Daniel Ricciardo brings home a stellar win at the Baku Grand Prix
STARTING from 10th on the grid, then dropping to 17th after an early pit stop did not auger well for Daniel Ricciardo – but after 51 laps of Baku’s fast street circuit, he won the chaotic and hugely entertaining Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The Perth-born Red Bull driver laughed out loud as he crossed the finish line ahead of Valtteri Bottas, who nosed his Mercedes past young Canadian Lance Stroll’s Williams right on the finish line.
It was the fifth Grand Prix win of his career, and the most unlikely, given his crash in qualifying that put him way back on the grid.
It was a race that had seven retirements, four safety car delays and was red-flagged and re-started after an endless series of incidents, including a display of road rage by Ferrari’s Sebastien Vettel that cost him a 10-second stop-go penalty – and victory.
The Force India team put in a great run and could potentially have had a 1-2 win, but Esteban Ocon tried to squeeze past teammate Sergio Perez, who was trying to pass Vettel, broke the Mexican’s car and punctured a tyre on his own.
Vettel had earlier smacked into the back of race leader Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes while travelling in a slow convoy behind the safety car, blamed Hamilton for braking unexpectedly, then drew alongside and drove into the Merc’s front wheel as payback.
There was so much crash debris on the circuit that the race was red-flagged on lap 22 to allow a clean-up.
Ricciardo had by that stage moved to fifth and made a blinding move at the re-start to get by both Williams cars to slot into third place.
Hamilton later lost his lead when the headrest of his car came adrift. He tried to hold it down with one hand while doing 350km/h down the Baku circuit’s long straight, but was ordered into the pits to fix it.
They were among a succession of other incidents that spiced the race, among them a clash of wheels between the two Saubers, Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz spun his car on lap 1 to avoid teammate Kvyat’s wild cornering and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen blew up his car’s engine while in third place on lap 13.
Bottas, in particular, put in a stirring drive to come from last after a first lap brush with Raikkonen’s Ferrari, to steal second place at the finish.
The Williams pair of Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll ran strongly until three-quarters distance, when Massa’s car had a chassis malfunction and let Stroll in second place, behind Ricciardo after Hamilton’s trip to the pits.
‘That was fun – it was very fun,’ Ricciardo said of his first win since Malaysia in 2016.
‘It was a crazy race. Did I think I would win today?’ he said on the podium.
‘Absolutely not. I’d have put all my money on it.
‘I was giggling like a little schoolboy when it happened.’
He finished four seconds ahead of Bottas, who was just 1/100sec ahead of Stroll, with Vettel fourth, followed by Hamilton, Ocon, Magnussen in the Haas, Sainz (Toro Rosso), Fernando Alonso ninth for McLaren and Pascal Wehrlein 10th in the Sauber.
Egged on by podium compere David Coulthard, Ricciardo slipped off his Puma and filled it with bubbly for Lance Stroll to do a ‘shoey’. The Canadian rookie did so with gusto, but Bottas fled.
Red Bull principal Christian Horner was delighted with the team’s first win of the season.
‘We had a little bit of luck with the penalties for Lewis and Sebastian and it gave us our first victory of 2017,’ he said.
‘An unbelievable tale of two halves today, but fantastic for the team to score its 53rd grand prix victory.’
The next round will be the Austrian GP on July 9.
But it is unlikely to be anywhere near as thrilling as the one in Baku.
Pics: Getty Images