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Five things we learned from the Azerbaijan GP

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Five things we learned from the Azerbaijan GP
By:
Jun 26, 2017, 7:02 PM

Motorsport.com’s Global Editor-in-Chief Charles Bradley gives his views as the world title fight between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel suddenly turned nasty.

1: The Hamilton versus Vettel title fight exploded

Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes AMG F1 W08, Sebastian Vettel, Ferrari SF70H

Photo by: Charles Coates / LAT Images

The touch paper ignited in Baku, as Sebastian Vettel hip-slammed Lewis Hamilton in an outrageous display of petulance – under safety car conditions – as they prepared for a restart. It iced the cake of the most exciting Grand Prix yet of an intriguing season.

Vettel ran into the back of Hamilton on the exit of Turn 15, when Lewis didn’t accelerate as the Ferrari ace had expected as they prepared for the race to resume. It led to perhaps 21st Century’s sport’s biggest no-no: retaliation. Drawing alongside and shaking your fist was fine, Seb, but turning right and banging wheels was not.

Of course, Hamilton held the moral high ground. The telemetry data proved he did nothing wrong – the alleged “brake check” never happened. He simply rolled around Turn 15 and didn’t accelerate when an over-keen Vettel anticipated he would.

In the aftermath, Vettel claimed Hamilton had accelerated and then braked – which was patently not true. When challenged post-race by NBC’s Will Buxton about whether the contact was deliberate or not, Vettel swerved the inquisition with a cold stare: “I don’t think it was very deliberate for him to brake-check me. I don’t think he’s that kind of guy, but obviously that’s what it turned out to be and that’s what he did, so I wasn’t happy with that.”

It smacked of a response you’d expect from Ferrari’s other German great, Michael Schumacher, who was also tended to display a strong streak of denial when he was in the wrong.

If nothing else, it showed an alarming lack of big-picture thinking on Vettel’s part. Following his Mexican GP impudence directed at F1’s race director Charlie Whiting, it appears he lacks esteem for his World Championship rival too.

Never mind a 10s stop/go penalty, Vettel could have been looking at disqualification or a ban. He might now have a 14-point lead, but one wonders if Sebastian lost a lot more than he gained in the overall scheme of things.

2: The Honey Badger is back! 

Daniel Ricciardo, Red Bull Racing RB13, Lance Stroll, Williams FW40, Felipe Massa, Williams FW40, at the restart

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / LAT Images

The laughter from inside his helmet on the cool-down lap told its own story: Daniel Ricciardo should never have won this race, and he knew it.

But we know he’s capable of remarkable things, and Dan never seems to win the straightforward ones, does he? Ricciardo kept his head (and his headrest!) while all around him were losing theirs.

From 17th on lap four, after being forced into an early pitstop to clear debris from a brake duct, Ricciardo made some bold moves – especially after safety car restarts. Until that point, he was being soundly beaten across the weekend by Max Verstappen (whose cap he didn’t look too chuffed to receive on the podium!) and had crashed out of qualifying when Red Bull was looking as strong as it has all season.

But Verstappen was forced out yet again by a technical failure, and must have been seething to see his teammate hog the limelight in a race he could have won.

Not that Ricciardo cared, as career win number five leapfrogged him ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in the drivers’ championship.

3: The real Lance Stroll stepped forward

Lance Stroll, Williams in the Press Conference

Photo by: Sutton Images

Despite being pipped on the finish line for second by Valtteri Bottas – who drove from one lap down to a barely-credible runner-up spot – you couldn’t wipe the smile from Lance Stroll’s face on Sunday evening.

That points-paying finish in Montreal seems to have lifted the gloom that’s hung over him since he arrived in F1, and you got the feeling we saw the real Stroll in Baku. Not only with his performance on track, but in the post-race podium green room, which he bounced around with all the energy you’d expect from a smart, well-educated, happy teenager.

While his pre-Canada races were nothing to smile about, let’s hope he can continue to reflect a little more of his personality because – guess what? – even his haters might actually grow to like him…

On the other hand, you have to feel sorry for Felipe Massa. He had a legitimate claim to adding another race win to his tally, and was very well placed to inherit the lead when a damper on his Williams broke.

4: Force India’s intra-team war escalated to another level

Sergio Perez, Sahara Force India VJM10 and Esteban Ocon, Sahara Force India VJM10 at the restart
Photo by: Sutton Images

The seeds of dissension were sown in Canada between Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon, and in Baku a moment of madness binned a likely double podium, perhaps even the possibility of the team’s first win in its current guise.

While running fourth and fifth – ahead of eventual winner Daniel Ricciardo – Perez and Ocon rubbed wheels at a restart, not once but twice. The second touch, on the exit of Turn 2, was a right-rear (Ocon) to left-front (Perez) contact that basically put the latter out of the race, and sent the former into the pits for a new tyre.

Afterwards, Perez laid the blame squarely at Ocon’s door. And the Frenchman has looked so ice-cool in races this year, it’s easy to forget that he’s a Grand Prix rookie.

Ocon redeemed himself somewhat by recovering to finish sixth, and with Massa’s exit, the loss of constructors’ championship points to Williams wasn’t as huge as it might have been.

5: McLaren isn’t happy even when it does score points

 Fernando Alonso, McLaren MCL32
Photo by: Zak Mauger / LAT Images

We’ve got used to some outlandish claims over the radio by Fernando Alonso about his potential this year, like “I’m quickest on track in the corners” but he excelled himself on Sunday with: “It was a race that in normal circumstances we should have won”.

Of course, if you take that literally, it is ridiculous. He finished ninth, virtually a minute behind the race winner – this despite a mid-race red flag and multiple safety cars.

But what he really means is, without the anchor of his Honda engine, this was a race that would otherwise have fallen into his lap. As it was, he managed to run fifth briefly, but on a power track like this, he was always a sitting duck due to Honda’s lack of power and thirst for fuel in comparison to its rivals.

But even though it is off the starting blocks in the constructors’ championship, team boss Eric Boullier wasn’t turning somersaults. “I’m not smiling, I’m not excited because it’s not the reason why I’m racing, and especially not racing with McLaren.”

For Alonso, he continues to fight – still with one arm tied behind his back, and hopping on one leg.

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