By weird coincidence, I’d decided to take notes during the race (I’ve only done this once before, for an early start when I thought I’d be too sleepy to remember anything not written down). This proved handy, given how chaotic the race was. Shockingly, both McLarens finished, and Alonso got the team’s first points. Good for them, but my bet was red.
On the first lap, Hamilton retained the lead, Bottas and Raikkonen made contact. This shoved the Ferrari a few places back and give Bottas a puncture on the second longest lap of the year (he was a lap down by the time he pitted for fresh rubber). Vettel was in 2nd, Perez in 3rd. Sainz also managed to spin on the first lap (he blamed his team mate, returning from an escape road, but it was simply a matter of the Spaniard cocking up).
On lap 6, Ricciardo pitted to clear debris and have his front wing checked, Vandoorne also pitted and shifted from the soft (he was one of very few to start on the slower tyre) for supersoft.
Palmer retired on lap 9 when reliability failed him, and a lap later the same happened to Kvyat (the Briton managed to return to the pits, the Russian didn’t).
Verstappen had done great work passing Perez for 3rd, but it was all for nought when the Dutchman’s engine stopped working, much to his understandable consternation.
A safety car emerged on lap 12, ostensibly to recover Kvyat’s car, though Coulthard [commentating] was of the opinion it was for show, to bunch up the field and make things exciting. Practically everybody pitted, including Bottas and Ricciardo for a second time each, with Stroll and Hulkenberg coming in a lap later (perhaps to avoid the rush).
The safety car period seemed slow and endless, and it finally came in on lap 16. Drivers had struggled to get heat into their tyres, and on lap 17 the safety car emerged again (due to debris from Raikkonen’s car being on track), taking the field through the pit lane. Hamilton, rightly, questioned the use of a full safety car, which is tedious and slow, over a virtual one.
On lap 19 it was announced the safety car would come in. Hamilton was slower than expected in a corner and Vettel ran into the back of him (although the Briton had maintained a slow pace he had not slammed the brakes on). This made the German angry, he pulled up alongside, gesticulated, and (at very slow speed) knocked tyres with Hamilton.
On lap 20, the Force Indias, who were running 3rd and 4th, decided to collide in an idiotic manoeuvre. This let Massa pass for 3rd, Stroll in 4th and Raikkonen got a puncture from debris. [I do hope you’re keeping up. We aren’t halfway through yet].
The same lap, the safety car emerged, again. Ocon pitted, and Perez retired. Raikkonen also retired and Ricciardo was up to 5th.
Around lap 22/23 the red flag came out due to ‘debris everywhere’ as Alonso put it. The red flag order was: Ham Vet Mas Str Ric Hulk Mag Alo Sai Gro Eri Vand Bott Ocon Wehr.
Under the red flag, they tried to mend Perez’s and Raikkonen’s cars though each man was technically two laps down (this would be reduced to one by the safety car restart, as they’d be allowed to scamper off ahead, as backmarkers).
Racing resumed on lap 25. Ricciardo passed both Williams to rise from 5th to 3rd, Massa made the opposite journey, and Stroll held 4th. It soon became apparent Massa had a serious car problem, he slid down the order then retired. On the same lap, Hulkenberg hit the wall and retired.
Then a stroke of misfortune bedevilled Hamilton. His headrest came loose. He tried shoving it back into place but as a safety issue the team was forced to pit him on lap 31. But, on the very same lap, Vettel was told he would have to take a 10s stop and go penalty for dangerous driving (when he hit Hamilton). The time to fix Hamilton’s headrest was just under 10s, and he had a gap, previous to pitting, of just a few seconds. However, the Briton emerged from the pits into traffic whilst Vettel was running in free air.
Lap 33, Vettel pitted, coming out right ahead of Hamilton and behind Bottas, who had risen to 6th. At this stage, Ricciardo, Stroll and Magnussen were at the front.
Raikkonen and Perez were both handed drive-through penalties for their cars being mended in an inappropriate part of the pit lane.
Magnussen slid down the order, being passed by Ocon, Bottas, then Vettel and Hamilton. Bottas then passed Ocon and went off in pursuit of 2nd (Stroll). On lap 47 there was an interesting radio transmission from Hamilton. He asked if Bottas, were he not fighting anyone, to slow down to back Vettel up a bit. The team replied they wanted Bottas to catch Stroll and to deny Vettel DRS.
On lap 48 Raikkonen retired (again), Perez having done likewise.
On the final lap (51), Bottas passed Stroll at the line, nabbing 2nd by two-tenths. Ricciardo got the win, and Vettel finished 4th, two-tenths ahead of Hamilton.
Ocon ended up 6th. But for their needless crash, Force India would’ve been 1 and 2. A damned shame that a foolish collision, that was wholly unnecessary, ruined what should’ve been a famous victory.
Magnussen was 7th, a good result for Haas (Grosjean was 13th, last of those still running at the flag, but had some sort of brake problems).
Sainz was next, and then Alonso, claiming McLaren’s first couple of points of the year. Mildly annoyed he made my bet red by actually finishing a race for only the second time this year, but good to see him score. Wehrlein got the final point, with Ericsson and Vandoorne finishing outside the points.
So, a hectic race indeed. Vettel finished ahead of Hamilton but only just, extending his title lead by a couple of points (with an old engine to boot). On the other hand, Mercedes extended their title lead over Ferrari by many points.
The Baku circuit is not stellar, but it’s also not wholly responsible for the farce of the multiple safety car starts. The problems are that Pirelli brought compounds that were too hard, and were forbidden from changing them because the deadline had passed. This was coupled with the fact the safety car couldn’t drive fast enough for the drivers to get sufficient heat into the tyres.
There’s also much discussion about Vettel and whether the 10s stop and go penalty was too lenient. The only comparable incident I can recall was during Belgian practice a few years ago when Maldonado deliberately side-swiped Hamilton (with far more contact/damage than the tyre-banging Vettel did). Maldonado received, so far as I recall, no penalty at all.
Vettel was clearly in the wrong. Adding another penalty now, given one has already been handed out, would be a huge call. I’m not sure it’ll happen.
A 14 point gap is by no means insurmountable. It would be level if Hamilton wins the next two races and Vettel is second in both. But this is clearly an opportunity missed for Mercedes, given Vettel’s old engine and the self-inflicted penalty. Said it before, but F1 is prone to more twists of fate than other sports, and Hamilton’s headrest being pulled loose by a gremlin highlights that perfectly.
The gap has increased to Mercedes’ advantage, but should’ve done by a lot more. With slightly weaker reliability for Ferrari, I do think the Silver Arrows stand a good chance of winning this.
An aside, Perez was 201 to win this race. And had he and Ocon not come together, he would’ve probably won, or at least come second.
A weekend of ill-judgement from me, saved by the lucky red flag in qualifying from being totally awful. The race was hectic, though partly that was due to a flaw in the way F1 works, regarding tyre temperatures, and moments were farcical.
The next race is Austria, in a fortnight. One imagines it will be rather more sedate.