic pass up the inside of both Williams cars and Nico Hulkenberg hence putting him into 3rd. Hamilton led the restart from Vettel. Magnussen made his way up to 5th for Haas which was quite an amazing job from him. Sainz was running in a solid 7th place after his spin and Grosjean was in 10th. Räikönnen was running 15th after his earlier issues. However, things didn’t look like they were going to get better for Kimi, as he was put under investigation for his team working on his car in the pit lane. Räikönnen went out without a steering wheel and was given it when he was in the fast lane. During all of this, Felipe Massa and Nico Hulkenberg both retired. Nico crashed and Felipe had a mechanical issue.
On lap 30, things really started to get interesting as Sainz sadly got overtaken by Ocon hence putting him into 8th. At the front, Hamilton’s headrest was coming off the car, meaning that he would have to stop to get it fixed as he couldn’t put it back in place. This put Vettel in the lead! However this was extremely short lived as seconds later, Vettel was informed about a 10 second stop go penalty due to his “road rage” earlier on in the race. This put Riccardo into the lead with Stroll 2nd. Meanwhile, Magnussen was running in 4th with Sainz in 8th. Grosjean was still in 10th. By lap 36 however, Grosjean started to have brake issues, putting him to the back of the field. The lap before both Hamilton and Vettel had breezed past Fernando Alonso down the straight. Alonso later went on to say he could have won the race without a Honda engine. On lap 38, after some brilliant running, Magnussen was passed by Bottas and Ocon into turn 1. A lap later, Vettel flew past Magnussen into 5th. Hamilton quickly followed suit.
By lap 40, the Ferrari’s of Vettel and Räikönnen were running in 5th and 15th. For Haas, Magnussen ran in 7th and Grosjean in 13th. Then the lone Toro Rosso of Sainz ran in 8th. On lap 42, Räikönnen finally gained a place as Perez retired. Vettel passed Ocon and moved into his starting position once again. A lap later, Hamilton moved round the outside of the French driver. On lap 45, Sainz made it past Alonso too. Fernando didn’t miss the opportunity to complain about Honda. Vettel set the fastest lap which was a 1:43:630 on lap 46. Sadly, on lap 48 Räikönnen retired as he wasn’t making it up the field. Then, between the top 5, it was a sprint to the finish. It was tense throughout, but Daniel Riccardo came through to win his first Grand Prix of the year. Bottas was able to just overtake Stroll at the line for 2nd. Then Vettel came through in 4th. A brilliant drive from Kevin Magnussen saw him finish 7th with Sainz finishing a solid 8th place. After fighting brake issues, Romain Grosjean finished 13th.
Today’s race was an unlucky one for Ferrari, Vettel had the race pace, but Bottas was able to hold him off. Räikönnen had another unlucky race. He will definitely be hoping for a better race in Austria. Haas had a good outing, with Kevin Magnussen getting a spectacular 7th place and Grosjean finishing 13th whilst fighting brake issues. Toro Rosso didn’t have a great day with the retirement of Kvyat. However, Sainz was able to deliver a solid 8th place despite a bad start. Special mentions go to for Stroll and his first podium and Fernando Alonso with his first points of the season. Well done to Daniel Riccardo who wins his first race since Malaysia last year. That was one of the best races I think I’ve seen this year. The unpredictability of this race made it so exciting. Hopefully, we will have a similar race in Austria. One thing is for sure though, Azerbaijan has earned the right to be on the F1 calendar.
*Author: Cameron Matthews