Ricciardo Wins from 10th as Stroll Stuns with Podium Finish

We now know why the race in Baku last season was so dull. It was because they were saving the action from that race for the 2017 edition, which has been packed with overtakes, incidents and great on-track drama. With ignorance to what goes on behind the scenes and in wider Azerbaijan, this was an excellent advert for Formula 1 in terms of racing and entertainment. This race also marked an incredible performance from the young Lance Stroll. 

At the start of the race, Hamilton got away well enough to retain his lead and further back, there was drama on the exit of turn on as Daniil Kvyat returned to the track having gone wide. His Toro Rosso’s reentry to the track caused his teammate Carlos Sainz to spin, adding another dent into the already fragile relationship.

A the next corner, Bottas and Raikkonen collided, with clear damage to both cars with Bottas’ puncture putting him to the back of the grid. The collision allowed some opportunists to climb the order, with Perez jumping to 3rd and Massa climbing to 6th.

The Finnish incident allowed Hamilton to lead Sebastian Vettel by 2-seconds after the opening lap, meaning that the two main title protagonists would be battling throughout the grand prix. Bottas emerged from the pits a lap down.

By lap five, Hamilton was setting fastest laps and had built the gap to Vettel up to 3.2-seconds. Perez was keeping a 0.7s gap to Verstappen in the fight for 3rd. Raikkonen was in 5th with Massa for company. Ricciardo pitted from 10th and looked to be opting to run the soft tyre until the end of the race. He emerged in 17th with a lot to do.

By lap 8, Jolyon Palmer retired from the race with an engine issue. It symbolised his luck for the entire season, the Brit missing another opportunity to convince the Renault bosses that he has a future with the team. The battle in the top ten with the most action was Verstappen’s hunt for Perez. The Dutch driver was all over the Force India, but some stoic defending frustrated Verstappen. Suddenly, his car was going slowly and an engine issue saw him drop down the order. This would be the second DNF for Verstappen in two races due to engine failure.

On lap 12, the safety car was deployed to recover the stricken Toro Rosso of Daniil Kvyat, who retired a few laps earlier. Most cars opted to pit, negating pit strategy for the rest of the race as the safety car bunched the field. The supersoft advantage would be even more stark with the slow-speed safety car preventing the runners on the soft compound to get sufficient temperature into the tyres, an issue already present in Baku that was starting to look even more difficult. This made Ricciardo one to watch, he had returned to the Supersofts in the safety car pit window and had already ran the softs thanks to an earlier stop.

The racing resumed on lap 16, Perez was side by side with Vettel heading into turn-1, but the German got better traction on the exit and was able to retain position. The safety car was redeployed a lap later due to debris on-track after debris emerged on the finish straight after Kimi’s battle-worn Ferrari finally spat out some carbon fibre that had been clinging onto his chassis since the lap one incident with Bottas.

The top ten under the safety car on lap 18 was Hamilton, Vettel, Perez, Massa, Ocon, Raikkonen, Stroll, Hulkenberg, Ricciardo and Magnussen. Hamilton was again voicing concerns over team radio about the slow pace of the safety car.

On the second restart, Vettel and Hamilton collided as the Brit prepared to get away. Heading into turn-1, Massa was on the inside of Vettel for 2nd, with Perez on the outside too. Somehow, the German emerged from the first turn with 2nd in-tact. The move took Perez off-line, so heading into turn-2, the inside line was open. Esteban Ocon went for the gap, but it resulted in both Force Indias suffering damage and falling down the order. Perez was out of the race and Ocon thrown to the back after a puncture. Kimi was another retired driver too, picking up some debris and suffering a rear-puncture that resulted in suspension damage.

The high attrition rate saw an interesting top ten. Hamilton continued to lead Vettel, with Massa 3rd and Lance Stroll in 4th. Ricciardo was 5th, Hulkenberg 6th, Magnussen 7th, Alonso 8th, Sainz 9th and Grosjean 10th. The decision to deploy a red flag was made on lap 23, the reason being a ridiculous amount of debris on-track.

After a lengthy stoppage, Kimi and Perez were un-retired from the race and allowed to rejoin the back of the pack. On the restart, Hamilton was able to retain his lead but Felipe Massa fell back from 3rd after complaints of an issue on the car. Stroll looked to be on for 3rd, but Ricciardo overtook both Williams cars on the brakes, and jumped into 3rd.

Magnussen was flying on the restart too, overtaking Hulkenberg and Massa to claim 5th, A moment later, Hulkenberg was out of the race after damaging his suspension with a collision with the wall. His loss of 6th prevents Renault from scoring vital points here.

Valtteri Bottas’ weekend was improving after it looked like he’d thrown the weekend away on the lap-1 incident. He was up to 9th, battling with Sainz and Ocon for 7th. On lap 29, Hamilton’s head rest was clearly loose and he was informed over team radio to try and bolt it into place on the straights. The Brit was unable to do this, meaning that a precautionary stop was likely.

Hamilton stopped on lap 31 and emerged in 9th. At the same time, Vettel was given a 10s stop penalty for dangerous driving after the incident on the restart in which he crashed against Hamilton. With the top two drivers having to pit, Ricciardo was promoted to the race lead, with Lance Stroll 2nd and Kevin Magnussen in 3rd. Ocon was 4th, with Bottas closing in. Alonso was 6th, with the battle between Vettel and Hamilton for 7th. On lap 36, Vettel and Hamilton were able to take Alonso, dropping the Spaniard to 8th. On the following lap, Ocon and Bottas overtook Magnussen with DRS for 3rd and 4th.

It was becoming clear that Lance Stroll was having an incredible race. Not only was he keeping in touch with Ricciardo for the lead, but in a race of high attrition in which many experienced drivers were crashing out, the young Canadian was stringing together consistent laps with a 13.8s chasm to Ocon in 4th by lap 40. A huge turnaround of his fortunes and a real on-track response to his critics.

Vettel cleared Ocon for 4th on lap 41 and Hamilton was unable to clear the Force India too, meaning that Vettel was able to build a small gap. The story for the rest of the race concerned Bottas, Vettel and Hamilton closing in on Stroll for 2nd, with Ricciardo doing a solid job of keeping a consistent gap to the young Williams driver.

Bottas would do this on the last lap on the finish line, demoting Stroll to 3rd, his best ever result in F1 and Williams’ first podium in over 12 months. It was a calculated, focused drive from the youngster that should install an air of confidence on track to match the straight-talking away from the circuit. Baku is incredible narrow and retirements from some key players and highly rated drivers only goes to highlight how well Stroll has driven.

Ricciardo picked up the win for Red Bull with Bottas pipping Stroll to 2nd on the line. Vettel secured 4th with Hamilton in tow, unable to mount a last lap challenge to the German driver. We saw the first crack in the rivalry this weekend, beyond the PR induced, borderline gag-worthy happy faces that we’ve seen thus far. We doubt the compliments will be rolling out between each camps after the incidents in Baku.

Ocon was able to bring the car home in 6th after his mid-race puncture following a collision with Perez. Magnussen secured some good points for Haas with 7th but was running as high as 3rd at one point. Sainz finished 8th and Fernando Alonso secured McLaren’s first points of 2017 with 9th. Pascal Wehrlein rounded out the top ten.

 

The result means that Vettel extends his lead to 14-points in the driver standings, and the rivalry could really develop after the incidents that happened in Baku. Bottas’ great recovery drive brings him closer to his teammate in the standings, and Ricciardo’s win see’s the Aussie jump Raikkonen in the standings for 4th. But it isn’t a big step forward for Red Bull with Max Verstappen now retiring from four of the last six races. His points tally is less than half of Ricciardo’s and he is now under some serious pressure from Perez and Ocon in the Force Indias.

In the Constructors, Mercedes extend their gap at the top to 24-points, and Ferrari lose a small amount of ground to Red Bull, but not enough for Scuderia to feel threatened. It’s still a clear two-horse race. Stroll’s fantastic finish has helped Williams massively and makes the Constructors table of much easier reading to the team. They are now 5th, with a 42-point gap to Force India ahead. But now Williams have two drivers who should be able to push on and pick up some double-points finishes from now on, so what was an epic battle for 4th in 2016 between Force India and Williams could be on the cards this season too.