The title battle boils over

One of the big talking points of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix has got to be the incident between Vettel and Hamilton. It was a slightly unusual situation. Vettel going into the back of Hamilton was just one of those things. But afterwards, when Vettel side-swiped Hamilton, that was just unnecessary. I think they were right in penalising Seb at that moment.

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo with the trophy after winning the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku.   -  AP

What a completely and utterly crazy race that was in Baku! It started off pretty sedately, really. I thought this was going to be a bit of a snooze-fest, and then we had the safety car and it all went completely nuts. I’m not quite sure where to begin! There was a talking point for pretty much every single team on the grid.

I thought Lewis Hamilton did a brilliant job in qualifying because, as the weekend was going along in free practice, he looked like he was on the back-foot. Then, when we came to qualifying, he dug it out. One of Hamilton’s strengths has always been braking and corner entry, and I think that when the track has low grip and when he doesn’t have that ultimate peak grip, he’s not able to extract the best performance he wants from the combination of the tyres and the track surface. Therefore, it doesn’t quite happen for him.

That’s very symptomatic of a low-grip surface; we saw it in Monaco, we saw it in Sochi and we saw it in free practice here. In qualifying the track cleared up a lot more — there was more rubber down, the temperature dropped, there was more grip and Hamilton was able to use that incredible feel he has under braking and corner entry. His feeling is just so, so good at the point of the lock-up, where he is able to modulate the brakes. That’s been one of his big strengths, and I think he did that brilliantly in qualifying.

In the race, what can you say? I think he was going to be the winner, but then that headrest came loose. It sounds like it was just a one-off — it wasn’t put in place properly, probably under the red flag when he got out of the car and that cost him the win.

Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes pits to get his headrest fixed. The unscheduled pit stop cost the Briton a win.   -  AP

One of the big talking points of the race has got to be that incident with Sebastian Vettel under the safety car. It was a slightly unusual situation. It was Hamilton’s prerogative to control the pace, so it was absolutely up to him to decide how fast or how slow he wanted to go under safety car once the lights are out and you’re leading the restart. The stewards looked at the data and judged that he did hold a constant pace, but somehow he slightly wrong-footed Vettel.

Vettel went into the back of him, which is just one of those things. It’s always difficult under safety car —cold brakes, cold tyres — and I think that was okay. But then afterwards, when Vettel side-swiped Hamilton, that was just unnecessary. I think they were right in penalising Seb at that moment.

Lewis deserves a lot of credit for what he did on those three restarts because he did something different every time. You can’t underestimate that. We saw so many people get overtaken on the restarts as it’s such a long drag down to Turn 1. He did such a fantastic job of thinking of the right moment to accelerate to make sure he didn’t get overtaken. Even after the race, in all the interviews that he did, I thought he handled himself really well. He gave really mature answers and talked a lot about how the team has supported him, how it’s one of those things with the headrest and stuff, so I thought he dealt with the whole disappointment of not winning in Baku really well.

Ferrari just didn’t look like they were in the fight all through qualifying — 1.1sec off is a huge tell-tale. Kimi had a scrappy race for a variety of reasons and Seb didn’t look like he could hold on to Lewis really. I think if it had been a full green race, Lewis would have blasted off into the distance. Once they cleared the traffic after the penalty for Seb and the extra stop for Lewis to fix the headrest, I thought Lewis would come at Seb and get past him because they had such a pace advantage. In the end, he couldn’t and that was a little bit surprising, so it ended in status quo.

So it was damage limitation for both those guys, and the gap going into and out of Baku has sort of stayed the same, within a couple of points. It’s just another race ticked away. There’s no real big loss and for Sebastian it’s actually finished better than if Mercedes had finished 1-2, in which case Lewis would have gained seven points. I think Seb can count himself lucky.

Lance Stroll of Williams, who finished third in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, prepares to perform the ‘shoey’ on the podium. This was the Canadian teenager’s first podium finish.   -  AP

A few other mentions of teams — Red Bull obviously. A great win for Daniel Ricciardo. Max (Verstappen) will be absolutely gutted because he’ll feel this is a race he should have won. That’s three races in a row — Monaco, Canada and Baku — where he’s genuinely looked like he had more pace than Daniel. He looked the faster of the two Red Bull drivers all weekend. In Monaco, the pit-stop strategy didn’t work out for him; in Canada the car broke down when he was in second place; and here, again, he should have been the one to inherit the win when Sebastian and Lewis took themselves out of the reckoning. So he’ll be pretty gutted how that worked out for him. Anyway, a great win for Daniel. It’s always great to see him with that big smile on the podium.

A great race for Lance Stroll as well. I think he did a really, really good job all weekend. He was really good in practice and qualifying, stayed within touching distance of Felipe Massa all through practice and out-qualified him for the first time, which I thought was a really good effort. In the race it was very mature stuff. He didn’t crack under pressure and, okay, Valtteri got him at the end, but as he came into the final corner through the second sector he was 1.2sec in front. It was a combination of slipstream, Mercedes engine cranked up to the hilt and DRS that was enough for Valtteri to get him by a tenth of a second. I think Lance should be really proud of how he dealt with the pressure all through the race. Canada was a turning point for him and hopefully this will be another one to boost his confidence even more. I think he did a very good job all weekend.

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