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Lewis Hamilton wins a dramatic Azerbaijan GP

NEWS STORY
29/04/2018

Calamity Jane might have blown in from The Windy City, but she was riding shotgun on a stagecoach, not driving an F1 car in Baku. Needless to say, the promised gusty winds in the City of Winds (the clue's in the name) have arrived.

While we always try our hardest to avoid the hyperbole so favoured by broadcasters, this does have the makings of a good (dare we say 'great') race, even without the weather gods interfering.

With its ultra-fast straights and Monacoesque twists and turns and unforgiving barriers, the Baku track is a challenge at the best of times, but throw in a track surface that offers little grip, tyres that take an age to reach optimum temperature, over enthusiasm on the part of some drivers, madness on the part of others and you have all the ingredients.

As if this wasn't enough, we have Kimi Raikkonen not only starting from sixth position but on ultrasofts, while everyone around is on supers. Will Ferrari take a gamble and see how long the Finn can run for or will it pit him early and see if he can go the distance? Then again let's not forget the safety car, which has been an ever present for some of the support events.

The safety car, real or otherwise, has impacted two of the previous three races and there's no doubt that it could play a significant role today.

Whatever Bernie Ecclestone might think, Lewis Hamilton's performance in Q3 yesterday proved there is life in the old dog yet. Though Raikkonen's late blunder allowed the Briton to take a place on the front row, it was clear that, despite his recent issues, he was digging deep.

While Hamilton faces the task of taking on Sebastian Vettel, teammate Valtteri Bottas will be charged with holding off the Red Bull duo and Raikkonen.

Throughout the weekend the Bulls have looked strong, and should they make good starts, especially passing a Mercedes or two, they will be a real threat. On the other hand, Bottas will no doubt derive great satisfaction from keeping Daniel Ricciardo at bay, if only to ward off the prospect of another Shoey.

As for Max Verstappen, without jumping on the media bandwagon, the youngster simply has to keep his head down and do what he does best. Another drama and the media will be all over him (again) which in turn will only cause him to try harder, thereby becoming part of a vicious circle which rarely ends well.

While Raikkonen can play a significant role in the race, what of Sebastian Vettel? The German had a dreadful time on Friday but on Saturday was like a new man, with only his Ferrari teammate looking likely to topple him.

Still smarting from the disaster that was Shanghai, the German will be keen to press home a clear advantage here, especially at a time title rival Hamilton appears vulnerable.

Then comes the fun and games... the midfield.

While it was here in Baku last year that the Vettel/Hamilton bromance came to an end, it was also here that the Pink Panthers started to go all Inspector Clouseau, putting the farce into Force India as they tripped over one another (and worse) with alarming regularity.

Then again, intra-team needle isn't restricted to the boys in pink, with the Toro Rosso and Haas duos appearing to push their partnerships to the limit in recent outings.

While Sergio Perez will be keen to keep Ocon in his place, Nico Hulkenberg's grid penalty means he has much work to do if he is to show teammate Carlos Sainz a clean pair of heels again.

Like Force India (and Mercedes), Williams is clearly benefitting from new higher engine modes which can be run for longer, hence Lance Stroll and Sergey Sirotkin's best grid positions of the year to date. Whether the pair can covert this to meaningful race performance however, remains to be seen.

With its off-track issues making the headlines ahead of the weekend, McLaren will be hoping that a strong result can keep the (media) vultures at bay, and while Fernando Alonso always gives good value for money, it's worth noting that some sections of the media are already doubting Stoffel Vandoorne. The fact that Lando Norris, a Briton, is waiting anxiously in the wings, surely only a coincidence.

Disappointing in qualifying, Haas will surely up its game today, while the Toro Rosso duo will merely be keen not to find themselves occupying the same piece of tarmac. With an eye on China, not forgetting yesterday's heart-in-mouth moment, it's worth remembering that Franz Tost and friends are not known for their patience.

Sauber will be another team hoping for a safety car - while at the same time praying it isn't the cause of its deployment. A great performance from Charles Leclerc in Q1 yesterday, the youngster's confidence steadily growing.

We know from experience that overtaking is possible here, just ask Daniel Ricciardo, or George Russell who won this morning's F2 race from 12th. And despite the narrowness of some part of the track, other parts offer the ideal opportunity. However, like Monaco, Baku is unforgiving and drivers must realise not only that to 'finish first, first you have to finish', but that a race cannot be won at the first corner.

In terms of strategy, the quickest theoretical strategy is a one-stop, starting on supersofts for 20 laps, then softs for 31 laps. Second-quickest is also a one-stopper, starting on ultrasofts for 10 laps, then 41 laps on soft to the flag.

The ideal two-stopper is to start on ultrasofts for 10 laps, then supersoft for 20 laps, then supersoft again for 21 laps. However, all these could be somewhat theoretical if there are safety cars or red flags, in which case - as in China and Australia, it's down to opportunism.

The pitlane opens and the cars begin to head out. On his first out lap Ericsson heads off down one of the escape roads, while Raikkonen also has a moment, the Finn lucky not to spear the wall, both caught out by the strong winds.

Grosjean is another driver caught out by the wind, the Haas heading off down an escape road.

Perez complains of "too much air" in his helmet, which could be put down to wind but it might sound rude.

Air temperature is a cool 17 degrees C, while the track temperature is 26 degrees. Risk of rain is 0%.

The leading five are all on supers, as are Stroll, Sirotkin, Alonso, Leclerc, Magnussen, Vandoorne and Ericsson. The rest are on ultras, though Hartley and Grosjean have opted for softs.

The field heads off on the warm-up lap, Hamilton noting that the sun is out and "warmer than we planned".

They're away. Hamilton, who is already pointing towards Vettel on the grid, makes a good start, as does the German. Into T1 and the Red Bulls are side-by-side with Raikkonen just ahead of the Panthers.

Into T2 Sirotkin runs into the back of a slow Perez, while just after Alonso is also hit by the Russian who is still recovering from the Force India clash. "He closed the door, we were side by side," moans Alonso. Further back, Ericsson and Grosjean have clashed.

On the long run to T3, Vettel leads Hamilton and Bottas while the Bulls continue to battle. Raikkonen is on the inside in T3 as Ocon tries to make a move across the Ferrari, they clash and the Frenchman heads off into the barrier.

The safety car is deployed before they've done half a dozen corners. The race is already over for Sirotkin and Ocon.

Alonso pits with both right tyres punctured and damage to his front wing, likewise Raikkonen who gets a new front wing following his clash with Ocon. Hartley also pits, along with Perez for a new front wing, as do Magnussen and Ericsson. Raikkonen rejoins in 14th on softs.

Behind the safety car, Vettel leads Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Sainz, Stroll, Perez and Hulkenberg.

Told that it looks like he has damage to his floor, Alonso replies: "Unbelievable, they crash into you, ******* stupid!"

"The Ferrari crashed me totally into the wall," insists Ocon. While Raikkonen sees it differently. "He just turned into me," says the Finn.

Still behind the safety car, Vettel warns that there is still debris on the track at T3.

The safety car withdraws at the end of lap 5.

Ahead of the re-start Hamilton is all over Vettel. Vettel keeps his lead but as the Red Bulls battle Ricciardo loses out to Sainz who makes an opportunistic move, the Australian having already lost out to Verstappen.

At the end of the lap Vettel is 2.7s clear of Hamilton while Sainz is all over Verstappen. The Red Bull driver makes a mistake and is passed by the Renault but he takes the place back by the next corner.

Worth noting that Gasly is up to 7th and Leclerc 10th... the magic of Baku.

Currently 11th, Raikkonen asks if he is OK after touching the wall. He is assured that all is indeed OK.

The Verstappen/Sainz battle continues, as Hamilton says he needs more grip.

Setting a strong pace at the back of the field is Perez, the Spaniard currently 14th.

Hamilton posts fastest lap (48.376) as he closes to within 2.6s of Vettel, while Ricciardo almost hits his teammate as he fends off Hulkenberg. However, the German subsequently passes the Australian and sets off after Verstappen.

As the Bulls battle the Renaults, Verstappen claims his battery isn't charging. Like Raikkonen, he is assured that all is well.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Baku, here.

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1. Posted by Motorsport-fan, 30/04/2018 9:53

"Great race but purely down to this fantastic circuit."

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