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Images from the 2017 Azerbaijan F1 Grand Prix

Star Power: Bottas on the podium in Baku

Jun 252017

Fast times in Baku City for hard charging runner-up Valtteri Bottas and frustrated fifth place finisher Lewis Hamilton.

Off the back of an omnipotent performance from Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas at the Grand Prix of Canada in cosmopolitan Montreal, Quebec – where the silver surfers placed a resounding first and second, respectively – the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Formula 1 Team looked to the Baku City Circuit and the eighth round of the 2017 Formula 1 World Championship. In its second year of existence, the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan – dubbed the European Grand Prix in 2016 – was set to run against the cityscape of Baku, the capital and largest city of Azerbaijan and the largest city on the Caspian Sea (and for the record, the largest city in the world located below sea level (at 28 meters). A metropolis of 2 million people, the entire region was reverberating as the F1 world tour was in town and ready to rock and roar.

“Consistency. Consistency is the key to winning a championship,” insisted Lewis Hamilton during the press conference leading up to the race. “Up until now Sebastian Vettel with Ferrari has had the consistency to be able to win the championship. For sure, we have to improve on our consistency if we want to have a shot of winning both titles this year. The exciting thing about this year is that we are competing against another team. This brings a different vibe and a different energy from all the people within a team. I experience this when I go around to the different departments in the factory. Everyone knows that if they put in a little bit of extra time or work that this is going to make the difference between winning or losing to the Ferraris. In the past we have been battling ourselves within Mercedes. It did not really matter so much putting in extra effort, as we had a buffer of half a second at times. Now the guys are excited to get to utilize the greatness within themselves.”


Holding up to his end of things, Hamilton went out and put in yet another flying lap in the No. 44 Mercedes AMG F1 W08 EQ Silver Arrow and lit up all things timing and scoring to pocket the 66th pole position of his brilliant career (in doing so, the Briton is now number two on the all-time F1 pole list, just two behind the great Michael Schumacher).


“My pole lap in Montreal was pretty special, but I think this one here tops that,” offered Hamilton. “My first run in Q3 was actually really good, but I was a bit greedy into the last corner, locked up and cost myself time. After the red flag, there was a lot of pressure on that final lap. All weekend we've struggled to switch the car on over a single lap, but it was an all or nothing moment so I just gave it everything I had. Valtteri was on a great lap as well, so when I came across the line and saw that I had pole, it was such a good feeling. Even if that time had only been enough for P2 it was a lap to be proud of. We were struggling yesterday but we made a lot of changes overnight. A big thank you to the team who stayed late last night to get the car to where it is today - they did a fantastic job.”


Slotted-in at P1 and on the right side of the starting grid, Hamilton, with Mercedes teammate Bottas at his left flank in P2, waited for the starting lights to dissolve before making a frenzied 280 meter rush to the apex of turn one. And when they did at precisely 6:03 P.M. local time, it was Hamilton enjoying the best leap out of the hole to lead the 20-car field out onto the 20-corner (12 lefts and eight rights) Baku City Circuit. Immediately behind the No. 44 Silver Arrow ran Bottas. One turn later, Bottas and Scuderia Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen collided together, the two Finish drivers livid with one another as Bottas was forced into pit lane with a damaged front wing. His race would be far from over. Up front, Hamilton would lead first of 51 laps by two seconds over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.


The first pit stops of the race came on lap 13 when Lewis Hamilton dove into pit lane, virtually every other car and driver following his lead. Almost immediately thereafter, the safety car was brought out due an errant car stranded out on the circuit. A few laps later, the race was back on, but not before Bottas had managed to unlap himself and climb back into the race. Then came lap 20 and the start of what would be a flurry of incidents. Vettel came into contact with Hamilton behind the safety car and was furious with his rival. Moreover, Sergio Perez was trying to make a move on Vettel when they got started, and Massa was tangled up in it as well. Perez couldn’t get Vettel and he had to back off, and then his teammate, Esteban Ocon, cut him off and came into contact with him. That resulted in significant damage to Perez’s front wing and a puncture for Ocon. They called in both Force India cars, and Perez had to retire from the race.

When the race was restarted, Ricciardo immediately raced past both Williams cars and all was calm for a few laps. Unfortunately, Hamilton was having issues with his headrest coming loose, and he was ordered into the pit. That order came from the stewards, who deemed it a safety issue. A frustrated Hamilton hit the pits, and came out all the way back in ninth place. Up front, leader was radioed and informed that the stewards had issued him a 10-second stop-go penalty for his aforementioned incident with Hamilton.


Dramatically changing the complexion of the race, it was now Daniel Ricciardo’s race to win and that’s exactly what he did, flashing beneath the checkered flag with a 3.904 second lead. Even at the beginning of the final lap, second place was up for grabs and yet to be decided as third place driver Bottas was within in a second of second place driver Lance Stroll at the very beginning of the last circuit. Keeping the Mercedes AMG F1 W08 EQ Silver Arrow pinned - 57% of the lap was executed at full throttle – Bottas, 110 gear changes and all, pipped Stroll at the finish line by 0.105 seconds. Stroll would have to settle for the third spot on the podium. Vettel placed fourth, while Hamilton, likely wondering what should have been for not the unplanned pit stop, would up fifth on the day.


While undoubtedly a great performance by Ricciardo, the star drive of the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan belonged to Valtteri Bottas.


“Today was a crazy race, especially for me,” said Bottas after his charge from P20 (i.e. dead last). “I had a puncture on the first lap after the contact with Kimi on Lap 1. I was a lap down, then had to overtake the field under the Safety Car. The second Safety Car after that really helped me out and, step by step, I moved forward from there. My main goal today was to fight for the win but that went out of the window after the first lap. I was actually last at one point, but I got my head down, gave it absolutely everything and tried to get the absolute maximum out of every single corner. We didn't quite manage to win but P2 from where we were is a great feeling. Importantly for the team, we scored more points in the fight with Ferrari and I got some good points for myself as well.”


Although bitterly disappointed with the fifth place finish he had to live with on Sunday, Hamilton kept his chin up and looked for better – and more consistent - days to come.

“It's difficult to swallow a result like this after a strong weekend,” conceded the three-time F1 World Champion. “I drove my heart out today right to the line - I gave it everything. I know the team will be devastated about the issue with the headrest, but what we have to take away from this weekend is the great performance we have shown. We all feel that pain, but it's on me to gather my thoughts and try and lead the team through this adversity. We'll pull together and move forwards. I'm proud of my performance and I hope we can take the speed we've shown this weekend forward. I definitely didn't brake-test Sebastian. I controlled the pace under the Safety Car and, just like with the other restarts, I slowed down in the same place on the entry to T15. At that point, it is up to me to control the pace and then I felt a bump from behind. But that wasn't the issue for me - everybody saw clearly what happened after. All the young kids in other series look up to us, as champions, to set an example and that is not the behavior you expect to see from a multiple champion. But we know that when times get tough, true colours show, and we have managed to apply some good pressure in the last weeks. Personally, I want to do my talking on the track and win this championship in the right way. More than ever after this weekend, I believe we can.”


In the grand scheme of all F1 World Championship things, Lewis Hamilton is scored in second in the Drivers’ Championship with 139 marks, just 14 behind leader Sebastian Vettel. Valtteri Bottas is in third place, 28 points behind his teammate. Next stop: The Red Bull Ring and the Austrian Grand Prix on July 9.