29 Apr 2018
Ambient 16° Track 25° Humidity 23% Wind 3.5 m/s
There's wind and there's wind and then there's today in the paddock. The winner of the F2 race, George Russell described the wind as "scary" and that's with an F2 car. F1 cars have infinitely tricksier aero and the impact on them will be exponentially more entertaining, unless, of course, one is actually having to pilot them.
The abject woes of RoGro continued with a 5 spot penalty for the luckless Frenchman due to a changed gearbox after yesterday's qualifying debacle, blunted by the fact that already being at the back of the grid it was a paper penalty only. Also experiencing woe is unfortunate Toro Rosso driver Hartley, with rumours on Dutch TV that management are having quiet conversations with a certain Pascal Wehrlein.
Continuing the theme of misery, it turns out that the large piece of bodywork that came off the HAAS yesterday was the bargeboard from KMag's car. The team, unable to repair it between Q1 and Q2, sent him out anyway and not surprisingly, the balance of the car was, ummm, somewhat altered. Though the bright side for the viewers is once again, entertainment from out of position drivers...
Proof of the aero pudding as it were, both Ericsson and Leclerc had off track adventures on their way round to the grid. But with the sun out, the track was not too far off qualifying temps, unlike the ambient, which saw the majority of fans with jackets and hats.
Lights Out!!!! The chaotic run down to T1 saw Vettel with a kicking start. Disaster for Ocon, into the wall and out of the race. Having mometarily taken 6th from Raikkonen, after Kimi lost out to Ricciardo, Ocon tried to shut the door on the Ferrari and instead collected the Finn's front wing and collected a get out of racing free card.
Safety Car out, slow stop for Raikkonen, with many bits having to be replaced. Sirotkin also lost a race ending battle with Alonso and wound up parked right behind Ocon, the marshals getting an early test. Kmag into the pits as well with a double puncture and early days it's Gasly P10 and Hulk P9 making the most of the carnage.
Perez lost his wing after getting wailed on from behind by Sirotkin and shoved into the car ahead of him before the Russian went backward to subsequently tangle with Fernando. Apparently the Ericsson also played a bit of footsie with Magnusson, resulting in a double puncture for the HAAS and as the SC continued on lap 4, Alonso was told of floor damage from his melee with the Williams.
Of course, the long run down to T1 weighed heavily on the drivers, after several laps at a slow pace, cold tyres and brakes were poised to make the braking point a bit of informed speculation at 300+ kph. Again, entertainment for all but those behind the wheel...
Lap 5 and the SC was in, bit of chicken from Vettel as he almost got Hamilton to rear end him, good start from the top 3 and it was Lewis defending. Verstappen attacked Ricciardo and shoved his way past and Sainz just about got the both of them. Gasly was up the inside and by Stroll into P8 and Leclerc in the points with a P10.
Verstappen missed T15 and Sainz subsequently got by him for P4 but Max fought back and managed to retake the position. Sainz was on the Ultras compared to Verstappen on the Supers and the faster tyre was working well for the Spaniard. During that battle Vettel had been putting in fast laps and had pulled out a 3 second gap on Hamilton, with Bottas another 2 seconds back.
Lap 8 and Verstappen was complaining that his ERS wasn't properly recharging, the defense against Sainz. And it was an easy pass for Carlos with the battery run down while behind, Hulkenberg took advantage of a Ricciardo mistake to go P6 as Sainz disappeared into the distance. Continual complaints from Verstappen about his pace on the straights as Hulkenberg got the job done under DRS for P5. The team implacably telling him to maintain Mode 7 despite the loss of position.
T11 and it all went sideways for the Hulk though as he locked the rears, spun it into T4 and into the wall and out of the race went the Renault driver. Baku continued to be a bogey track for the German with another unforced error ending his day early.
Max continued to wail about clipping on the radio, but still got his elbows all the way out to block his teammate rolling by, going quite wide and initiating a bit of contact that was beyond what might be described as a friendly nudge. Fortunate that both their days didn't end right there. The initiator of the chaos? One Charles Leclerc in P7 rapidly rocking up to the gearbox of Danny Ricky, who was also told to initiate the dreaded Mode 7 to refill the battery.
A similar complaint from Ricciardo echoed that from Verstappen, that Mode 7 wasn't getting the job done. The team told him the battery was recharging, but apparently it was still draining on the straight. At a guess, the usage map wasn't playing well with the charging map.
Lap 15 and it was Verstappen, finally having sorted his ERS and back onto the sort of pace that one normally expected from a Red Bull. Raikkonen continued his drive of redemption, P8 and past Stroll. Sainz was in for a new set of tyres as his pace had been dropping. Back out P12 with a set of Supers.
Moment of the race, F1 telling us "first lap incidents turn 2 and 3 ALL noted". Gonna be days for them to sort that mess. Lewis had a moment, over the kerb and wide as Vettel continued to pull away at tenths per lap. 4.5 seconds and degradation of the rears now on the minds of the Mercedes pitwall. As the pit stop loomed for Mercedes, Lewis radioed in that the Supers suffered from a poor warm up at the start of the race.
Lap 19 and Ericsson had an off. Raikkonen, who had earlier complained of DRS issue, was given permission for manual activation. Ericsson's off allowed Hartley up to P13. The Sauber driver complained of vibration, but it wasn't apparent to the team.
Lap 21 and Perez was by Stroll, who helpfully then locked up and created a nice gap for the Force India driver. Lewis was now on it and chunking tenths back out of Vettel, but the Ferrari was safely out of the undercut. And Lewis was off with a giant lockup just after a call to change a chassis setting.
Lap 22 and in went Hamilton, with the call that the tyres were done, but not until he lost another 5 seconds to Vettel, crushing Mercedes' strategy. P3 on the way out with a set of Softs, just ahead of Verstappen. Meanwhile, Perez had closed to DRS on Leclerc as he began to finally make up for his early stop.
Lap 25 and Perez investigated for overtaking before the Safety Car line, docked +5 seconds by the stewards. Leclerc in and out with a set of Softs. Hamilton's pace continued to plague Verstappen, who was quicker over the lap, but lacked the punch to get round him. This brought Ricciardo back up to Max and was about to leave him vulnerable as Lewis finally got the tyres up to temp and rocked off into the distance.
Leclerc, back out behind Alonso, easily swapped places. And then Ricciardo had a go into T1 on lap 27, nosed ahead but Max kept his foot in and took the place back on the inside of the next turn. The battle was spectacular but in the long game it was costing them both. Stroll took a place from Alonso after a lockup by the Spaniard, P11 for the Williams as the McLaren continued to struggle with the loss of downforce from his early incident.
Rogro complained of insanity over is team radio, possibly the result of Perez and Vettel looked to be readying his only stop on lap 31. Softs the choice of the day, and he was out well in front of Hamilton, round about 10 seconds. This left Bottas in the lead, and the option for Mercedes had now shifted to running Bottas long and then tossing him onto the Ultras for a late charge.
Sainz became the second driver to complain of cold front tyres, after Raikkonen previously brought up the exact same issue with his team. This was after just 15 laps for Carlos, versus 30 laps for Kimi on the Softs. Lewis was making time on Vettel as the Ferrari adjusted to its new set of tyres, closing the gap to 7.5 seconds. But it was Bottas he was racing, 19 seconds up the road and working hard to clear Lewis from his pit window.
Lap 34 and it was north of 20 seconds between the Mercedes, Vettel almost a bystander at this point to the real drama on the track. Red Bull had gone with a long run in a desperate attempt to clear Raikkonen, but all it really did was bring Ricciardo into range and Ricciardo just didn't bother to brake into T1 and breezed by Verstappen for P4, returning all the previous favors with a bit of interest.
Bottas meanwhile had seen the pendulum swing the other way, with Hamilton now just 18 seconds back of the Finn, and 6.5 seconds back of Vettel. Mercedes also hanging out, waiting for a potential Safety Car, though with Ricciardo safely by Verstappen, the odds on that had to have dropped considerably.
Lap 37 and the traffic that had slowed Bottas earlier, had now impacted Hamilton, and he was back to 20 seconds back of his teammate. From a WDC point of view, of course, the points loss from P2 to P3 is less than P2 to P1, so in a sense it was in his interests to see Bottas take the win.
Lap 38 and Verstappen followed Ricciardo in, and managed to get the place back in the pits, due to the slow tyre warm up. Lap 40 and still Bottas stayed out, strategy boffins calculating overtime, under the watchful eye of James Vowles.
Lap 40 and the fratricidal feeling between the Red Bulls exploded with Ricciardo dead into the back of his teammate and both out of the race, after Verstappen once again weaved about in the braking zone and caught Danny Ricky out. Max's late move in front of his teammate having taken a large quantity of downforce of the front wing of Ricciardo and (certainly inadvertently) doomed them both. Safety Car out and both Mercedes onto the Ultras with Valterri maintaining his lead. Vettel, too, was off with a fresh set of Ultras and it was a sprint to the finish between the top 3 as all the gaps collapsed.
Lap 43 and the Safety Car still circled the track, bringing the cars through the pitlane as the mess at T1 was cleared as furious messages between drivers and pitwalls cluttered the ether. Bit of confusion between Hamilton and his race engineer, over some minor brake glazing, with the best procedure for dealing with it taking up some time.
AND THEN, oh my, RoGro, weaving behind the Safety Car lost the car and put it heavily into the wall from P7, putting him out of the race. Bit of confusion, but Grosjean maintaining that there was contact with the Sauber behind him. The replay showed decisively otherwise. Oddly, this put Magnussen into P10 on brand new Ultras, with Alonso in a wounded McLaren directly ahead of him. Perez P5, Sainz, P6 Leclerc in the recently vacated P7 and once again, by dint of not crashing, Stroll in P8 and in the points at one of his favorite tracks.
Lap 45 and the Safety Car continued, a magnificently emotional display from Grosjean as he returned to his garage, comforted by a mechanic, a reciprocation of his magnanimous gesture in Australia. Hamilton, on the radio, complained of the truck parked on track at a very narrow spot, saying Whiting should have red flagged the race.
Lap 47 and the Safety Car was in, cold tyres and brakes with the track down to 23°C and 2 km to T1 and a 4 lap sprint to the finish. Bottas went early, good restart from Lewis and Hamilton went side by side with Vettel down the long strait to T1. Vettel went for a late move up the inside on Bottas into T1, massive lock up for the Ferrari and as he went wide crossing the track in front of Bottas it was Lewis was by for P2 and the top 2 spots for Mercedes. Raikkonen to P3 (holy hopping redemption, Kimi) as the damage was done for Sebastian's chances.
Lap 48 and suddenly a puncture for Bottas, and Perez got by Vettel to make things even worse, or better, depending on your perspective. Bottas reported that the tyre just blew up, so yeah, there's that, too. The WDC now flipped on its head, and with 2 laps free of drama Hamilton was in position to take the lead in the championship. Raikkonen now P2 with Perez P3, Vettel P4 and Sainz rounding out the top 5. On replay, it looked to be debris on the track that took out the frontrunner. One can only imagine the size of Hamilton's eyes as he saw his teammate flailing about with a trashed rear tyre.
Last lap and Vettel with DRS chasing Perez and Stroll in P7 desperately trying to dislodge Leclerc ahead of him. T16 for Lewis, down the strait and he tooks the chequers, no doubt thanking the appropriate deities, winning the race he should've had in Australia as well as taking the championship lead. Perez maintained for a Force India podium, putting Vettel back and it was nothing doing from Stroll, as Leclerc took P6 ahead of him. Sainz with a miraculous P5, putting a little shine back on his reputation, and somehow McLaren emerged with 2 points positions, Alonso P7 and Vandoorne P9. And of course it was Hartley in P10, because why not at this point. Kmag and Gasly had an incident on the restart that very much explains things, and as with much else, the full story yet to be told by the stewards, so take these positions with a very large grain of post race salt....
Well, well, well F1 has once again managed to make some lemonade in Baku. Thanks very much to the astonishing display of internecine warfare from Red Bull and the late Safety Car. Brilliant drive from the rookie Leclerc at a difficult to manage circuit. Epically catastrophic for Grosjean, rapidly becoming the Pagliacci of F1 with his emotive displays and keen grasp of tragic narrative. And a miracle finish for Hamilton, taking the win after the race had clearly taken him well out of contention and not inconsequentially the lead in the WDC. But it was Vettel who looked dominant, until the win it or bin it attitude took him out of P2 and handed the race to his nearest competitor in the WDC. Fortunately for the WCC, Raikkonen was there to sweep up the second spot on the podium and with the retirement of Bottas, Ferrari is still well in the hunt for the only prize that pays....
I used to have a coach, football for the rest of the world, soccer on my side of the pond, who said he would always choose a lucky player over a good player and perhaps this race exemplifies that attitude. However, those enamored of numbers will also look to Australia and simply see it as the law of large numbers playing out over the course of a season. Or, my fave, that the racing gods are both cruel and capricious, and one ignores them at their peril.... Bottas' retirement was the nastiest strike imaginable unless of course you're a fan of Red Bull, in which case better make that Bloody Mary a double, because it's going to be a long, long interval until the next race.
Excellent strategy from Mercedes to put Bottas into the window to win, acknowledging post race that going long was another way to play the probabilities of a very likely late Safety Car. Vicious luck to put Bottas out and perhaps some self reflection from Vettel about who exactly he's racing for what. Heading to Barcelona where Mercedes was dominant in testing but with Ferrari now looking to have the best car, it's all to play for...
And remember to play nice in the comments!!