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View from the Pit Lane: Baku

Karun has his eyes on the action in the Baku pit lane
By C4F1 technical analyst Karun Chandhok

What a completely and utterly bonkers race that was in Baku!

It started off pretty sedately, and I thought it was going to be a bit of a snooze-fest, but then we had the safety car and it all just went completely nuts!

There were so many talking points from such a crazy race, and I suppose in many ways this is the race we were expecting to have last year in Baku that offers the unique challenge of a street circuit with extremely high speeds and overtaking opportunities.

I’m not really sure where to begin, because there’s a talking point for pretty much every single team on the grid. So, let’s start from the top…

King of Qualifying

Lewis Hamilton did a brilliant job in qualifying, particularly because he had looked like he was on the back foot in practice.

We saw in Monaco, Sochi and in practice in Baku that he’s not able to extract the best performance he wants to on low-grip tracks where there’s not that ultimate peak grip.

The temperature in Baku dropped very quickly as soon as the sun started to set but in qualifying there was more rubber down and more grip and Hamilton was able to use that incredible feel that he’s got under braking and corner entry to take a fantastic pole position.

His modulation on the brakes is one of his big strengths and he was brilliant in qualifying.

In the race, what can you say? Hamilton could have been the winner, but the headrest of his Mercedes came loose. It sounds like it was a one-off, and that the headrest wasn’t put in place properly under the red flag when he got out of the car.

The incident ultimately cost him the win and he’s now 14 points behind rival Sebastian Vettel in the championship standings.

Vettel vs Hamilton

One of the big talking points of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix has to be the incident between Hamilton and Vettel under the safety car. It was a slightly unusual situation, to say the least!

It's Hamilton’s prerogative to control the pace. It’s absolutely up to him to decide how fast or slow he wants to go under the safety car once the lights are out, and he did hold a constant pace. At first, I didn’t think he did, but once I watched the replay back a few times, it was clear that he did.

That slightly wrong-footed Vettel, and he hit the back of him. It’s just one of those things - it’s always tricky under the safety car, with cold brakes, and cold tyres.

I think that was OK but afterwards Vettel, for want of a better phrase, just sort of side-swiped him. That was out of order, and I think they were right to penalise him at that moment.

Hamilton deserves a lot of credit for what he did on the three restarts. He did something different every time, and you can’t overestimate that. We saw so many people get overtaken at the restarts. It’s such a long drag to Turn 1. Every single time, he did a fantastic job, just thinking of the right moment to accelerate and make sure he didn’t get overtaken.

In all the interviews after the race I thought he handled himself really well, giving really mature answers. He talked about how the team supports him, it’s one of those things with the headrest, and he dealt with the disappointment of not winning really well.

Vettel gets lucky

Vettel didn’t look like he could hold on to Hamilton during the race and if it had been a full green race, Hamilton would have blitzed it, but it didn’t turn out that way.

After the penalty for Vettel and extra stop for Hamilton I thought the Mercedes would come past because of the pace advantage, but in the end, he couldn’t, which was surprising, and it upset the status quo.

The race was damage limitation for both of the guys locked in the title fight. The gap going into and coming out of Baku has increased by just a couple of points.For Vettel finishing P4 and Hamilton behind in P5 worked out better than if they’d finished 1-2, as Hamilton would have gained seven points on him, so he can count himself lucky.

It was a scrappy race for Kimi Raikkonen, who had a DNF in 14th. In qualifying neither Ferrari looked like they were there and 1.1 seconds off the pole position time is a huge delta.

Ricciardo reaps rewards

It was an excellent win for Daniel Ricciardo, it’s always nice to see his big smile on the podium.

On the flip side, Max Verstappen will be absolutely gutted, because he would feel it was a race he could have won. That’s three races in a row – Monaco, Canada and Baku - where he’s genuinely looked like he’s got more pace than his Red Bull teammate, and three races where it’s got away from him.

In Monaco, the pit stop strategy didn’t work out, then in Canada the car broke whilst he was running P2, and here again, in P3. He should have been the one to inherit the win when Hamilton and Vettel took themselves out of the reckoning. He’ll be pretty gutted with the way it worked out for him.

Stroll tastes the champagne

It was a great race for Lance Stroll. 

He did a really good job all weekend. He stayed within touching distance of his Williams teammate Felipe Massa all through practice and out-qualified him for the first time which was a really good effort considering it was also his first time around Baku.

In the race, the teenager also showed some very mature stuff and he didn’t crack under pressure, even though Valtteri Bottas got him for second at the end. It was just a combination of slipstream, a Mercedes engine cranked up to the hilt and DRS that was enough for Bottas to get him by a tenth of a second.

Stroll should be proud of the way he dealt with the pressure all through the race. Canada was a turning point for him, and hopefully this will be able to boost his confidence even more.

The ones that got away

There are plenty of people who will be disappointed – Force India, certainly. They would have been running 1-2 on the road when Vettel and Hamilton dropped down the order.

They should have inherited the lead, but instead ended up hitting each other. I saw some very tense conversations between Bob Fernley and Sergio Perez afterwards, and as a spectator, I thought that if you were Esteban Ocon, you’d give your teammate some more space.

What we saw there was probably the after-effects of Canada, where there were some issues. If Canada hadn’t happened the way it did between them, maybe Ocon would have been a bit more respectful. 

In the end Ocon didn’t give him much space and they hit each other, which is really bad for the team. It’s a big haul of points that they left on the table.

Nico Hulkenberg will also be really disappointed. 

The place that he hit the wall was really odd. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone get close to that wall. It looked like he got hooked on the inside kerb and just drove into it. 

It’s interesting with Hulkenberg, because he still hasn’t had a podium in F1.We saw so many times when he was at Force India, when there was a podium available to him, it was Perez that got it. Here there was one available, and Stroll got it, as the odd one out from the top three teams.

For whatever reason, Hulkenberg’s never been able to capitalise and get those big results. So, he’ll be disappointed with how the race turned out. He was on for a good haul of points, and that would have been good for Renault too.

Toro Rosso will be disappointed too. Carlos Sainz spun at the opening corner, and he initially blamed his teammate Kvyat, but I think if they look at the replay he’ll take that back.

McLaren finally managed to get points, which I’m sure they’re pretty relieved about, and I’m pretty sure Fernando Alonso is amazed that he finished the race considering the reliability woes he’s suffered.

Baku certainly delivered plenty for the fans. Will Austria provide a thrilling sequel? I don’t know about you but I can’t wait to find out.

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