It was a race for the ages in Baku with three safety cars and one red flag but Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo prevailed with a stunning victory.
Ricciardo started from tenth and got to the lead with a mixture of superb driving and good fortune. Valterri Bottas recovered from being a lap down to take second just 0.105 seconds ahead of young Williams driver Lance Stroll who claimed his maiden podium.
Estaban Ocon got Force India into sixth in front of Kevin Magnussen in the Hass, Carlos Sainz in the Torro Rosso and Fernando Alonso’s McLaren – despite his usual late engine troubles.
Hamilton vs Vettel
For all that achievement and breathtaking driving around the fast Baku street circuit it is the incident between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel that will be the taking point for weeks to come.
Starting from pole, Hamilton was comfortably leading Vettel before a cascading series of incidents unravelled into a heated exchange between the previous world champions.
It all started rather innocuously with Kyvat braking down on track and a safety car being deployed while the Torro Rosso was removed.
On the restart, Vettel was challenged for second from Sergio Perez’s Force India and a brush between Ocon in the other Force India and Kimi Raikkonen’s Ferrari left debris littered across the track.
It brought out another safety car and resulted in a moment that could potentially change the course of the championship.
Hamilton was controlling the pace under the safety car and on the restart Vettel accelerated into the back of the Mercedes around Turn 15. The German then came alongside Hamilton before swerving into the Mercedes and waving his hands.
It brought a blunt response from Hamilton, saying “Vettel literally just came alongside me and hit me.”
But Vettel claimed that Hamilton had deliberately slowed down: “He brake-tested me. What the hell is going on?”
Vettel later received a 10-second penalty, although by that point Hamilton’s chance to win the race was gone. The Englishman’s cockpit head restraint became loose and he struggled to re-attach it while driving over 200mp/h. Race control had enough and called Hamilton into the pits for a fix but those precious seconds put him back on the track behind Vettel and he eventually took fourth place.
It left Hamilton furious after the race.
“I didn’t (brake-test him). I controlled the pace. All the restarts I slowed down in the same spot.”
“He was obviously sleeping and driving alongside and deliberately driving into a driver and coming away scot-free is a disgrace. He disgraced himself.”
“If he wants to prove he’s a man, we should do it out of the car face-to-face. Driving dangerously in any way can put another driver at risk.”
“Luckily we were going slow. If we were going fast it could have been a lot worse. Imagine all the kids watching Formula 1 today and see that kind of behaviour from a four-time world champion. It says it all.”
Ricciardo Recovers For Classic Win
Around the unfolding controversy and another safety car – brought about by the Force India’s colliding together – Ricciardo worked his way from 17th to the front of the pack.
The Australian produced some strong overtaking to leapfrog Stroll and Massa after the second safety car, and then he passed Stroll again into Turn 1 at the final restart.
Stroll stayed with Ricciardo for a few laps but eventually fell away and was overtaken by Bottas on the final straight.
Despite falling short of a second place, the Canadian became the youngest rookie to claim a top-three finish at a time when he has been under pressure for some early failures.
“I can’t quite realise what just happened,” said Stroll.
“I’m sort of lost for words. I couldn’t believe coming into the weekend that I would be standing on the podium!”
“It was a bit disappointing to lose P2 at the end to Valtteri, but all in all an amazing race – just amazing. I’m over the moon.”
“P3 is amazing though; a dream come true. You dream of being on an F1 podium growing up, work towards it your whole life… and then you feel the moment.”