There are many contenders for the most embarrassing manoeuvres of the day as it was crash galore in Baku at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with only 13 drivers finishing the race.
There was the great Red Bull disaster which saw mischievous drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen play too far on the side of caution, eventually costing them their races.
Romain Grosjean had a spectacular crash into the wall while swerving to keep his tyres warm under the final safety car.
Nico Hulkenberg was another contender for finding the wall, while carnage erupted in lap one of Baku’s tight corners and narrow streets which caused problems for Esteban Ocon who collided with Kimi Raikkonen in turn two, just seconds into the race. Moments later, Sergey Sirotkin nearly ended Fernando Alonso’s race with a double puncture, landing Sirotkin with a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Barcelona.
Then there was the final drama when the race win slipped away from both Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas and was picked up by Lewis Hamilton who said: “[I was] standing on the podium believing Valtteri should have been standing there; I felt like he had earned it.”
The extraordinary Red Bull escapade saw Daniel Ricciardo plough into the back of Max Verstappen causing them both to spin off the track while coming into turn one of lap 41. The blame has been deemed “not important” by the team boss as both drivers were at fault. However, many have opposing views that Ricciardo was at fault for risking the gap on the inside, yet Verstappen made a double move in the brake zone, moving right then left leaving Ricciardo with no time to respond as the gap closed and the slipstream contributed to the crash in that split-second.
After investigating, the Stewards concluded both drivers were at fault: “Although the incident had its origins in the moves by Verstappen, Ricciardo also contributed to the incident.
Both drivers admitted responsibility while continuously apologising to the team in their post-race interviews for their failure for what could have been a close race between the top three teams: Ferrari, Red Bull and Mercedes.
Their playful racing created a few tight situations as they brushed wheels on lap 12, and narrowly missed one another on lap 28, until Ricciardo successfully executed an overtake on lap 35, until it all went wrong.
A simmering Christian Horner, Red Bull’s team Principal, said after the race that both drivers are in the dog house and the message was delivered very clearly. Following their near misses, the drivers were told to calm down on the radio, but the raging bulls continued to host a thrilling battle for that spot in fourth.
The team boss says: “We spoke to them in team meetings about giving each other space, this was culmination of two guys talking things into their own hands, which shouldn’t have happened.
“There were probably three incidents between them through the race. They touched wheels and were told to calm it down, we don’t want to interfere with them going wheel-to-wheel. We are not apportioning blame one way or the other, they are both to blame for this.
“Our intention is to continue to let them race but they have to show respect and give space. They have been reminded that they are part of a team, they are highly paid individuals with the team’s interest at heart.”
It’s not the first time the pair have retired in a race this season. In Bahrain, Verstappen collided with Hamilton costing him his race, while Ricciardo suffered engine failure. Verstappen needed this race to desperately gain more points to his mere 18 while Hamilton now leads with 70 in the drivers’ Championship.
How did that happen?
Romain Grosjean struggled this weekend on turns one and 15 with several incidents during practice. But none were as spectacular as his run in with the wall during the final few laps under the safety car. He struggled to control the traction of his car leading up to the crash as he swerved to warm his tyres and drove straight into the wall. In the moment he screamed “NO! Nooooo!” on the radio as his race finished with an embarrassing mistake, especially after some decent driving early in the race making it up to eighth after starting last on grid.
Crash after crash
Turn two in lap one caused carnage. It started with Esteban Ocon’s collision with Kimi Raikkonen, who dived into the inside corner in front of Ocon. A safety car was deployed just seconds into the race. Raikkonen had nowhere to go, and Ocon spun into the wall finishing his race just two turns in.
Raikkonen was first to pit with substantially less damage, it placed him in eleventh initially, but with a series of overtakes left him in sixth for most of the race, until the Red Bull drama when he made up to second overall.
At the same time, Sergey Sirotkin collided with Fernando Alonso and crashed into the wall, while Alonso received a double puncture on his right side. The angry Spaniard said while nursing his delicate car back to the pits: “What a stupid guy. He closed the door, we were side-by-side”.
It didn’t look likely for the McLaren driver to continue as there were no tyres on the right side of his car, but the team managed a swift change of tyres and front end and he was back in the race. The race was two drivers down in lap one, and down to 17 drivers by lap 12 of 51 as Hulkenberg later added to the list of crashes.
Fight for number one
During what was an immensely unpredictable race with seven drivers out, the biggest disaster of the day must go to Valtteri Bottas for the bittersweet moment the win was taken away from him and collected by his team-mate.
It was looking as though the safety car could last for the remainder of the race with Grosjean extending the period the Red Bulls caused. This would have been good news for Bottas in first, but it restarted with four laps to go and the sprint was on.
Vettel locked his wheel coming into a corner trying to dive on the inside of Bottas and flat-spotted his front left tyre causing him to wave goodbye to his contention for first place. He lead much of the race but sadly had to cling on in fourth as his team-mate and both Mercedes overtook. Bottas led out of the corner and what could have been a dramatic and well-deserved win for him after leading by over 11 seconds earlier in the race, instead his luck ran out and turned into a cruel blow out. His tyre exploded after running over debris, drastically changing what could have been an outstanding win, to a DNF in the final moments of a dramatic race.
He said on the radio: “Oh my god. the tyre just blew up on its own”, but was later criticised for not seeing and staying clear of the debris.
A dejected looking Bottas said afterwards: “It was just unfortunate. Unlucky. Ten pints of beer and maybe I will be fine. I will get through it, you always have to get through, it is part of racing but at the moment it is painful.”
Niki Lauda, Mercedes non-executive director said: “A win is better than losing, no question. Good and bad. Why didn’t they clean up the circuit properly? There was so much time to do it. For Valtteri Bottas: disaster, for Lewis Hamilton: really good. Safety car was on for forever, why did nobody pick it up?”
Bottas later said on Twitter: “Sometimes the sport you love can be tough, but I’ve learned to turn negative experiences into strength.” The next few races will be interesting for Mercedes, as Hamilton has said in previous races the team has a lot to work on and he must get to grips with the car: “I struggled with the car, struggled with the tyres and that’s something I don’t take lightly. So I’ve definitely got to go away from here and work even harder to make sure that there’s not a repeat performance-wise.”
Hamilton also said that Bottas deserved his place in Mercedes and can only hope their season improves from here: “He is more than ever earning his place here. Give him fair dues; he has risen to the challenge. He is doing a solid, solid job, more than the team would need.”