Author: Sanan SHAFIZADEH
The best race of the season, pearl of the championship, crazy competition - journalists from all over the world did not hesitate in appraisals of the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan held in Baku. Incidentally, the second race in Baku was a complete opposite of the first Grand Prix held in 2016 with practically no overtaking and the Safety-car remaining stationary throughout the duration of the tournament.
On June 25, the fans of “royal racing” eye-witnessed the heat of the fight on narrow city roads, collisions, repeated trips of the Safety-car, yellow flags limiting overtaking, and even a red flag stopping the race. All of this messed things up for the teams. Such a bright, saturated, and hot race is what the fans of the Formula-1 have been missing in recent years. The opening ceremony of the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan was an interesting show rich of national elements and performances of domestic and foreign singers. With 500 million people watching the racing on TV, this is one of the best ways to demonstrate the achievements of Azerbaijan to the world.
The theatrical show presented the foreign viewers a special flavor of Azerbaijani culture mixed with national dances and symbols preserved for centuries.
The race was the brightest moment of this and several previous seasons, although the 20-stage championship has still to reach the equator.
In Baku, the contenders were mainly concerned with the wheels. Thus, Pirelli presented three variations of tires (medium, soft and super-soft) at the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan. But even the softest of them, super-soft, turned out to be quite tough for Baku’s highway: the riders were complaining about insufficient warm-up of tires despite the hot weather and heated asphalt.
Free practice rides on Friday and the qualification stage demonstrated that the main favorites of this season, Mercedes and Ferrari, were way ahead of other competitors. On Sunday, Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes took the first line followed by Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari. But the start of the first round was memorable for a series of clashes, even among the leaders - Bottas and Raikkonen, which resulted in Bottas driving to the pits after a puncture, and Raikkonen starting the fifth. Eventually, this cleared the way for Vettel to fight with his direct rival for the championship, Hamilton.
Ill-fated Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rossa completely shut down on lap 12 causing the first safety car, which set the stage for the insane race that followed. This was the first but by no means the last roll out of the safety car. It showed up three more times, and frequent collisions on the track left so much debris that on lap 17 all cars had to go through the pit lane, which significantly lowers speeds. This gap was remembered by furious contact of the two leaders of the tournament. Just before the restart of the race, when the safety car had to leave the circuit, Hamilton, who was leading the peloton, lowered his speed to minimum forcing other pilots to do the same in order to gain advantage right after the restart. Pilots use this trick often to slow down the rivals. Vettel, who was driving behind Hamilton, ran into the latter and broke his car. This incident angered the Ferrari pilot, who pulled alongside Hamilton and deliberately banged wheels against the Mercedes driver in retaliation. But the stewards decided that Vettel's actions were worthy of a 10-second stop-and-go penalty, taking him out of the equation for the win. Because of his incontinence, Vettel actually missed his chance to win the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan although he had every chance to be the winner.
Hamilton seemed to be lucky after his main rival left the stage, but he was wrong. The British pilot had his headrest broken, which he tried to fix continuing the race, but he failed and had to drive to the pit lane. This incident ultimately played into the hands of Vettel, as being second on the track after Hamilton, he drove to the pit lane to serve a penalty after Hamilton but left ahead of him.
Daniel Ricciardo of Red Bull Racing used all these failures with the main favorites for his own advantage. For the first time this season, Mersedes or Ferrari pilots did not take the podium. Ricciardo has made it to the top from the 17th place, where he rolled back in the first rounds. But he was one of the few pilots who has managed to avoid collisions and punctures, while making a number of beautiful overtaking, including simultaneous overtaking of three cars. But technical failures and collisions have caused only 13 out of 20 cars that started before the finish.
Another lucky winner who escaped the crash was the debutant of Formula 1, Canadian pilot Williams Lance Stroll. Criticized for his incomprehensible piloting at the previous stages, Stroll has shown his best performance in Baku finishing the third, which was a great achievement for the 18-year-old newcomer. He could have been the second if he did not lose to Bottas on the finish line.
The fourth and fifth places were shared by the main favorites of the championship Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton. As a result, Vettel gained 14 more points than his rival Hamilton.
Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull Racing) won the fifth victory in his career and the first in this season. The second winner was Valtteri Bottas (Mersedes) and Lance Stroll (Williams). Ricciardo received the cup from President Ilham Aliyev. The finalists were also awarded by the First Vice-President of Azerbaijan Mehriban Aliyeva, Chairman of Automobile Sports Federation Anar Alakbarov and Minister of Youth and Sports Azad Rahimov.
After the race, Ricciardo told reporters that he did not even think about the possibility of winning. “We were informed about the problems of Hamilton and Vettel. But I also had an unplanned pit stop, and I rolled back to 17th place. After that, I no longer believed in victory. But this stage was very interesting and quite dangerous. Therefore, no collisions occurred. The track is very impressive. After sharp turns, you leave on a straight line where it is necessary to gain speed. I can say that I liked the Baku circuit very much,” said Ricciardo.
In general, the results of the competition did not change positions of leaders in the tournament - the race is headed by Sebastian Vettel followed by Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas. Ricciardo’s victory allowed him to overtake Kimi Raikkonen in individual competition, taking the latter to the fifth place.
The streets of Baku have become a place of unforgettable race, which will be remembered for a long time. There is not much time left until the next racing, Grand Prix of Azerbaijan scheduled on April 1, 2018.
The Baku city circuit is six kilometers long. The racers go 51 laps, which is equal to a distance of 306 km. The circuit is one of the fastest and passes through the historic part of the city and along the Boulevard. The maximum and minimum widths of the track is 13 and 7.6 meters, respectively. The racing was watched by over 30 thousand spectators.