STAYING CALM Red Bull driver avoids crashes to take top spot; Vettel finishes fourth, Hamilton fifth
BAKU: Red Bull driver Daniel Ricciardo profited from the chaos to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday while Sebastian Vettel extended his championship lead over Lewis Hamilton.
The Australian secured his fifth career win while Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas overtook 18-year-old Canadian Lance Stroll’s Williams in the closing metres to take second place.
“It was just a crazy race, with all the safety cars and the chaos,” Ricciardo said. “On the cooldown lap, I was just giggling like a schoolboy.”
Vettel steered his Ferrari into fourth, just ahead of Hamilton’s Mercedes. After eight races, Vettel leads Hamilton by 14 points.
In a stop-start race, the safety car came out three times in quick succession before a red flag stopped the Grand Prix near the midway point because debris littered the track.
Shortly before that, Hamilton and Vettel were involved in an incident that threatens to sour their good relations.
Hamilton appeared to stop his car right in front of Vettel, causing Vettel to collide into him. An irate Vettel then accelerated alongside Hamilton and appeared to deliberately swerve back into him.
Vettel was given a 10-second stop-go penalty, but Hamilton lost valuable time changing a loose headrest at the same time that Vettel served his time penalty. Hamilton was on Vettel’s tail on the last lap, but could not overtake.
The fact Ricciardo won from 10th on the grid, and that Bottas clawed his way back from last following an early incident, summed up a bizarre race.
It was an extraordinary performance from Stroll, the son of a billionaire, who faced heavy criticism earlier in the season.
“I’m just lost for words,” said Stroll, who earned his first podium finish.
Hamilton was on pole position for the 66th time in his career, with Bottas second on the grid; Kimi Raikkonen third and Vettel fourth.
Hamilton got away cleanly, but Raikkonen clipped Bottas and bumped his own Ferrari into the wall, and Vettel surged past them into second place.
But Bottas had to pit on the second lap for a new front wing, dropping to last, while Raikkonen complained of damage to the rear of his car.
Up ahead, Hamilton asked over the radio where Bottas was, perhaps concerned his teammate would not be able to protect him from Vettel later in the race.
Force India’s Sergio Perez jumped up to third, with Red Bull’s Max Verstappen fourth ahead of Raikkonen.
Moments later, Verstappen had to retire — from four of the past six races — because of engine problems.
At about the same time, the safety car came out for the first time because Daniil Kvyat’s Toro Rosso was stalled on the side of the track.
This prompted a flurry of activity as drivers switched tires, changing the race order somewhat. The race was just about to start again when race control called for the safety car to stay out, because of debris from Raikkonen’s car.
The slowness of the safety car was annoying Hamilton, who complained that he couldn’t get enough temperature into his tires. Then came that incident with Vettel.
“He brake-tested me!” an angry Vettel said, while Hamilton argued differently.
When the race finally did start again — on lap 20 — Vettel just about held off the Williams cars of Felipe Massa and Stroll.
Within moments, the safety car was out again for the third time after Sergio Perez and his Force India teammate Esteban Ocon collided.
Perez was seemingly forced out of the race as too was Raikkonen, whose right rear tire was completely shredded.
With debris littering the track, it was way too dangerous to race and the red flag came out on lap 22 of 51. With the cars parked in the pit lane, mechanics made minor repairs. A sullen-looking Vettel chatted to Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene, while Hamilton slipped on his headphones as he listened to music with his sunglasses on.