As expected, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was mostly tedious with startling bursts of crashing excitement. Betting-wise, because I screwed up and split one stake evenly rather than to equalise profitability, it was very mildly red (with £10 stakes, it was down £1.25). Personally, I finished slightly ahead thanks to an each way tip from Mr. Sandpit on Raikkonen for the win (at 26). Also personally, I had a small bet on Perez to win each way (top 2) at 401. He finished third. I suppose the plus side is that it means I was thinking on the right lines. But it’s still a bit frustrating to get so close...
Anyway. Off the start line, as per the last two races, the pole-sitter (Vettel) retained the lead. There was small carnage behind, however, with Raikkonen and Ocon colliding (Ocon’s fault, and he paid for it with a DNF). Hulkenberg looked to have clumsily tagged Sirotkin, who then hit Alonso. The Spaniard was ok, the Russian was not, and also left the race.
We had a lap 1 safety car.
Vettel made the restart very slow, bunching up the pack, and then we were underway again. In the meantime, Raikkonen and Alonso had both pitted. Behind the leader we had Hamilton and Bottas, then the two Red Bulls.
Hulkenberg, who was just one place behind Sainz (roughly 7th), made a mistake as took himself out. Disappointing, frankly.
Verstappen got past Ricciardo, banging wheels but causing no damage. Some time later, after much dicing, Ricciardo passed his team mate. Raikkonen, meanwhile, was one place but ended up over 20s behind the Red Bulls as the Ferrari struggled on the soft tyre (tyre temperatures were a problem all race, with Red Bull and Mercedes struggling early on to get temperatures up).
Behind the Finn, Sainz and, surprisingly, Leclerc were doing well.
Hamilton pitted for the soft tyre, and immediately struggled. Vettel pitted a little while later for the same tyre, but Hamilton’s slow pace meant Bottas might be able to come in and emerge ahead of his team mate, though it would be tight.
The two Red Bulls pitted, and the tyre temperature problem meant that Ricciardo, ahead on track and with first call, emerged behind Verstappen. The two were close together and the Aussie closed up on the very long straight. Verstappen weaved about, which he isn’t meant to do (and for which I’ve criticised him in the past). Ricciardo closed up a lot, locked up, and ran into the back of his team mate, taking out the pair of them.
A second safety car emerged. Just as it seemed about to come in, Grosjean embarrassed himself and annoyed every spectator by crashing into a wall in an awkward spot, adding about five laps (and leaving a similar number to be raced) to the safety car period.
Under the safety car the top four (Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen) all pitted for the ultrasoft tyre. Behind them were Perez, Sainz (promoted thanks to Grosjean’s mistake), and Leclerc.
Bottas repeated Vettel’s slow strategy, but on the long straight Vettel went for the pass and locked up hugely, putting him down to 4th, and then 5th behind Perez. The win was Bottas’... until with just a few laps to go he ran over debris, got a puncture and was out of the race.
Out of nowhere, and as undeserved as his loss in Australia was unlucky, Hamilton won. Raikkonen, who had cocked up in qualifying, had an early collision and not made much progress all race, was 2nd. Perez, who dropped back early on but thereafter drove very well indeed, got 3rd (and has more Azerbaijan podium finishes than any other man).
Vettel’s 4th means he suffered damage to his title hopes but it could’ve been a lot worse. A bit unlucky that he went for the win and paid a significant price, but that was down to him. Sainz got 5th, a great result for the Spaniard and his team, locked as it is in a tight battle to be best of the rest.
But driver of the day must be Charles Leclerc, the newcomer from Monaco who got 6th in a Sauber. Excellent stuff.
Behind him, Alonso fought back from a very early pit stop to claim 7th, Stroll ended up 8th to get Williams their first points of the year, Vandoorne nabbed 9th, making it yet another double points finish for McLaren, and Hartley scored his first ever point in 10th.
So, a tumultuous start, and an eventful finish, with the odd moment of farce. Red Bull were a bit slow early on but later showed decent pace and should’ve been 4th and 5th. Whose fault was the crash? Whilst Verstappen shouldn’t be weaving about, and I’ve criticised him for that in the past, it was Ricciardo’s fault, in my view.
Just remembered the Raikkonen/Ocon incident is under investigation. A 10s time penalty would cause Mr. Sandpit's tip to become a loser, but my tip on Perez to become a winner.
For what it's worth, I think they'll just have no further action. Giving a time penalty in such circumstances would be very controversial and probably unfair (the matter should've been settled during the race and I have no idea why it wasn't).
Because the Constructors’ has changed so much, here’s the full list:
Red Bull 55
Force India 16
Toro Rosso 13
Just consider how many points Red Bull and Haas have thrown away. Red Bull now has a 50% DNF rate. Haas had a great double position in Australia, and today Grosjean would’ve ended up about 5th, all else being equal. For all the crisis talk at McLaren, they’re currently best of the rest, though it’s very close with Renault. Meanwhile, Perez’s podium lifts Force India from being second to last all the way to 6th. Whilst Sauber remain near the foot of the table, Leclerc’s great result means they’re within fighting distance of the teams ahead. Indeed, Haas are just 1 point away.
At the sharp end, it’s also very close. Both Mercedes and Ferrari have a single DNF apiece.
Very tight at the top. But for that late puncture, Bottas would be there, ahead of Vettel and Hamilton, who would be separated by a single point. But there we are. The Finns have 1 DNF each, Ricciardo has 2, and Alonso 0.
Anyway, the next race is Spain, in a fortnight. Probably be a bit less work for the marshals there.