You know it’s Baku when in the final two laps, the battle between first and second is decided by a gap that’s barely over a second.
You know it’s Baku when two cars retire on the same lap with one finding the rear of the other nearly on its nose, this being no collision but a failed attempt to reverse the car.
When does such a thing ever happen?
And you know it’s Baku when Romain Grosjean fails to finish yet another race at the famous street circuit, located on the picturesque boulevard.
Valtteri Bottas proves the adage- “If you want to win, hire a Finn”
In firmly establishing his credentials as a potential world champion for 2019, Valtteri Bottas won the second race of the year after the Finn kept his cool from a fast-approaching Lewis Hamilton in the closing stages. Valtteri Bottas, however, won the battle during the nervy moments at the start, you could say, when he somehow managed to keep Hamilton at bay, perhaps making the most of driving on the cleaner part of the track.
In so doing, Bottas won his first-ever contest at Azerbaijan, a track where last year, he ran over debris at a time where he looked near certain to win.
Nothing really outstanding from Seb
Meanwhile, the Ferrari of Sebastian Vettel struggled for grips and did just enough to hold onto third at the start with Verstappen piling on the pressure from behind.
The German later confessed that the tyres seemed utterly uncomfortable for the SF90 to keep up the pace to challenge the Mercedes’ and that the most a Ferrari could do were to increase the pace toward the halfway stage.
Lewis Hamilton, however, kept piling on the pressure on his teammate, the narrative not changing in both- the closing stages as well as the opening stage- with the Finn defying the fast catching Briton, previously the winner here in 2018.
As the two Mercedes drivers dominated, the Silver Arrows struck gold once again in a race where it seemed, Ferrari drove with a questionable strategy.
Brilliant from Leclerc
Any doubts whatsoever regarding Charles Leclerc- a burgeoning talent on the grid- were put to rest by the Ferrari driver making some stunning passes (given the Scuderia’s sheer straight-line speed) early on in the race.
These were, most noticeably on McLaren’s Carlos Sainz Jr., followed by a move that, given all it took that Ferrari of Leclerc to pass Verstappen, seemed a stroll in the park as the Monegasque driver jumped past the defenseless Red Bull.
By the start of Lap 4, Leclerc, who began his second-ever run at Baku would be up into fourth, thus putting the pressure on Verstappen, although the Dutchman being the faster of the two Red Bulls. For someone who started his contest from tenth, following Raikkonen, given that in Q2, Leclerc crashed into the wall at Turn 8, the Ferrari driver put some fantastic driving.
Kimi does well to recover
At around this time, an interesting battle ensued between the backmarkers, with Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen having to contest the likes of the Haas’ and the Williams’. Sainz, Kvyat, and Gasly at this time, were all stacked around the top ten during this time.
Raikkonen, who was originally slated to begin from ninth, was told to begin from the pitlane after the front-wing of his Alfa Romeo failed to clear the deflection test. Game over, one would’ve imagined.
But the seasoned campaigner made a contest of the 51-lap race displaying typical flair, passing both the Haas’ of Magnussen and Grosjean, and finally finding enough power to keep Toro Rosso’s Alex Albon behind, the Brit-Thai driver being the only man from the Franz Tost outfit to finish the race.
But it could be said, the 2019 Azerbaijan GP could be seen in two ways. Any among those running in the top five had a chance to win. But for the midfielders, there were unexpected changes.
Not so cheery for Ricciardo
Come Lap 32 and Daniel Ricciardo of Renault and Haas’ Romain Grosjean, who’s failed to collect a point at Baku ever since the start of the race in 2016, race-retired.
Becoming the first victims of the notorious tracks, both Grosjean and Ricciardo locked up coming into the third corner of Lap 32 with roughly 20 more to go.
Ricciardo then would inexplicably back into the French-Swiss driver, both out of the race eventually.
With the disaster striking both cars, it didn’t help them any further that their teammates, Hulkenberg of Renault and Magnussen of Haas also failed to enter the top ten, thus, not a single point added for two strong midfielders at Baku.
All that told, the race did offer a vital question for those supporting Ferrari and young talent Charles Leclerc. Did the strategists throw up a potential win, yet again?
It remains to be seen as to what potential answer can Ferrari offer in defending their move to ask Leclerc to continue on a longer stint.
Excellent from Charles Leclerc
Along with Gasly, the 21-year-old would be the second driver to pit after 36 laps were completed.
One wonders what might have happened had Leclerc been pitted first up, instead of holding up Bottas for as long as he did, a move that eventually, owing to tyre degradation brought Verstappen into play.
Yet, even despite a faulty Ferrari strategy, the young speedster accomplished interesting, a cumulative collection of 11 points, an extra point due to setting the fastest lap (thanks to a second stop with 3 laps to go) that resulted in a new track record: 1:43:009.