Azerbaijan Grand Prix: Red Bulls go bonkers as F1 chaos helps Hamilton to an unlikely win

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Tick, tick, BOOM: Daniel Ricciardo rear-ends Max Verstappen as Red Bull’s in-team rivalry spills over in Baku
Tick, tick, BOOM: Daniel Ricciardo rear-ends Max Verstappen as Red Bull’s in-team rivalry spills over in Baku

This is the race where we found out what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.

Lewis Hamilton may have won the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but he had precious little to do with the endless entertainment that was served up as the Baku circuit delivered another utterly absorbing and chaotic grand prix.

But where to start? With those rascally Red Bull team-mates, of course…

When an unstoppable farce meets an objectionable move

Now you’ve done it: Verstappen and Ricciardo make an eye-catching exit from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Red Bull will be hoping they don’t have to replace gearboxes or power units as a result…
Now you’ve done it: Verstappen and Ricciardo make an eye-catching exit from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Red Bull will be hoping they don’t have to replace gearboxes or power units as a result…

Max Verstappen, the immovable object, is known for blocking overtakes robustly. Daniel Ricciardo, that unstoppable force, is know for throwing his car down the inside at the last moment, pulling off overtakes that are hard to defend against because they are so unlikely.

Red Bull are known for letting their drivers race one another.

That’s an explosive cocktail right there and, of course, Red Bull know it.

Long before Ricciardo and Verstappen crashed out together, we watched the Red Bull fuse burning down, lap after lap.

READ MORE: Formula One – It’s humbling – Hamilton feels for Bottas after Baku blow out

READ MORE: Formula One – I’ll maybe have 10 pints of beer and be fine! – Bottas

READ MORE: Formula One – Verstappen and Ricciardo in Red Bull doghouse after crash, fumes Horner

READ MORE: Formula One – Vettel happy to gamble despite failed victory bid in Baku

On lap 6, at the first re-start following the chaos of the opening corners, Verstappen is pushing hard to pass his team-mate. He squeezes down the inside at turn 2, Ricciardo defends but gives him enough space to grab the position.

As the Red Bulls squabble, the Renault of Carlos Sainz passes Ricciardo and then Verstappen too – that isn’t part of the Red Bull plan.

Tick, tick….

Six laps later, Ricciardo tries a move around the outside of turn 1 then Verstappen, coming off the kerb, slides across and the pair clatter front wheels.

Racing incident it may be but on-boards show Max is not exactly wrestling with his steering wheel as the pair make contact. It’s a big old bump but, remarkably, neither car is damaged and Ricciardo just avoids being squeezed into the wall. Max keeps ahead.

Tick, tick…

On lap 27, Ricciardo is being held up by Verstappen and they almost come together several times – Ricciardo goes round the outside of turn 1, Verstappen keeps the inside line and retakes fourth place at turn 2.

Tick, tick…

Next up, lap 35, and Ricciardo finally nails it around the outside of turn 1, with a little bit of tyre smoke, and heads of into the distance. His engineer tells him to ‘Stretch his legs’ and he pulls out a half-second advantage in sector two alone.

Tick, tick..

Then the pitstops – teams are all struggling to get heat into new tyres and, as a result, even though he pits first on lap 38, Ricciardo loses that hard-fought place to Verstappen.

Ricciardo’s engineer says: ‘Alright mate we’re going to have to do it again, come on, let’s go…’

If Pontius Pilate ran an F1 team

Don’t look at me, mate: Red Bull team principal Christian Horner on the Baku pit wall, from where he was unable to stop his drivers coming to grief
Don’t look at me, mate: Red Bull team principal Christian Horner on the Baku pit wall, from where he was unable to stop his drivers coming to grief

And that’s a crucial moment. A few minutes later, on lap 40, Ricciardo sells Verstappen a dummy to the outside, dives to the inside but the door is closed. With his nose under Verstappen’s gearbox, Ricciardo loses a heap of downforce and braking ability and it’s tick, tick, boom, as both Red Bulls crash out.

Verstappen was weaving in his trademark way, so he certainly bears some of the responsibility; Ricciardo took a huge, risky lunge in his trademark way, and had nowhere to go when things went a bit wrong – it was bound to happen sooner or later and he bears responsibility too.

So, who was ultimately to blame?

Well, while the drivers were both ‘in the doghouse’ according to team principal Christian Horner, that’s not the whole story.

If, like Red Bull, you make a point of letting your drivers race each other hard, two things follow: firstly, fans will applaud you for keeping things interesting on track.

Secondly, your drivers will, at some point, come to grief. And it will be your fault.

Lap after lap, we watched Ricciardo and Vettel go at each other hammer-and-tongs, but Red Bull were unwilling or unable to manage the situation.

Christian Horner was reportedly ‘shaking with rage’ after the crash but he and his senior team had tried to wash their hands of responsibility by leaving the hardest decisions – to race or to hold station – to two of the most aggressive drivers in the profession.

Drivers drive, managers manage. When managers stop managing, as happened in Baku, it’s utterly naive to believe the drivers will stop driving.

Remember, Ricciardo’s engineer messaged him to say ‘Mate, we’re going to have to do it again’. Not ‘Sorry mate, the pitstops haven’t worked out so hold station’ or ‘OK mate, we’ve told Max he’s slower and must let you by’.

No, it was ‘We’re going to have to do it again’ – and that is, ultimately, why the pair came together.

I hope there’s room in that Red Bull doghouse for Mr Horner.

Meanwhile, Vettel was also throwing away points

Passing acquaintance: Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton on the Baku circuit’s ‘contraflow’ section
Passing acquaintance: Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton on the Baku circuit’s ‘contraflow’ section

Seb needs to revise his Aesop’s Fables, especially the tortoise and the hare.

He qualified on pole, he started well and, at the first re-start, he shot off into the distance.

In fact, by the end of the first sector after the restart, he was a barely-believable 1.5seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton; after the second sector, he was another full second up the track.

Hamilton pitted for new rubber on lap 23, while Vettel stayed on the old tyres until lap 30, at no point looking like he was under any pressure to pit.

He came out in second, behind Bottas, who was still to pit.

Then came that lap 40 crash of the Red Bull titans. This effectively gave Bottas a free pitstop and it looked like the win was there for the Finn, with Vettel at worst in second, extending his championship lead.

But, at the restart, Vettel overcooked things, outbraking himself as he tried to take Bottas and throwing away a bunch of places in the process – not to mention flat-spotting his tyres.

That was Vettel’s race wrecked. To rub salt in his wounds, Bottas ran over a bit of metal debris and retired from the lead. Which means Vettel’s over-enthusiastic restart probably cost him a win.

It certainly cost him the championship lead – he struggled home with vibrating tyres in fourth, as Hamilton coasted home to an unexpected victory and, with it, a four-point lead in the title race.

In other F1 cock-up news…

Bit of a blur: Romain Grosjean’s weekend was looking fairly impressive … until he spun his Haas into a wall behind the Safety Car
Bit of a blur: Romain Grosjean’s weekend was looking fairly impressive … until he spun his Haas into a wall behind the Safety Car

Baku is a circuit that can make fools of any driver who puts a foot wrong at the wrong part of the track.

Nico Hulkenberg found this out to his cost when, having breezed past Verstappen to take a surprising fifth-place on lap 10 – his Renault was making the most of its Ultrasoft tyres, while Verstappen was on slower rubber – he lost concentration just a lap later and let the rear get away enough to puncture a tyre against barriers.

According to his team, the last time he made a mistake was 12 months ago in … Baku.

But the best of the balls-ups was definitely Romain Grosjean, who spun his car into the wall, on a straight, under the second Safety Car.

Later, Grosjean claimed he’d ‘bumped’ a switch that locked the brake balance rearward and caused the rears to skid when he touched the brakes.

It was an unusual excuse, but not as unusual as the one either he or his engineer came up with on the radio immediately after the crash: ‘I think Ericsson hit us.’

Thing is, Ericsson had been so far behind Grosjean that the Frenchman would have needed Google Maps to find him.

Credit where it’s due, Grosjean had driven impressively up to then, starting at the back of the grid and piloting his Haas up to sixth. But, you know, spinning on the straight, behind a Safety Car, bumping switches and blaming an invisible driver, that’s going to deny you the F1 Driver of the Day title.

Didn’t they do well?

In the points: F1 rookie Charles Leclerc celebrates his sixth-place finish – and first F1 points – in Baku
In the points: F1 rookie Charles Leclerc celebrates his sixth-place finish – and first F1 points – in Baku

As the chaos unfolded, Sergio Perez drove his Force India to a superb third place, his first podium since Baku two years ago.

A few places back, in sixth, an even more impressive drive saw rookie Charles Leclerc score his first F1 points, in the Sauber which he had managed to qualify 14th.

There are high hopes for Leclerc, who has been finding his F1 feet, and results like this are just what will put him on the radar of the Ferraris of the F1 world.

Kimi Raikkonen’s second place disguised a weekend that was a case of one ‘what if’ after another.

He looked, again, to have a slight edge on Vettel in qualifying but made crucial mistakes that saw him start in sixth.

As a result, he was in a gaggle of cars at lights-out and came together with Esteban Ocon, so had to pit for a new front wing.

That, normally, would have put paid to any thoughts of a podium but this was no normal race. He even cracked a hint of a grin while being interviewed. Just a hint, mind you.

Next up is Barcelona in a couple of weeks, as F1 returns to Europe with a big box of upgrades for lots of cars, and high expectations from fans who’ve enjoyed a cracking opening to the 2018 season. More please.

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