Daniel Ricciardo’s grin could be seen from space after the Azerbaijan GP. Despite the Hamilton headrest and vitriolic Vettel incidents, the Aussie didn’t exactly coast to victory and had to fight for every lap. Starting 10th, it didn’t look like Ricciardo would even be able to claim a fourth 3rd-place finish in succession, let alone pick up the 25-points.
An early, unscheduled pit-stop dropped him to 17th at one point and like fellow podium finisher Valtteri Bottas, his race looked like a complete write-off after the opening stint. But perseverance and complete focus on what is quite clearly a punishing, difficult track saw the smiling assassin pull off the unlikely win. It’s great that amidst the controversy and noise surrounding the Hamilton/Vettel spat, it’s the unassuming, likeable Ricciardo and the calm, no BS Bottas that have brought home the results.
After the race, Ricciardo said,
“We dropped back to P17 at one point. Did I think I’d win then? I’d have put all my money on that not happening.
On the cool-down lap I was giggling like a schoolboy. It’s unreal to have managed to get the win. I have never really had a boring win and today was certainly not that. After all the chaos and the red flag I felt that a podium was in reach but then once Lewis had to pit and Seb had the penalty I knew the win was possible.
I kind of said yesterday that after my qualifying mistake and starting in 10th place, today was going to be a race of no mistakes, capitalising on moments and opportunities and I felt like we did everything we could.
The odds of a podium or win got pushed even further back when we had to make an unscheduled pit stop early in the race and I think I was back in 17th place. Then things fell in to place quite nicely and on every re-start I was able to make up positions and make it happen.”
– Daniel Ricciardo
On the other side of the garage, there isn’t much to celebrate about and it is made more frustrating that the driver is not at fault. Max Verstappen has now retired from four of the last six races with car attrition in one form or another. The Dutch driver was poised to be a key player in 2017 with the pre-season perception that the new regulations would favour Red Bull and a design team spearheaded by Adrian Newey. But the team are third in the running order, and still look like they can’t win unless Mercedes and Ferrari encounter issues (All four Silver and Red cars did just that in Baku).
Verstappen is getting all of the bad luck at the moment and it is difficult to see such a quality driver missing out on the chance to fight. After encountering more problems and retiring on the streets of Baku, Verstappen said,
“After what looked like a promising position at the beginning of the race I was gutted to be let down once again by a technical problem. After an action packed race we were confident we could have had at least a podium here in Baku, so I am very disappointed with this outcome.”
– Max Verstappen
Like Canadian Grand Prix last time, Verstappen was rapid out of the blocks and running amidst the Mercedes/Ferrari scrap early on. The Dutch driver finds himself with less than half of the points tally of his teammate, but shouldn’t feel under pressure given that it has been his RB13 that has been falling short rather than himself.