After the events of F1’s landmark 1,000th Grand Prix, it was to the streets of Baku for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. The fastest street circuit on the calendar has thrown up some chaotic races in the past two years but for 2019, that was a safe description for the weekend as a whole.
There were crashes galore with Robert Kubica and Charles Leclerc landing it in the barrier at turn 7; the narrowest turn on the calendar in Qualifying while George Russell came a cropper as a result of a loose drain cover in the first practice session. A number of drivers had close shaves with the barriers and at the end of a much delayed Qualifying hour, it was not the Ferrari on pole position. Despite Ferrari bringing upgrades to Baku, it did not pan out well with Leclerc in the wall in Q2 as Mercedes locked out the front row again with Valtteri Bottas claiming his second successive pole position.
Just like in China though, it was Hamilton who got the better launch off the line. However, Bottas did not give ground and stuck it out around the outside as he led from his teammate; the first time the pole sitter has led at the end of the opening lap this season. He did not lead uninterrupted from start to finish however as Leclerc running long on the Medium tyres took the lead when Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen had all pitted by lap 15 as he recovered from a difficult start switching the tyres on. By lap 30, they were coming back at him as Ferrari kept Leclerc out to prolong his stint which allowed Bottas, Hamilton and then Vettel through.
There was no safety car during the race but there was Virtual Safety car (VSC). That was brought out after Pierre Gasly was forced to pull over with a driveshaft issue on lap 38. It was also around that time that a brake pedal issue forced Romain Grosjean to retire. However, the more bizarre incident had happened a few laps earlier when Daniel Ricciardo locked up going into turn 3 while racing Daniil Kvyat for 10th. After running wide, he reversed into the Toro Rosso who had taken evasive measures in stopping. Both drivers failed to finish.
After the restart, Hamilton hounded Bottas for the lead as the race reached a thrilling conclusion. However, to was Bottas who after losing the race win in Baku 12 months ago after a late puncture, came off better to hold on for his second win of the season. Vettel struggled with his tyres after the restart as he collected his second successive 3rd place finish and Verstappen finished 4th for Red Bull. A late pit stop allowed Leclerc to pick up the point for the fastest lap in a distant 5th.
Sergio Perez capped off a fantastic weekend in Baku by finishing 6th for his best result of the season after starting 5th. Behind him were both McLaren’s with Carlos Sainz finishing 7th and Lando Norris 8th after a late pit stop as the Woking based team picked up their first double points finish in a year. Lance Stroll in 9th meant Racing Point also got their first double points finish of the season while Kimi Raikkonen recovered from a pit lane start to finish 10th and maintain his 100% record of scoring points this season. The man who did that feat last time out in China; Alexander Albon finished 11th.
2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Result
Q1: 1st Pierre Gasly 1:41.335……………15th Daniel Ricciardo 1:42.486
OUT: 16th Lance Stroll +0.144, 17th Romain Grosjean +0.921, 18th Nico Hulkenberg +0.941, 19th George Russell +2.576, 20th Robert Kubica +2.969
Q2: 1st Max Verstappen………10th Antonio Giovinazzi 1:42.381
OUT: 11th Carlos Sainz +0.017, 12th Daniel Ricciardo 0.096, 13th Alexander Albon +0.115, 14th Kevin Magnussen +0.318, 15th Pierre Gasly (no time set).
Q3: 1st Valtteri Bottas 1:40.495, 2nd Lewis Hamilton +0.059, 3rd Sebastian Vettel +0.302, 4th Max Verstappen +0.574, 5th Sergio Perez +1.098, 6th Daniil Kvyat +1.186, 7th Lando Norris +1.391, 8th Antonio Giovinazzi +1.929, 9th Kimi Raikkonen +2.573, 10th Charles Leclerc (no time set)
1st Valtteri Bottas 1:31:52.942, 2nd Lewis Hamilton +1.524, 3rd Sebastian Vettel +11.739, 4th Max Verstappen +17.493, 5th Charles Leclerc +69.107, 6th Sergio Perez +76.416, 7th Carlos Sainz +83.826, 8th Lando Norris +100.268, 9th Lance Stroll +103.816, 10th Kimi Raikkonen +1 lap, 11th Alexander Albon +1 lap, 12th Antonio Giovinazzi +1 lap, 13th Kevin Magnussen +1 lap, 14th Nico Hulkenberg +1 lap, 15th George Russell +2 laps, 16th Robert Kubica +2 laps, Pierre Gasly DNF, Romain Grosjean DNF, Daniil Kvyat DNF, Daniel Ricciardo DNF
Fastest Lap: Charles Leclerc 1:43.009
Team by Team Review
Qualifying: Valtteri Bottas 1st, Lewis Hamilton 2nd
Race Result: Valtteri Bottas 1st, Lewis Hamilton 2nd
Drivers Points: Valtteri Bottas 25, Lewis Hamilton 18
Constructors Points: 43
Mercedes seem to be the master of managing expectations this season. Again they placed emphasis on Ferrari arguing they would be the team to beat in Baku. They were for a while as Mercedes trailed them by almost 1.5 seconds going into Qualifying yet when it mattered they pulled it out of the bag to secure their third front-row lockout of the season. They expected Ferrari to pose a huge threat in the race but Mercedes managed that beautifully too allowing their drivers to race and secured their fourth successive 1-2 race finish which Team Principal Toto Wolff described as ‘another fantastic performance from the entire team’. It is the best start to a season for any Constructor in F1 history, surpassing the previous best of three 1-2 finishes set by Williams in 1992.
Lewis Hamilton has not always performed well in Baku. He won there last year but was extremely fortunate and he wanted to improve on his performances in Azerbaijan. To an extent, he did that but still finished behind his teammate. The reigning Champion lost three tenths in the opening sector on his final Q3 run and that proved the difference despite two stellar sectors afterwards. Hamilton got a good launch off the grid and was challenging Bottas for the end at turns 1 and 2 but he feels he ‘was a bit too cautious’. Being unable to jump his teammate on lap 1, he did not have the first call on strategy which compromised him slightly but he piled the pressure on his teammate all the way until the final lap. As a whole, he did do better than he has in the past in Baku, but it wasn’t enough to beat his teammate who felt ‘deserved the win’.
Redemption is sweet isn’t it Valtteri Bottas? The Finn was cruelly denied what would have been deserved victory in Baku last year when he ran over some debris with three laps remaining. History did not repeat itself for Bottas who barely put a foot wrong all weekend. That said, he started the weekend half a second adrift of Hamilton in practice but that just makes what followed all the more impressive. When it mattered in the final Qualifying runs, he managed to find that little bit extra time to pip his teammate to pole position and was not phased when Hamilton pressured him in the opening turns despite being precariously close to the barriers. He kept his foot down and got his reward with the lead. Bottas controlled his race pace very well and after pitting on lap 11 easily caught up with the Ferrari of Leclerc and had enough in the bag to keep his chasing teammate behind to pick up his second win of the season. It wasn’t all easy for him though. The key was as he said post-race, ‘to make sure to not make any mistakes’. He did not and it was a thoroughly deserved win.
Ratings: Mercedes 10/10, Valtteri Bottas 10/10, Lewis Hamilton 9/10.
Qualifying: Sebastian Vettel 3rd, Charles Leclerc 10th
Race Result: Sebastian Vettel 3rd, Charles Leclerc 5th
Drivers Points: Sebastian Vettel 15, Charles Leclerc 11
Constructors Points: 26
Pre-season favourites Ferrari brought big upgrades to what they described as an ‘important’ Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend. The pace in practice suggested they were working with Ferrari almost 1.5 seconds faster than their nearest rivals Mercedes going into Qualifying. However, their chances of a favourable result dwindled during Qualifying as Leclerc hit the wall in Q2 and Vettel could only manage 3rd in Q3. The race was a similar story of frustration. Mattia Binotto praised both of his drivers for putting in good race drives but it seems that Ferrari still have issues trying to get the best out of their car which Vettel has described as a ‘Rubik’s cube’. They struggled on the soft tyre but for a limited window were able to extract some solid race pace but overall they are not happy. Binotto concluded ‘Our performance did not love up to our expectations…our pace was not good enough’.
It is another weekend of what if’s for Charles Leclerc. The Monegasque driver was quickest in all three Practice sessions and looked set to be Ferrari’s best chance at pole position before he carried too much speed into the narrow turn 7 and beached his car in the wall. He knew it as he berated himself on team radio, ‘I am stupid’. That arguably cost him a chance at the win. In the race, he did not get a great start on the Medium tyre as he lost a place to Ricciardo but he soon gained that back and was leading for a large chunk of the race from lap 13. It is questionable if Ferrari could have pitted him sooner as his pace against Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel deteriorated to the extent they all breezed past him before Ferrari eventually pitted him on lap 34. Ferrari claim they weren’t confident on how long the soft tyre would last. That uncertainty put Leclerc so far back that even a podium fell out of reach and Ferrari pitted him again to allow him an attempt at the final lap point ‘after it became clear we could not get further up the order’. He duly picked the point up but it was not a great weekend.
Sebastian Vettel may well have been outperformed by his teammate for large parts of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend but when it mattered most, he kept it on the road and out of the walls. That is half the battle. While he could be disappointed to have been beaten in Qualifying by the Mercedes pair, third was not a bad starting spot given the pole sitter had not won in the past two years. However, off the line, he struggled for grip which meant he fell back from the Mercedes in the opening stint as Ferrari triggered the early pit stops on lap 11. On the Medium tyre, he was able to close up to them as ‘ I had fun because I felt the car was fully under control and I felt free to push’ but after the VSC, he was unable to get the heat back into the tyres to mount a serious challenge. That said, he still had enough in hand to keep the Red Bull of Verstappen behind to finish on the podium for the second time this season and for the first time in Baku.
Ratings: Ferrari 7/10, Sebastian Vettel 8/10, Charles Leclerc 6/10.
Aston Martin Red Bull Racing
Qualifying: Max Verstappen 4th, Pierre gassy 15th
Race Result: Max Verstappen 4th, Pierre Gasly DNF
Drivers Points: Max Verstappen 12, Pierre Gasly 0
Constructors Points: 12
Red Bull were given a boost by Honda for Azerbaijan in the form of new engine modes they could use and the evidence suggested they were certainly an improvement as overall, they looked closer to Mercedes and Ferrari. Team Principal Christian Horner was surprised by their Qualifying performance but were compromised by Gasly starting from the pit lane after an earlier infringement in the weekend. The race showed plenty of promise for the Milton Keynes outfit although it ended on a mixed note. Horner was full of praise for his drivers for their performances but a driveshaft issue forced gasly to retire while Verstappen extracted all he could to finish 4th for a Red Bull team happy to get at least one car to the end. However, Horner believes ‘it’s positive that we’ve taken a step closer to Mercedes and Ferrari’ which means they could soon be challenging for the podium again…
Pierre Gasly just about had a nightmare time of it in Baku. First, he missed a summons to the weighbridge in second practice meaning he would be forced to start from the pit lane. Then, he was thrown out of Qualifying result due to a fuel mass issue and then he didn’t even finish the race. That said, there were some good signs from the weekend for Gasly. He set the quickest time in Q1 but because of his earlier penalty, he did not run in Q2. From the pit lane start, he progressed calmly through the field and was up to 6th by lap 13 and was briefly 5th twice as he took the Medium tyre further than Leclerc had been able to in the Ferrari. That was before a driveshaft issue forced him to pull over and retire the car on lap 38. Despite the disappointment though, Gasly feels, ‘This weekend has been a lot better than the first three races. I felt better with the car and I’ve been able to drive more the way I want to’. Hopefully, he can put it all together in Spain.
What is there to say about Max Verstappen. He put in another splendid performance in Baku and was again comfortably quicker than gasly throughout the weekend. In Qualifying, he did not benefit from a tow in Q3 as Red Bull opted for a fast, slow, fast run instead of two goes at it and watched as his potential front row start fell to 4th. In the race, he lost a place to the Racing Point of Perez on the opening lap but regained that position on lap 6. In that 5 laps though, he lost time to Vettel and it looked a tall order to regain it. That said, once he pitted for the Medium tyre on lap 14, he was closing up to Vettel before the VSC came out triggered by his teammate. That suggests a podium was possible but Red Bull instructed him to drive conservatively just to ensure he got to the finish but that was not helped by losing ‘too much tyre temperature’ during the VSC. Overall though, it was another excellent performance from Verstappen who will be hoping to get onto the podium again soon.
Ratings: Red Bull 7/10, Max Verstappen 8/10, Pierre Gasly 6/10.
Qualifying: Sergio Perez 5th, Lance Stroll 16th
Race Result: Sergio Perez 6th, Lance Stroll 9th
Driver Points: Sergio Perez 8, Lance Stroll 2
Constructor Points: 10
In their previous guise as Force India, Racing Point have tended to be strong around the Baku Street Circuit and under their new name, 2019 proved no exception although they were left with a lot of work to do after Friday practice. The Silverstone based team produced their best Qualifying of the season through Sergio Perez who qualified on the third row and ‘best of the rest’. They kept that tag in the race with the Mexican keeping the McLaren’s behind while a recovery drive from Lance Stroll saw them pick up their first double points finish of 2019 as Team Principal Otmar Szafnauer claimed, ‘This was certainly one of our more competitive tracks, but the car has been well balanced for most of the weekend and that should be a good sign for the races to come.’
Coming into this weekend, Sergio Perez was the only driver with multiple podiums in Baku and while he did not get on the podium again, his performance showed he loves this circuit. The Mexican was comfortably quicker than his teammate all weekend and duly out-qualified him on his way to reaching not just Q3 but qualifying 5th; his best of the season. A strong Qualifying performance was matched with an equally strong race start as he got the better of Verstappen on the opening lap and kept the Red Bull behind for five laps all the while, he was concentrating more on keeping the McLaren’s behind. He dropped down to 11th when he pitted at the end of lap 7 and was up to 7th by lap 13 which became 6th when Gasly retired. All the while, he had the McLaren’s for company and always seemed to have enough in the bag to keep them behind to finish the race ‘best of the rest’ and cap off a fantastic weekend for the Mexican.
It was not quite such a straightforward weekend for Lance Stroll. The Canadian dumped his car into the wall in second practice which limited his running to 8 laps before he was caught out by Kubica’s crash in Q1 as he exited at the first part of Qualifying for the 8th race in a row. Like his teammate further up the field, he had a very good start as he got passed Magnussen and Albon off the line and was up to 9th by lap 4. His pit stop on lap 10 dropped him down to 18th but from there he progressed through the field and made it into the points after Hulkenberg and Kyat’s incident. That was not lost on Stroll who admitted they ‘were fortunate with the contact between Kvyat and Ricciardo…but the car felt good throughout the race.’ It was a good recovery drive from Stroll to pick up points but his one lap pace in Qualifying really needs to improve if he is to regularly challenge Perez for supremacy in the team.
Ratings: Racing Point 8/10, Sergio Perez 9.5/10, Lance Stroll 7/10
Qualifying: Lando Norris 7th, Carlos Sainz 12th
Race Result: Carlos Sainz 7th, Lando Norris 8th
Drivers Points: Carlos Sainz 6, Lando Norris 4
Constructor Points: 10
After their nightmare at F1’s 1,000th, McLaren were hoping for a much cleaner weekend in Baku where they could demonstrate their pace. they certainly got that in Azerbaijan. Both drivers managed to complete their practice programmes despite the limited Friday running and McLaren came close to getting both cars into Q3. While Carlos said missed out, 11th was not a bad place to be with a free choice of tyre and they used that well to get both drivers into the points. A strong showing from the two drivers saw McLaren picked up 10 points as both of their drivers finished in the points for the teams first double points finish since this race last year which Sporting Director Gil de Ferran described as ‘a good day at the office’.
At the fourth time of asking, it eventually fell into place for Carlos Sainz on a race day. He was closely matched with his teammate in terms of pace in Baku and only the finest of margins denied him a spot in Q3 as yellow flags cost him. Qualifying 11th meant he was the first man with a free choice of fresh tyres and also started in the top 10 after the penalties picked up by the Alfa Romeo’s. He used the fresh tyres to his advantage by passing Leclerc on the opening lap and then the Toro Rosso of Kvyat on lap 3 as well as his teammate for 7th on lap 8 before pitting on lap 12. He came out behind his teammate though and trailed him until a late pit stop allowed him to try and close down Perez in front. He wasn’t able to do it but 7th at least opens his account for 2019 though after a solid drive. Afterwards, Sainz had this to say, ‘Happy to score good points today…I knew it was just a matter of time and having a clean race. Today we showed solid pace throughout the whole race’.
Lando Norris had another good showing at McLaren. The British youngster did fantastically well to out-qualify his teammate and get into Q3 before he then out-qualified both Alfa Romeo’s for 7th. A good start saw him get passed Kvyat on the opening lap without the repeat of the carnage in China but he soon lost ground to Leclerc and Saiz before he pitted for fresh tyres on lap 9. That worked to his advantage as he was ahead of his teammate after he pitted and only a late call to pit under the VSC for fresher tyres to try and attack Perez prevented him from finishing where he started. Norris described the thinking behind that call was ‘the other tyres, the medium, while not worn, had done a lot and wouldn’t be able to turn on as well’. It didn’t work in his favour but despite that, Norris did very well in Baku as he played his part in a double point finish for McLaren.
Ratings: McLaren 8/10, Carlos Sainz 8/10, Lando Norris 8/10.
Qualifying: Antonio Giovinazzi 8th, Kimi Raikkonen 9th
Race Result: Kimi Raikkonen 10th, Antonio Giovinazzi 12th
Drivers Points: Kimi Raikkonen 1, Antonio Giovinazzi 0
Constructors Points: 1
I am not quite sure where Alfa Romeo is in the pecking order but they left Baku with a sense of disappointment. If not for penalties this could have been more than just 1 point. The team showed promising pace in practice before they managed to get both cars into Q3 for the first time this season. That was tainted by a 10 place grid penalty for Giovinazzi after the Italian took on new engine part components while a flexible front wing forced Raikkonen to start from the pit lane. That came as a surprise to team principal Frederic Vasseur who argued, ‘on Antonio’s car, the same front wing with the same specification were fine’. Despite that, they managed to recover a point which is a good result in itself given the circumstances as Vasseur admitted their race was ‘damage limitation’.
Friday practice suggested that Kimi Raikkonen would face a stiffer challenge from his teammate in Baku. That proved to be the case as the Iceman was out-qualified by his Italian teammate for the first time. Still, it was a top 10 start or so they thought. The flexible front wing saw Raikkonen thrown out of the Qualifying result and forced to start from the obi lane. That did not stop him from getting a point on the board however as he co tines to be the only driver outside of the top two teams to score points in every race this season. In the race, the 2007 Champion struggled for tyre temperature and after pitting to get rid of the soft tyre relatively early on lap 6, managed to preserve his Medium tyres to the end as he snook into the points in 10th. The Iceman is not one to mince his words, ‘Bit disappointed as I was expecting a lot more but I have the feeling that the next race will be easier for us’ but that said, recovering from the pit lane to 10th was a very good result.
It was a shame for Antonio Giovinazzi that when it looks like he is getting it right for the first time this season he is compromised heavily by penalties. The Italian showed decent pace in practice and got into Q3 for the first time in his F1 career on his way to out-qualifying Raikkonen for the first time. However, a 10 place grid penalty loomed for him taking on new engine components. That said, he had a promising start as he passed both Russell and Grosjean on the opening lap before pitting to get rid of the Soft tyre on lap 7. Like his teammate, he was able to take the Medium tyre to the end but he struggled more in the midfield traffic. Albon finding his way past on lap 32 looked to have relegated him to 13th before gassy’s DNF raised him to 12th in what he described as ‘a challenging race’. It is a shame his performance was not rewarded with points given he still started ahead of Raikkonen but there were some promising signs for the Italian.
Ratings: Alfa Romeo 6.5/10, Kimi Raikkonen 7.5/10, Antonio Giovinazzi 7/10.
Scuderia Toro Rosso
Qualifying: Daniil Kvyat 6th, Alexander Albon 13th
Race Result: Alexander Albon 11th, Daniil Kvyat DNF
Like their sister team Red Bull, Toro Rosso also benefited from the upgrades Honda package and it seemed effective for them. During practice, it looked like they were looking set for a good weekend and potentially ‘best of the rest’. That did not quite happen in Qualifying as Albon failed to make it into Q3 but Kvyat did magnificently well to Qualify 6th which technical Director Jody Egginton described as a ‘great reward’ for the team. However, the race turned into a disappointment which he described as ‘a missed opportunity’. It was. Kvyat failed to make it to the end through no fault of his own and Albon coming home just outside the points after catching the wall on the opening lap.
Daniil Kvyat looked to be the surprise package in Azerbaijan. The Russian was 6th in both the representative practice sessions and looked like he could spring a surprise. That is if he could keep it on the track as he caught the wall 9 laps in the second practice session. He certainly got some fortune in Qualifying as he put his car in the third row. In the race though, he struggled with tyres and was the first driver to pit at the end of lap 5. Despite the setback, he used his medium tyres well and was back into the top 10 when Ricciardo dived down the inside of turn 3 and we know how that ended. The contact cost Kvyat ’60 points of downforce’ according to Team Principal Franz Tost as they were forced to retire the car.
Alexander Albon was one of the stars of the show in China last time but in Baku, it was a more difficult story. The Thai driver was getting his car in the top 10 in practice but behind his teammate as he too looked to be a strong contender for points. That went wrong in Q2 as without a banker lap before Leclerc’s crash, he then tapped the wall in Q2 which cost him time and a possible spot in Q3. His race start was not great either as he was passed by Stroll and found himself at the back of the pack when he pitted on lap 12. This he felt was perhaps a mistake, ‘I think we stayed out too long and lost some time’. Still, from there, he was able to come through but eventually finished a slightly disappointing 11th. He was making places nearer the end and who knows. disappointing given his promise around the streets of Baku.
Ratings: Toro Rosso 7/10, Alexander Albon 6.5/10, Daniil Kvyat 7.5/10
Qualifying: Kevin Magnussen 14th, Romain Grosjean 17th
Race Result: Kevin Magnussen 13th, Romain Grosjean DNF
Haas were unsure of where they would be in Azerbaijan after another disappointing race in China but in the streets of Baku it ended up another disappointing weekend to forget for the US-based team. Their record of getting both cars into Q3 at each race in 2019 came to an end as Grosjean stumbled out of Qualifying in Q1 and Magnussen missed out in Q2. Tyre management has been a defining issue for them in race trim and so it proved again as Grosjean failed to finish for the third time in 2019 and Magnussen limped home. It is not working out for Haas who was thought to have the fourth quickest car in pre-season testing, they will be hoping for a reversal in fortunes when they return to Spain. They know where the issue is which is the tyres but the other part of the problem is what Gunther Steiner says his team needs to do, ‘get a grip of it’.
Kevin Magnussen again put in a solid performance for Haas. He was comfortably quicker than his teammate in practice even enjoying a second advantage in the final session before Qualifying. That advantage was maintained as Magnussen got into Q2 while his teammate did not but a mistake in Q2 saw him bow out. He started the race 12th but lost position to Stroll on the opening lap despite starting on the soft tyre. He disposed of the rubber on lap 7 and took the Medium tyre 39 laps before pitting for a second time as he was marooned between Hulkenberg behind and Giovinazzi ahead. It’s not that he did not perform, the car just did not have the pace as he was never higher than 12th even during the pit stop phase as he finished 13th and ‘not the result we were hoping for’.
It was another poor weekend for Romain Grosjean who marked his 33rd birthday prior to the Azerbaijan weekend. The French driver just could not extract the same as his teammate from the car as he qualified a second slower than the Dane despite being unaffected by Kubica’s crash in Q1. He similarly had a poor start as he lost positions to Giovinazzi and Hulkenberg on the opening lap but was recovering and even in 7th when he locked up on lap 24. The mistake cost him time before Haas were eventually forced to retire the car on lap 34 due to brake pedal issues. As Grosjean described it, ‘My brake pedal was going to the floor’. It was a disappointing end to a difficult weekend for Grosjean who registered his 3rd DNF of 2019 in four races and maintains his record of having never finished around the streets of Baku.
Ratings: Haas 5.5/10, Kevin Magnussen 6/10, Romain Grosjean 5/10.
Qualifying: Daniel Ricciardo 12th, Nico Hulkenberg 18th
Race Result: Nico Hulkenberg 14th, Daniel Ricciardo DNF
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was perhaps not the weekend Renault were expecting after they scored a double points finish in China. They struggled immensely. They had neither car in the top 10 in practice and their hopes of getting into Q3 were quashed when Hulkenberg fell out of Qualifying in Q1 and Ricciardo in Q2. Still, Sporting Director Permane was hopeful of a result in the race. However, the race was disappointing. Ricciardo squandered his chance of a points scoring finish when he reversed into Kvyat (more on that in Talking Points) while Hulkenberg trudged home in 14th. Team Principal Cyril Abiteboul summed it up perfectly, ‘Very clearly, it’s been a bad weekend’. They will be hoping for much better in Spain where they will hope to use that weekend to reset.
Nico Hulkenberg had an Azerbaijan Grand Prix to forget. The German struggled for pace throughout the weekend and was 1.2s adrift of his teammate in second practice before he fell out of Qualifying in Q1. He was 0.9 adrift of Ricciardo who only just got through and only the Williams pair qualified slower. Hulkenberg had a slightly promising start as he got the better of Grosjean off the line but he soon began to struggle as he pitted to get rid of the Soft tyre on lap 8. That put him down to 19th and gained places but he was never higher than 15th before gassy’s retirement as only the Williams drivers were behind him at the end of the race. He described it as ‘a bitter pill’ for him and Renault and it really was such a poor showing from Hulkenberg.
As Hulkenberg struggled, Renault’s hopes of points rested on Daniel Ricciardo. The honey badger fared better than his teammate in Baku and looked more competitive but even then, he only just got into Q2 before he qualified a respectable 12th. Anything is possible in Baku. Starting on the soft tyre, he jumped Leclerc off the line but was passed by both the Ferrari and Stroll by lap 3 and he pitted on lap 10 for the Medium tyre. That dropped him down to 17th and he was back up to 11th battling for 10th when he went too deep at turn 3 when battling with Kvyat. Then came his moment of madness as he reversed into the Toro Rosso. The damage caused him to retire from the race for his third DNF of the season from a race Ricciardo felt ‘we probably could have scored points’ from. There is additional pain though as there is also a three pace grid drop in Spain waiting for him.
Ratings: Renault 5/10, Daniel Ricciardo 5/10, Nico Hulkenberg 5/10.
RoKit Williams Racing
Qualifying: George Russell 19th, Robert Kubica 20th
Race Result: George Russell 15th, Robert Kubica 16th
As if the problems at Williams weren’t already bad enough; two major rebuild jobs were not on the menu. They were unfortunate to lose all of Friday practice for Russell after he went over the loose manhole cover and then had to see oil drip on to the car after the van carrying it hit an advertising bridge. Then, there was the misfortune in Qualifying with Kubica crashing. All in all, while they were still marooned at the back of the pack it was probably a relief given the weekend they had that both drivers got to the end, albeit at the back and two laps adrift.
George Russell was reportedly feeling unwell before the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend and will not have liked the feeling he got when he went over the loose manhole cover in the first practice session. It cost him all of Friday practice but despite the lack of time of track he still managed to do all that is required of him. He out-qualified his teammate and in the race eventually finished 30s further up the road. That is probably more than Russell expected given post-race he was ‘quite relieved that this weekend is over’ but his performance in adversity against his teammate is tremendous.
This fairytale return is not quite working out for Robert Kubica. The polish driver had never driven the Baku Street Circuit before but given his teammate missed all of Friday practice, it can barely be an excuse to be out-qualified by him. There is also the fact he ended Qualifying becoming a cropper at the very narrow turn 7 clipping the inside wall before going into the tyre barrier. That meant a rebuilding job for the mechanics and while Kubica finished after starting from the pit lane, it was a disappointing 30s adrift of his teammate as the last classified finisher as he struggled under braking.
Ratings: Williams 5.5/10 , George Russell 7/10, Robert Kubica 5/10
Ricciardo’s reversal madness!
Lap…of the race saw perhaps the most bizarre incident we will see in the F1 Championship. Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat were battling for 10th when the Renault man locked up down the inside on the approach to turn 3 and took to the escape road. Locking up like that meant that Kvyat could not make the turn either. Ricciardo did not seem to realise that and in trying to get back to the circuit managed to reverse his car into his former teammate. The honey badger was apologetic on team radio claiming, ‘i did not see him’ but the stewards were not impressed. With both drivers failing to finish the race, as a result, it was announced afterwards that Ricciardo will have a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Spain.
This is what both drivers said regarding the incident post-race:
Daniel Ricciardo, ‘It was a strange incident which forced the retirement, but it was my mistake and I’m sorry to the team and to Daniil [Kvyat]. It was a bit of urgency on my behalf and I didn’t think straight for a few seconds, so I have to take that one on the chin’.
Daniil Kvyat, ‘It wasn’t the best of days as we had to retire the car through no fault of our own, but these things happen in racing. I have no issue with Daniel, he recognised his mistake and we now turn the page. Of course, I was a bit disappointed in the moment as I thought we could have scored a point, but there’s not much you can do about it’.
Were the stewards right in their decision? Absolutely. F1 cars may not have the biggest rear view mirrors but they are there and they should be used. It is basic driving. It seems both drivers accept it was an accident and nothing malicious but seems a tad ironic that it is Kvyat of all people; nicknamed the torpedo saying another driver needs to be patient.
After an intriguing Grand Prix in Azerbaijan, it is two wins apiece for Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas and only one point separates the two with the Finn’s fastest lap point from Australia proving the difference. Bottas is top of the Championship with 87 points to Hamilton’s 86. 35 points adrift of Bottas is Sebastian Vettel whose podium edged him into third in the Championship at the expense of Max Verstappen who is now 1 point behind the Ferrari in 4th. Charles Leclerc is only 4 points behind as he comfortably rounds off the top five. 6th place for Sergio Perez brings him to joint 6th in the championship alongside Pierre Gasly and Kimi Raikkonen on 13 points as Lando Norris rises to 9th on 8 points. Carlos Sainz’s first points of the season see him level with the Renault’s of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo on 6 points whole Lance Stroll’s 9th place elevates him above Alexander Albon for 14th. Four drivers remain without points this season with George Russell, Robert Kubica, Romain Grosjean and Antonio Giovinazzi yet to register.
In the Constructors, it could barely be any better for Mercedes who have a mammoth 74 point advantage over Ferrari after four races. Who would have predicted that at the start of the season? Mercedes have 173 points to the Scuderia’s 99. In fact, Red Bull are closer to them in 3rd on 64 points. A first double points finish for McLaren and racing Point elevate them into 4th and 5th respectively with the Woking-based side retaining a 1 point advantage on 18 points. Alfa Romeo is 6th after a point in Baku as Renault and Haas remain 12 and 8 points respectively. Toro Rosso and Williams remain the bottom two with the latter four points adrift on 0.
After the less than chaotic race in the streets of Baku, it is to a familiar circuit for the teams and drivers given they conducted their pre-season testing there as well as the traditional starting place for the European segment of the season. They are 2,462 miles from Baku in sunny Spain, at the Circuit de Catalunya just 18.6 miles from Barcelona. They don’t have Fernando Alonso to cheer on this year but they do still have a Spaniard on the grid; it’s the Spanish Grand Prix.