Carnage in Baku: Ricciardo Wins Azerbaijan Grand Prix

In years to come, when reading back on the tale of the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, it'll read like an incredibly far-fetched epic featuring carnage and chaos.

For the first fifteen laps or so, this was a typical Grand Prix. Lewis Hamilton was sailing out in front and in control of his racing destiny. Sebastian Vettel was comfortable in second and, barring a few incidents and scraps, this was a straightforward race. 

That is, until the first Safety Car came out following Max Verstappen's breakdown just on the corner of the straight. Too awkward to move under a VSC, a Safety Car was summoned to allow a tractor to come on and remove the car from the track. Under SC conditions, Hamilton was leading the field and maintaining a flow. Such is the long straight at Baku - over 2km in total- the Mercedes had to give the Safety Car enough of a distance to safely enter the pits whilst Hamilton raced away. 

On the first attempt, Hamilton barely managed to let the Safety Car enter the pits before he raced away. Tearing down the straight, the string of cars traded places throughout the field, colliding on several occasions and shedding enough bodywork to form a 21st car for the grid. With the debris causing havoc and puncturing tyres, a second Safety Car was released.

Again, upon its re-entry to the pits, the same thing happened. Cars raced over debris, shattering tyres and shedding more bodywork. By this point, Hamilton was calling on Charlie Whiting to use common sense and deploy a VSC. Valtteri Bottas, last after two laps following a scrap, was slowly moving up, and the two Force India's were in an unbelievable position to claim a podium.

On the third arrival of the Safety Car, it all kicked off. Lewis Hamilton, still leading the pack and therefore dictating the pace, turned a corner somewhat slowly to enable the Safety Car to create a safe distance. Sebastian Vettel, following too closely behind, was caught unawares and drove straight into the back of the Mercedes, damaging his front wing. 

Feeling incredibly hard done-by, the German was furious. He pulled up alongside Hamilton and gesticulated with his hands before appearing to ram his Ferrari into the side of the Merc. Hamilton was understandably confused, as was the hundreds of millions of viewers across the globe. It was an act of pure road rage and not the behaviour of a sportsman. 

A red flag followed shortly after to stop the comedy and allow the track to be sufficiently cleared of debris, allowing Kimi Raikkonen and Sergio Perez to effectively fix their retired cars and re-emerge a lap behind. The sight of Kimi Raikkonen emerging from the pitlane without a steering wheel, pushed by several mechanics , was perhaps the funniest moment of the afternoon.

Before long, we were back racing and it seemed the circus was over. Far from it. Following the restart, Lewis Hamilton's safety cage wasn't installed properly and was dangerously loose. He was summoned to the pits to fix the error, losing half a minute. He emerged in P9, his chances of winning seemingly over. Not long after, Sebastian Vettel was charged with a ten-second stop-go penalty for his road rage. He emerged just ahead of Hamilton in P7, infuriating the Brit who decried the admittedly lenient penalty on the German.

The race, then, was all set up for a shock winner. Step forward Daniel Ricciardo and Lance Stroll. The latter has been vilified for his supposed lack of skill and borrowed millions from his father. Yet here he was, second in a Grand Prix and hunting a maiden race win.

The final laps was a chase: the Mercs and Ferrari hunting down the two runaway leaders. Somewhat disbelievingly, after it looked like Stroll was metres from a P2 finish, he was pipped on the line by Bottas. It was an astounding end to an astounding Grand Prix.

 

Philip Boeckman

Huge fan of @F1 and Motor Racing in general. I blog about anything and everything from the world of Formula 1