There was no shortage of talking points on Sunday in Baku – from team mate and title rival collisions to surprise podiums and results changing on the line, F1’s second visit to Azerbaijan produced 51 laps of spellbinding drama. But who ended on a high – and who leaves under a cloud?
The Honey Badger and never giving up, Part 1
You know that if you give Daniel Ricciardo just a tiny a sniff of victory, he is going to reach for it with both hands.
For the perfect evidence, consider this: all five of the Australian’s wins have come from outside the top three on the grid. By way of contrast, Sebastian Vettel has 45 wins – and ever single one of them has been from first, second or third on the grid. Put simply, Ricciardo has an uncanny knack of being in the right place to capitalise…
Baku was no different. When he had to pit on lap five to have debris removed from his brakes, it looked all over for Ricciardo. He rejoined in 17th place, but then got lifelines thrown at him as the safety car deployments mounted up. In that first stop he was switched from supersoft tyres to softs. But during a second stop, under the first safety car, he was given more supersofts, as he had a set left after his shunt in qualifying. By cleverly grabbing every strategic advantage they could find, Red Bull helped him up to fifth place when the third and final safety car period ended on lap 24, and in one fantastic swoop he grabbed that sniff and jumped the Williams duo to take third place going into Turn 1 on lap 25.
That was the move that made the race for him, once Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel had respectively fallen foul of a loose headrest and a penalty.
It was a win that owed something to fortune, but also to simple brilliance – as is true of any victory in a car that doesn’t have the outright pace to get the job done. Sometimes you make your own luck – say with an astonishing move on three cars in one corner, for example. For that alone, aside from the other 50 laps of beautifully judged attack and aggression, Ricciardo thoroughly deserved his fifth big success.
Valtteri Bottas and never giving up, Part 2
He was in last place after the opening lap, following his collision with fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 2. And the need for a new front wing meant he was a lap down when he rejoined. But the combination of three safety cars enabled him to unlap himself, and a superbly feisty drive enabled him not just to battle back into contention but to snatch second place from Lance Stroll right on the finish line. All in all, it was one of the best back to front recoveries in F1’s rich history.
Lance Stroll – F1’s latest teenage sensation
The Canadian rookie really turned his season on its head here. Fresh from scoring his first two world championship points in his homeland – where the feat put him on all the front pages – he became the youngest rookie podium finisher in F1 history. And he did it with a tremendously accomplished drive in which he didn’t put a wheel wrong and was only beaten to second place by a mere tenth of a second by the Russian GP winner in a Mercedes – literally on the finish line.
Consider this: only one driver in history, Max Verstappen, has stood on a Grand Prix podium at a younger age. And consider this too: Sebastian Vettel, Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton were all comfortably more than two years older than Stroll when they first sipped the champagne in F1.
Not a bad way to shut your critics up, nor a bad present for his countrymen as Canada Day approaches on July 1st.