Azerbaijan GP 2017: Non-athletic manoeuvre cost Sebastian the victory!

First of all, I need to take a few deep breaths before I start writing down my thoughts on the race. What a crazy, chaotic and unexpected race! With a lot of laundry to do afterwards... 

Let’s begin with qualifying though. In the narrow streets of Baku, it was extremely difficult for the drivers to get both the tyres and the brakes up to the optimal temperature. As a result, everyone suffered from poor grip. The qualifying saw longer runs on the same set of tyres instead of two separate attempts in each session. Although Hamilton’s pace had been kind of missing in the free practices, the Briton stamped his authority in all qualifying sessions. However, the shootout for pole was breath-taking. Hamilton’s Finnish teammate Bottas seemed to be at home on the street circuit of Baku and took provisional pole as Hamilton made a mistake on his first run. Q3 was red-flagged with 3 minutes and 33 seconds remaining when Ricciardo in his RB13 stopped in Turn 6 after broadsiding and brushing the outer wall. I expected it to be extremely difficult for anyone to improve his lap time, as all came down to one flying lap only. However, Bottas drove a fantastic lap and improved his lap time. But after that it was hammer time! I don’t know where the Briton’s pace came from, but he made it on pole by almost half a second. This time Kimi was the faster of the Ferrari teammates, and Sebastian completed the second row. However, I found it a bit worrying that Kimi and Sebastian were over a second off Mercedes’ pace. Verstappen in the other RB13 had an issue with gear sync on his final run, and the Dutchman had to settle for P5. The most positive surprise was Williams’ Stroll (P8) who made it in Q3 for only the second time in his F1 career, even managing to out-qualify his teammate Massa (P9). 

In terms of the race, the first drama took place at the start. Hamilton took a clean start and held on to his lead. Kimi from P3 had taken a rocket start, and the Iceman was challenging his countryman Bottas going into Turn 2. Kimi was already slightly ahead of his compatriot, but hitting the kerb made Bottas’ Silver Arrow jump straight into Kimi’s Ferrari! The contact made Kimi crash into the wall. Kimi got severe damage both to his front wing and left-side floor. Such a shame for the Iceman, who had everything but a perfect start to the race! Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first time that the Finns have ended up colliding with each other. Bottas suffered a front right puncture and had to pit for a fresh set of tyres and a new front wing. When re-joining the track, Bottas was already a lap down from everyone else. 

Red Bull’s reliability issues have played a significant role this year. Such was the case in Baku, too, unfortunately. Verstappen was driving a strong race and he was already challenging Force India’s Perez for P3, but the flying Dutchman was once again hit with a technical issue, which ended his race. A couple of laps earlier Kvyat’s Toro Rosso had also stopped on track, and a safety car was deployed. All top drivers pitted for a fresh set of yellow-marked soft tyres. 

Safety car came in on lap 16, but only for a short while. The re-start was everything but clean and, once again, there was debris on track. And so the safety car was back out! Right before the second re-start, the race took the most dramatic and costly turn. Hamilton suddenly slowed down so significantly in Turn 15 that Sebastian crashed into the rear of Hamilton’s car, which destroyed Sebastian’s front wing. In the heat of the moment Sebastian drove alongside his title rival showing his hands - and then he deliberately hit Hamilton’s Mercedes! The re-start took place and the race was underway. Gosh, did the adrenaline ran high! 

Behind the title rivals there was drama between the pinks. Ocon made an overoptimistic overtaking move on his teammate Perez, which made the Force India partners collide. Ocon was able to continue, but the Mexican drove into the pits and had to retire the race. However, the pinks’ collision made Kimi’s race turn into worse. Kimi hit the debris from one of the Force Indias, causing him a rear right puncture. The Iceman managed to limp into the pits, but, due to the severe damage caused by the puncture, the Finn had no choice but to retire the race. At this point, Hamilton was leading the race, with Sebastian second. But who would have expected to see the Williams duo in 3rd and 4th?! 

On lap 22, the race was red-flagged, as there was still too much debris on the track. Everyone drove into the pits to wait for the race to be resumed. I watched Sebastian standing on the pit lane and couldn’t help wondering what was going on in the German’s mind. He must have realised what a mistake he had made! In my opinion, Hamilton was no saint, he must have had slowed down intentionally, although the data from his car didn’t show that he would have slowed down too much. Hamilton has done this many times before behind safety car, especially in the fight with his ex- teammate Rosberg. But no matter, whether what Hamilton did was right or wrong, Sebastian had no right to deliberately hit his rival’s car! It was such a non-athletic act, one that a quadruple world champion mustn’t do under any circumstances, no matter how heated the situation gets! All I could think was that Sebastian needed to calm down and get his head cool before the re-start. 

During the 15-minute break the track had been cleared of all the debris, and the race was back on. Miraculously, Ferrari had been able to fix Kimi’s SF70-H during the break, which was an admirable effort from the Ferrari team. Ricciardo in his Red Bull was responsible for the most stunning overtaking move of the re-start, as the "Smiling Avenger" passed both Williams’ cars and moved to third. Hamilton faced an unexpected problem in the lead. His headrest was loose for some reason, and for safety reasons the Briton had no choice but to pit, so that the team was able to get the headrest attached properly. This meant that Sebastian was almost handed the victory of the Azerbaijan GP! Almost... As at the same time Sebastian was handed a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for dangerous driving! I can’t even describe how I felt when I saw the penalty on the TV screen. It was totally deserved, no question about that. But it broke my heart to realise that without the stupid mistake Sebastian would have won the race! Those might turn out to be valuable points at the end of the season. 

However, Sebastian re-joined the track right ahead of title rival Hamilton. Ricciardo was leading the race with Williams rookie Stroll second. However, Bottas had made an amazing recovery from the back of the pack and the Finn was absolutely determined to chase down the Canadian. And it all came down to the finish line. Bottas had closed the gap to Stroll second by second, and the Finn passed Stroll right at the finish straight and snatched P2! Still Stroll’s P3 was an amazing result, taking into consideration the loads of criticism the Canadian had been given in the first half of the season. In spite of the penalty, Sebastian finished in P4, and Hamilton had to settle for P5. Unfortunately, Kimi had to retire (again) only a couple of laps before the chequered flag. 

Sebastian’s lead in the drivers’ championship standings is now 14 points. It’s bittersweet to think that after the race it could have been 27 points! Ferrari is now 24 points down on Mercedes in the constructors’ standings. Sebastian has been given three penalty points for his outrageous act. To be honest, I was disappointed at Sebastian’s post-race interviews. As the quadruple world champion and a role model for millions of fans he should take responsibility for his actions. Making mistakes is human. In the heat of the moment people sometimes do things that shouldn’t be done. But as a sportsman you should admit your mistakes, learn from them, and move on. 

I admire Sebastian from the bottom of my heart. My support for him is always there, even though I don’t always accept his on-track actions. Getting caught by the heat of the moment only proves his passion for racing. In the hard times the support of the fans is needed the most. I hope Sebastian knows that there are fans, who stand by his side in spite of all the mistakes! 

With passion for racing red, 

Iina Huhmarniemi

Jun 29, 2017