Lewis Hamilton wins a dramatic Azerbaijan GP


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.

In the midst of all that, Verstappen loses out to Sainz as Hulkenberg closes in. The German is through, Renault now running fourth and fifth.

Clearly the frustration is getting to Verstappen who insists his battery isn't charging. Again he is assured that everything is OK.

To add to Verstappen's problems, now he has his teammate all over his backside.

Perez is now up to 12th and closing in on Grosjean.

Hulkenberg slows and retires, after losing the rear and hitting the wall at T4.

Another fastest lap from Hamilton (47.053) who remains 2.4s down on the leader.

The two Bulls are side by side as are Stroll and Leclerc just behind. Yes, just behind. And behind them is Raikkonen who is now up to 9th.

Vettel responds with a 46.825 as he opens a 3.3s gap to Hamilton. Bottas remains third, 4.9s down on his teammate.

Now Ricciardo complains of a battery charging issue, the Australian continuing his battle with his teammate who is beginning to look a little more ragged.

Gasly pits at the end of lap 13 and switches from ultras to softs.

Raikkonen complaining that his DRS doesn't appear to be working. Working or not he passes Stroll for 8th.

"It's still draining the battery," complains Ricciardo, "it's draining it on the straights though,"

His tyres clearly shot, Sainz is passed by Verstappen and then Ricciardo, the Renault driver subsequently pitting... which he should have done a lap or so earlier. He rejoins in 13th.

The stewards have noted the first lap incidents at Turns 2 and 3.

Hamilton runs wide in T16, allowing Vettel to stretch his lead to 4.4s.

Raikkonen passes Leclerc to take 6th, the Sauber obviously struggling with his tyres.

The stewards reveal that DRS detection at DR1 is inactive and therefore manual operation is permitted. This could be what Raikkonen was referring to.

So now, after 17 laps, Raikkonen is back where he started, with those ahead still to stop.

Vandoorne pits.

Ericsson heads off down the escape road at T3 after a significant lock-up.

The incident involving Raikkonen and Ocon will be investigated after the race.

No sooner has Hamilton posted a 46.597 than Vettel goes quickest in the first two sectors, though he loses time in S3.

No investigation necessary for the Alonso, Hulkenberg, Sirotkin incident.

No sooner have the stewards revealed that the Ericsson/Magnussen incident is under investigation, than the Swede is handed a 10s time penalty for causing a collision.

Perez makes great move on Stroll in T1 to take 8th, like Raikkonen he is on the softs.

On lap 21 Hamilton has a major lock-up and loses a further 4s to Vettel. "Something's happened man," shouts the Briton. "These tyres are gone," he adds. He subsequently pits.

The world champion switches to softs, rejoining in 3rd ahead of Verstappen.

Sainz passes countryman Alonso for 11th, the McLaren duo clearly struggling.

Ste stewards are investigating Perez for overtaking before the safety car line. The Mexican is subsequently give a 5s time penalty.

Despite his fresh rubber, Hamilton is under pressure from Verstappen.

Stroll pits at the end of lap 23.

As ever, the Mercedes is taking an age to generate heat into its soft tyres.

Out front, Vettel now leads Bottas by 12.1s.

Leclerc pits at the end of lap 24, rejoining in 11th.

Verstappen is frustrated that he's now "stuck" behind Hamilton. 2I can't get past," he moans as he waits on Hamilton to get his tyres up to speed. "Keep it clean," he is warned.

Vandoorne pits at the end of lap 26.

Vettel is now winding his way through the backmarkers, as the Bulls resume battle. Ricciardo makes a move but his teammate is in no mood to give way. The fact that Ricciardo has just posted the fastest lap of the race (45.883) suggests he should be released.

"This has just messed my race up," says Hamilton, "there's a long way to go on these tyres." "They should easily do the race," he is assured.

Alonso heads down the escape road at T1, the Spaniard down in 12th.

Grosjean, who started last, is now closing in on 7th placed Perez.

Lap 29 sees a new fastest lap for Bottas (45.827) who is now 9.3s down on Vettel and 18.6s ahead of his Mercedes teammate.

As temperatures drop, the sun having gone AWOL, Raikkonen is unhappy with his soft tyres.

Vettel pits at the end of lap 30, rejoining in second on softs, 10.6s down on the leader.

What we wait on now is Bottas' stop and whether he can stay ahead of Hamilton in the process. He is currently 19.6s ahead of the Briton.

Despite all his problems, Verstappen posts a new fastest lap (45.771).

Surprisingly, Vettel has actually lost ground to Bottas, the German also possibly suffering from cool tyre issues.

Lap 33 sees a new fastest lap from Bottas (45.595) who has still to stop. Elsewhere, his teammate is complaining about the backmarkers... no doubt aware of his teammate's pace.

"My tyres are very cold," warns Verstappen.

Ricciardo makes one of his typically great moves, this time on the outside of his teammate in T1, the Australian having just posted the fastest lap of the race (45.419). Great stuff.

"Let's start to stretch your legs now," Ricciardo is told, "let's go."

After 35 laps, Bottas leads Vettel, Hamilton, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Raikkonen, Perez, Grosjean, Sainz and Leclerc. That said, Bottas and the Bulls have yet to stop.

"I can't continue anymore," moans Verstappen. He is told to "keep it clean" again , as Ricciardo dives into the pits. Switching to ultras, the Australian rejoins in 5th ahead of Raikkonen.

Meanwhile, another fastest lap (45.149) for Bottas.

Next time around Verstappen pits, the Dutchman also switching to ultras. He rejoins in 4th ahead of his teammate, Ricciardo having had a poor out-lap.

With the tyre warm-up issues noted, Hamilton will be looking to put the pressure on Bottas when he eventually stop. Currently there are 19.9s separating them.

Oh dear. Ricciardo makes a move on Verstappen heading into T1, the Dutch driver moves across and as the Australian makes his move they clash. Both are out on the spot.

Out comes the safety car and as Bottas pits, Vettel is quickest in the first two sectors. The German pits as does Hamilton and Vettel who bolt on ultras. The safety car leads the entire the field through the pitlane as the track is cleared.

Replays of the Red Bull clash suggest that while Ricciardo's move was typically brave, Verstappen might have moved across and slowed unfairly. Whatever, Christian Horner in not amused and Adrian Newey storms off in disgust.

At a loss to understand how Bottas is still ahead, the scenario is explained to him.

With 10 laps remaining, behind the safety car, it's: Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Perez, Grosjean, Sainz, Leclerc, Stroll and Alonso. You couldn't make it up.

Hamilton is concerned that his front brakes are glazed. Again, Mercedes assure him that al is OK.

Grosjean has crashed behind the safety car. "No, no!" he wails.

Replay suggests that he over did it while weaving and generating heat into his tyres. He was sixth at the time.

Despite replays proving the contrary," Grosjean's engineer suggests: "I think Ericsson might have hit us", when asked by the Frenchman "what happened?". Nice try.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Baku, here.

All of which means the safety car will stay out a bit longer.

One door closes and another opens... Grosjean's 'retirement', means that Magnussen is now in the points.

A late pit stop for Vandoorne who takes on another set of ultras.

The safety car withdraws at the end of lap 47, leaving 4 laps of racing.

At the re-start Bottas goes early. Hamilton closes on Vettel who makes a move on the leader in T1. However, the German locks-up and overshoots, rejoining the track in 4th without needing the escape road. A disaster for Vettel and Ferrari.

His tyres flat-spotted Vettel is now under pressure from Perez.

Hamilton closes on Bottas who has a puncture, the Finn having run over some debris.

Can this get any more dramatic?

As Vettel is passed by Perez, Hamilton leads Raikkonen.

Now Vettel is under attack from Sainz who has just passed Leclerc.

The stewards are to investigate the Red Bull clash.

That late stop is paying off for Vandoorne, the Belgian is now in the points in 9th.

An incident involving Magnussen and Gasly is also under investigation.

Hamilton takes the flag, ahead of Raikkonen, Perez, Vettel, Sainz, Leclerc, Alonso, Stroll, Vandoorne and Hartley.

Ericsson is eleventh, ahead of Gasly and Magnussen.

"I think Lady Luck was on our side today," says Hamilton's engineer, "real bad luck for Valtteri our heart goes out to him."

We thought last year's race crazy but this really took the biscuit, with drama from the first lap to the last. Indeed, since we started off with Calamity Janes, this had all the makings of a Hollywood production but without the songs... though we do have a theme tune.

"Unbelievable," says Perez as he takes the flag, and that just about sums up Azerbaijan 2018.

Be it the first lap clash(es), the Red Bull disaster, Bottas' misfortune, Vettel's over enthusiasm, Lewis' luck and indeed Kimi's.

Then there were the first points of the year for Williams, not to mention maiden points for Leclerc and Hartley.

Though Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton know how it all came about, neither will knock the fact that today's result means that their losing streaks have come to an end, albeit with a helping hand (or two) from Lady Luck.

Talking of luck - or not - as the stewards ponder various other incidents that occurred, not least the Red Bull clash - Magnussen is given a 20s penalty for causing a collision.

"I think today I did some of the best laps of my whole career," says Perez, "with cold tyres it was so difficult to keep close to Raikkonen to prevent Sebastian getting close enough.

"I'm speechless," he admits.

"It was really quite an emotional race to be honest," says Hamilton, who is sporting a new hairstyle. "Valtteri did such an exceptional job today and really deserved to have the win, also Sebastian did a great job.

"I think it was really fortunate today," he adds, "so it feels a little bit odd to be here but I didn't give up, I kept pushing.

"It wasn't ideal the start for me," says Raikkonen, "it was a difficult race after that, just trying to come back but I struggled a bit with the tyres to keep them warm enough.

"I just tried to play the long game and it paid off," he adds.

Though some will say that this doesn't compare to... before going misty-eyed at the thought of that special race back whenever, this was entertaining stuff and another twist in a season that nobody knows where it is heading.

In two week we are back at Barcelona, a track already familiar to the drivers and their teams and where we rarely get even a fraction of the drama we've witnessed here today.

Never mind the 'Thriller in Manilla', this was 'The City of Winds' equivalent... and great fun it was too.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Baku, here.

Article from Pitpass (http://www.pitpass.com):

Published: 29/04/2018
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