Azerbaijan Grand Prix: Race Recap

The tight and twisty Baku City Circuit created another action-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix. With less than 10 laps remaining in Sunday’s race, the chaos continued…Lewis Hamilton, became the beneficiary. Hamilton won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix by 2.460 seconds over Scuderia Ferrari driver Kimi Räikkönen. It was Hamilton’s 63rd career Formula One victory, his first of the season and his first at Baku City Circuit.

Haas F1 Team:

The tight and twisty Baku City Circuit created another action-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix. With less than 10 laps remaining in Sunday’s 51-lap contest around the 6.003-kilometer (3.730-mile), 20-turn track, Haas F1 Team was primed to take advantage of the chaos and score its first double-points finish of the season, as drivers Romain Grosjean and Kevin Magnussen were running sixth and 11th, respectively. Ultimately, Haas F1 Team became a part of the chaos, with Magnussen finishing 13th and Grosjean crashing out to earn 15th.
The result was not indicative of the effort put forth by the American squad, as Grosjean rallied from his 20th-place starting spot and Magnussen came from 15th on the grid. Grosjean started last after a gearbox problem prevented him from posting a time in qualifying on Saturday. But from the drop of the green flag, Grosjean took advantage of others’ miscues, rising to 13th as he deftly avoided numerous incidents amongst his Formula One brethren.
With plenty of debris on the track to clean up after the opening-lap skirmishes, the safety car was deployed, allowing Grosjean and Magnussen to duck into the pits. Grosjean swapped the Pirelli P Zero Yellow soft tires he started the race with for a set of Red supersofts. Magnussen did the opposite, ditching his softs for supersofts. When the race restarted on lap six, Grosjean was 14th and Magnussen was 16th. A lap later, they were nose to tail in 14th and 15th.
Grosjean methodically worked his way forward, cracking the top-10 when Carlos Sainz Jr., pitted his Renault on lap 15. Grosjean then grabbed ninth when Lance Stroll brought his Williams in for service on lap 23, and eighth when Charles Leclerc wheeled his Sauber into the pits on lap 24. Grosjean set his sights on the seventh-place Force India of Sergio Perez, and by lap 30, was just 1.3 seconds behind. And while Grosjean couldn’t close the gap any further, it became a moot point when an accident between Red Bull teammates Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo on lap 40 gifted sixth place to Grosjean. This incident also brought Magnussen to 11th.
The safety car appeared for a second time, and both Haas F1 Team drivers took advantage of the opportunity, darting into the pits with each pilot getting a new set of Purple ultrasofts that would take them to the finish. Shod on the softest and grippiest tire available to teams at Baku, Grosjean and Magnussen were poised to not just hold on to their positions, but improve them.

As Grosjean worked to build heat into his ultrasofts by weaving back-and-forth while under the safety car, his Haas VF-18 broke loose, pitching Grosjean into the outside wall. Grosjean was unhurt, but his racecar was not. Fifteenth would be his finishing position.
With Grosjean out of the race, Magnussen moved up to 10th, providing the chance for Haas F1 Team to still come away with points. But when the race returned to green on lap 48, Magnussen tangled with the Toro Rosso of Pierre Gasly, dropping him to 14th. Magnussen picked up 13th on the third-to-last lap when race leader Valtteri Bottas suffered a flat right-rear tire on his Mercedes, ending his race and what would’ve been his first win of the season and his first since last year’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Romain Grosjean; “This hurts a lot and I want to apologize to the team. We were in the middle of an amazing race, starting last and running P6. Seeing (Sergio) Perez on the podium, knowing I was fighting with him, is very painful for all of us. It was going very well. The conditions were tricky, there was a lot of wind, the car was going left and right, pushing then not pushing. I was warming up my tires and bumped into a switch that I’d moved by two positions. When I touched the brakes, the brake balance was locked rearward – it just locked the rear wheels and I spun.”

Kevin Magnussen; “Obviously, things aren’t going our way at the moment. We still have a car that is performing well, so I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. We’ve got a competitive car that we can score points with, and on a regular basis if we have smooth weekends. I’m sure we’ll be alright. It’s just been a tough start to the season, especially when you see the potential in the car, it’s even more frustrating. We’ll come back from this. It was just a tough weekend overall.”

Scuderia Ferrari:

Scuderia Ferrari dominated this whole weekend right up to a few laps before the end and leaves Baku with second and fourth places for Kimi and Seb respectively. The Azerbaijan Grand Prix turned out to be a totally unpredictable race, with the Safety Car closing down the gaps and robbing the leader Vettel of victory, but handing Kimi a lifeline after he had started further back. After four rounds, Scuderia Ferrari leads the Constructors’ championship by four points, while Sebastian is second in the Drivers’ classification, four points off Hamilton.

On the grid, the front runners were all on Supersofts, with the exception of Raikkonen who was using Ultrasofts. Seb maintained his pole advantage at the start, while Kimi was fighting with Ocon and right from the start, the debris was flying. Esteban ended up in the barrier and Kimi needed to pit for a set of Soft tyres and a front wing, as the Safety Car made its first appearance. The number 7 Ferrari re-emerged in 12thplace as five laps went by before the race resumed. Seb had got his tyres up to a good temperature and thus defied Baku’s slipstreaming laws. He then pulled away while Kimi began overtaking other cars so that he was 10thon lap 9. He then passed Stroll as the tyre changes began and out in front, Seb set another fastest lap. Kimi then got by Leclerc, who was having a great race in the Alfa-Sauber.

The two leaders were running at the same pace, but going into the first corner on lap 22, Hamilton locked his wheels and ruined his tyres, so that he had to pit. The leading SF71H stayed out and continued to push. Sebastian’s radar was picking up information on what was happening with the other cars. He pitted at the end of lap 30 to take on Softs, as planned. It took a few laps for the harder compound to settle down, as Bottas stayed out while Kimi was looking to go the distance.

But then it all happened on lap 40, as the two Red Bulls collided on the straight, which brought out the Safety Car, leading Ferrari to opt for a double pit stop. Seb and Kimi came in close formation. The Safety Car led the pack through the pit lane with Bottas in front on used Ultrasofts, followed by Seb, Hamilton and Kimi on new Ultrasofts. Ten laps to go and everything was up for grabs again, as Grosjean, in the process of warming his tyres, hit the wall, so the safety car period was extended.

There would be just a four lap sprint to the flag and the four leaders fanned out, Seb tried to attack but overshot the corner and flat spotted his tyres, running behind Kimi with the Mercedes duo out in front. But that wasn’t the end of the excitement as Bottas got a right rear puncture off some debris, while Perez passed Seb and that’s how it ended.

Kimi Raikkonen; “It was not the easiest or most enjoyable race. After the accident with Esteban on the first lap, I had to come in to change the nose and switch to Soft tires. I don’t know if my car was damaged, but overall the feeling was ok. The tires were not consistent, a bit on-and-off; I was struggling to keep them warm enough and had some difficult moments. Some laps they felt good and some others it was more tricky. After that, things went back to normal. I tried to stay out of trouble, pushing when it felt right to do so and do my own race. I was expecting something to happen sooner or later. It’s never too late; you need to be ready, because you never know what can happen until the race is finished. We are pretty confident for the future, because we have the speed, and this is the main thing. We just need to minimize all the mistakes and the issues to be up there all the time. Today obviously feels better than yesterday, it worked out pretty ok. I will happily take this second place, considering the tricky race we had.”

Sebastian Vettel; “We are not entirely happy, because we could have won. In fact, I am very upset about losing the position at the restart, because I didn’t want that to happen, but there are also so many positive aspects to take from this race. When the safety car pulled away, I saw a gap and I went for it, but obviously it didn’t work. So, now it’s easy for everyone to say that it was too big a risk, but I was driving at 330 kph on the straight, there was no reference on the left and I didn’t really have many options. Lewis was on the right, while Valtteri was ahead, but I couldn’t really go to the right. I also wanted to go for the inside, but once I locked up, it was tough luck. After that, with the flat spot, it was a shame that I had to give the position to Sergio. Apart from that, I think it was a very good race; we had a good pace and were in control. Anyway, this is how it goes sometimes. I had a chance to win and I tried. It just didn’t work. It was a quick decision, so there was a chance it wouldn’t be right. Now I think we need to look ahead because we had a strong car today. We’ll see what the other races will bring, but we need to stay hungry and keep working.”

Alfa Romeo Sauber F1:

It was a fantastic Grand Prix for the Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team at the Baku City Circuit. In an eventful and hectic race with difficult track and weather conditions, today’s target was to finish the race, scoring the best possible results and both Charles Leclerc and Marcus Ericsson did a very good job. The Monegasque rookie finished the fourth race of his debut season in sixth place, scoring eight points for the team. Starting in P13 with a one-stop race strategy, he put in a strong and consistent performance, and steadily made his way to the front of the midfield. Marcus Ericsson successfully advanced to P11 and was able to save a difficult race that was compromised by his involvement in an early incident that resulted in him pitting and changing strategy. The Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team now holds a total of ten points in this season’s Constructor’s Championship, placing the team in ninth place. Charles Leclerc is in thirteenth with Marcus Ericsson in sixteenth in the Drivers’ Championship.

Marcus Ericsson; “It was a difficult race for me. I was involved in an incident at the beginning of the race, and picked up some damage to the car. I was struggling to keep everything together after that, and I gave everything to catch up with my direct competitors. In the end, it was good to manage to finish in P11. As a team, we have scored points for the second time this season, which is very motivating, and our potential is becoming more clear with every weekend. We must keep up the good work now. I look forward to the next race weekend in Barcelona.”

Charles Leclerc; “It was an amazing race today – I am very happy with my result. It was definitely eventful, with many incidents on track making it especially challenging and fun to drive. I felt comfortable in the car, and did my best to gradually advance to the front of the midfield through the race. It is an incredible feeling to score points for the first time in Formula 1. As a team, we can see our potential, and know what our strengths are. I am very pleased, and look forward to continuing on this positive path.”

The 2018 FIA Formula One World Championship resumes with the Spanish Grand Prix May 13 at Circuit de Barcelona – Catalunya.

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