By Sean Kelly, C4F1 statistician
Going into the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku was the only current circuit on which Lewis Hamilton had raced without ever finishing on the podium. In fact, he didn’t even have a top-four finish in two starts there.
After the misfortunes of previous races in the 'Land Of Fire', Hamilton was finally the recipient of good luck on Sunday, with a safety car, a mistimed passing attempt and a heartbreaking puncture for his team-mate turning what was likely to be third place into Mercedes’ first win of 2018.
The team that has won every title available in the turbo hybrid era had been defeated in three consecutive races for the first time since the current power unit regulations were adopted in 2014 – and had won just one of the previous six races overall. Hamilton himself had been winless since Austin last October, his longest barren spell since 2013.
The world champion only led the final three laps of Sunday’s race, the fewest in any of his 63 career wins, undercutting his six laps in front at the 2011 Chinese GP, and the fewest by any race winner since Daniel Ricciardo led the final three in Montreal back in 2014. He also extended his record-breaking run of points finishes to 29 in a row, having broken Kimi Raikkonen’s previous benchmark at the Chinese GP.
Hamilton now leads the drivers' championship after his first victory of the season in Baku by four points to rival Vettel— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 29, 2018
You can also now watch the entire race over on @All4
https://t.co/zC2oARGHmJ#C4F1 #AzerbaijanGP pic.twitter.com/8dPUBltRl7
It was a landmark day for Mercedes-Benz as a power unit supplier too, as they led the 10,000th lap in their manufacturer history, joining Ferrari, Renault and Ford as the only companies ever to reach that mark in F1.
This Mercedes team is the latest incarnation of a constructor that began life as the Tyrrell Racing Organisation back at the 1970 Canadian Grand Prix. Sunday’s win was effectively the 100th in 'franchise' history, separated between Tyrrell (23 wins from 1970-98), BAR (0 wins from 1999-2005), Honda (one win from 2006-08), Brawn GP (eight wins in 2009) and Mercedes (68 wins since 2010).
If history were to consider them all as one constructor, they would be only the fourth team ever to achieve a century, and the first to reach 100 since Williams got there at the 1997 British GP.
Behind Hamilton, Raikkonen somewhat flew under the radar to take second place, recording his first podium finish when starting from outside the top five on the grid since 2013. After his early collision with Esteban Ocon, the Finn kept his nose clean as his rivals found trouble to record his first top-two finish since Hungary last July, but the disappointment of his weekend actually came on Saturday.
For the second consecutive grand prix weekend, Raikkonen’s three best sectors in qualifying would have put him on pole position, but as in Shanghai the 38-year-old was unable to set them on the same lap. Expect to hear this statistic trotted out during the next Ferrari media briefings…
Vettel has been the qualifying king so far this season, with three pole positions in the first four races— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 30, 2018
But where did he find the gains in Baku? Allow @karunchandhok to investigate #C4F1 #AzerbaijanGP https://t.co/awhc2msDk9
Sergio Perez was pointless after the first three races of 2018, just as he had been back in 2016. That year, he went on to score a career-high 101 points and finished on the podium in Baku. Lightning struck again on Sunday, as Perez created a little piece of Mexican racing history in the process.
His eighth podium finish is now the most by any Mexican driver in F1 history, overhauling the career numbers of Pedro Rodriguez, who had held the record since the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix. The national headlines may have belonged to the man they call Checo, but Rodriguez still holds the biggest accolades as he remains the only Mexican to win an F1 race (South Africa 1967, Belgium 1970).
Sergio Perez has finally overhauled Pedro Rodriguez to score the most podiums ever by a Mexican driver Rodriguez had held the record since the 1971 Dutch Grand Prix. Congrats @SChecoPerez and @ForceIndiaF1 #AzerbaijanGP pic.twitter.com/dSwPTgMb61— Sean Kelly (@virtualstatman) April 29, 2018
For Force India, Baku is the first circuit in their 10-plus season history on which they have scored more than one podium, while Azerbaijan's capital has now underscored its reputation as a place for unexpected results.
In the last 38 grands prix, the only podium finishers who have not been driving for Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull have all come in Baku. Perez’s Force India was there in 2016 and 2018, while Lance Stroll’s Williams was in the top three last season. Of the nine podium places competed for in three Baku races, more than half (five) have come from outside the top five on the grid.
For the majority of this race, it appeared to be Sebastian Vettel’s to lose – and eventually he did just that. Having led 30 laps he somehow ended up fourth, conceding the championship lead to Hamilton in the process. This was a major disappointment after on Saturday becoming the first Ferrari driver to claim a hat-trick of poles since Felipe Massa back in 2007.
Lap 49/51 ⬇️— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 29, 2018
The race is resumed and Vettel surges up the inside of Bottas...
....but fails to make it stick and runs too wide and drops to P3!
DC: "Fair play to Vettel for having a go, but right now it doesn't look very good." #C4F1 #AzerbaijanGP pic.twitter.com/klbBl7hetH
We didn’t see too much of him in this race, but Carlos Sainz Jr was another driver for whom a low profile paid handsome dividends, as the Spaniard claimed fifth place. It was Renault’s best finish as a constructor since Vitaly Petrov was fifth in the 2011 Canadian GP, and a big turnaround from the team’s previous Baku fortunes – they had never scored a point there.
Part of the reason Sainz flew under the radar was because so many eyes were on reigning Formula Two champion Charles Leclerc, who crafted his first truly notable drive since his F1 graduation to claim Sauber’s best result in precisely 50 grands prix and win Driver Of The Day honours.
The Swiss team had not scored a top-six finish since Felipe Nasr at the 2015 Japanese GP, and no car with Alfa Romeo branding/support had finished that high since Riccardo Patrese was sixth for the works Alfa team at the Nurburgring back in 1984.
Leclerc was also the first Monegasque driver to score points in an F1 race since Louis Chiron was third in the 1950 Monaco Grand Prix, the second race of the inaugural world championship season. The 978-race gap between points finishes means the Principality of Monaco can lay claim to what is almost certainly the longest interval statistic in F1 history.
Amazing work from Leclerc as the Monegasque racer bags his first points in F1— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 29, 2018
That seals the record for the longest-ever gap between points for a nation in F1. It's been 978 races since Louis Chiron scored Monaco's last points in the 1950 Monaco GP#C4F1 #AzerbaijanGP pic.twitter.com/gvqQauX5h9
Fernando Alonso looked likely to retire after contact on the first lap led to two (!) punctures, but as Bottas learned last season, perseverance pays in Baku.
A seventh-place finish means Alonso has now scored in the last seven races, the longest streak aside from Hamilton and Vettel (the only two drivers to lead the championship in that time). With teammate Stoffel Vandoorne ninth, McLaren are a respectable fourth in the constructors’ championship.
Lap 2/51 ⬇️— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 29, 2018
Alonso limps back to the pits with BOTH his front-right and rear-right tyres completely destroyed
How very reminiscent of Gilles Villeneuve all those years ago #C4F1 #AzerbaijanGP pic.twitter.com/LFzLpX7mcM
While Stroll was unable to recreate his 2017 podium heroics, his eighth place was arguably more important to Williams than last year’s result. Stroll brought the team's first points of 2018, and it means that every team has scored for the third consecutive season.
Brendon Hartley’s most viral contribution to the weekend was his misunderstanding with teammate Pierre Gasly in qualifying, which almost led to the Frenchman taking to the skies.
This would be a shame in retrospect as the Toro Rosso driver claimed his first career point on Sunday, becoming the first New Zealander to score in an F1 race since Chris Amon was fifth for Ensign in the 1976 Spanish Grand Prix. Hartley was chased to the line by Marcus Ericsson, who came within 0.482 seconds of giving Sauber a double points finish.
Not that it would have mattered had Valtteri Bottas not suffered a heartbreaking puncture while leading with only three laps remaining. The Mercedes man's long first stint paid dividends when he was able to pit under the safety car and not lose the lead, and he was set to score the 50th win for a Finnish driver in F1 when fate intervened, ending an 18-race points streak in the process.
Although Mercedes finally won their first race of the season, it was a cruel end to the weekend for Bottas— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 29, 2018
Niki Lauda: "The poor guy could've won the race." #C4F1 #AzerbaijanGP https://t.co/zreByQuaPJ
His was a story of great misfortune, but others may have been the architects of their own downfall. For instance, Nico Hulkenberg’s 138 races without a podium finish is becoming a millstone around his neck.
He was running fifth in last year’s Baku race when he hit the wall all on his own, potentially costing himself and Renault a podium in the process. Amazingly, those exact circumstances played out for a second year in a row on Sunday. Make that 139 races and counting…
Haas’ Romain Grosjean had staged a remarkable fightback to lie sixth during the final safety car period, having started last on the grid, until a bizarre crash ended his hopes. The Frenchman and Sergey Sirotkin are the only two pointless drivers remaining in 2018.
Grosjean has crashed under the safety car! This is being a crazy end to the race— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 29, 2018
The Haas racer simply lost the rear of his car while weaving under the safety car and slammed quite violently into the wall
This will extend the safety car period... #C4F1 pic.twitter.com/tOW1Dd3Sx3
Force India's Ocon has acquired a reputation for always finishing, but he was out on lap one of this race after the altercation with Raikkonen (the second year running that the Finn was in a first-lap collision).
Ocon’s last four single-seater retirements have all come on the first lap of a race, as Azerbaijan 2018 was added to Brazil 2017, the 2014 Macau F3 race and the Nurburgring F3 race from earlier that year.
None of these events will be remembered quite so vividly as the collision that took both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen out of the race on Sunday.
Relive the shocking moment when Ricciardo and Verstappen collided with each other at Turn 1— Channel 4 F1® (@C4F1) April 29, 2018
What a shame for the team, especially after the success in China a few weeks back #C4F1 #AzerbaijanGP https://t.co/JVckDuzVzu
Regardless of who was to blame, it was the second double retirement for the Red Bull team in the last three starts, having not suffered any since the 2010 Korean Grand Prix. Those two double DNFs sandwich Ricciardo’s win in China, when he took advantage of Verstappen's on-track indiscretions.
Red Bull stayed third in the constructors’ championship, but with exactly half the points of second-placed Mercedes. They are left to wonder what they could be achieving if their cars could just reach the finish.