Round 7 of the 2017 season is done and dusted, with one pretty strong comeback, one easy win, and a team that cost itself points. Oh yeah, and Fernando Alonso was back in an F1 car following his Indy adventure. Was it a good race? Yeah, reasonably so. Did it have some interesting subplots? Yep. So, where to begin?
If you’re Max Verstappen you’ll be quite annoyed. A great start launched him from fifth to second into the first couple of corners, and he was managing to avoid Valtteri Bottas’ clutches, until lap ten, when his car failed, forcing to suffer yet another retirement. Verstappen had a major impact on Sebastian Vettel’s race too – he ran over the Ferrari’s front wing at the start, and this ended Vettel’s hopes of challenging for victory.
Behind the leaders was first-lap carnage. Carlos Sainz cut across the front of Romain Grosjean’s Haas as they came out of the first couple of bends, and spun, his Toro Rosso sliding sideways across the track and wiping out the Williams of Felipe Massa. Grosjean was able to continue but Sainz and Massa? They enjoyed an early shower. The safety car came out for a few laps, but Ferrari didn’t pit Vettel until lap 5, after the safety car had come in. Their strategy became aggressive – Vettel was given super-soft tyres and set off catching and passing others with relative ease, whilst Hamilton and Bottas cruised off into the distance. Daniel Ricciardo moved up to third for Red Bull, with the second Ferrari of Kimi Raikkonen slipping up and nearly smacking the wall early on, something that provided impetus for the Force India duo of Sergio Perez and Esteban Ocon to move into fourth and fifth.
The Mercedes-powered Force Indias would start to close in on Ricciardo, especially after the single pit stops that most cars favoured. Perez would lurk on Ricciardo’s tail for some time, but would also impede the faster Ocon – something that would come back to hurt them both later on. Meanwhile, Vettel was on a charge, but would have to make a second stop to put on fresh rubber. The order of business became damage limitation, though he was aided in this cause when Kimi Raikkonen ran wide at the final chicane, letting Vettel up into sixth. With Perez refusing to let Ocon by to attack Ricciardo, and with Ocon making a nuisance of himself to get by his teammate, Vettel would catch the warring Force Indias with a handful of laps remaining.
Before long, he was by them both. What started as a real possibility of a podium for a Force India driver ended with posts lost, and it would seem Perez has to be the one held responsible. He ignored team instructions, and as a result, the team lost points. In this game, that could make all the difference come the end of the season. Likewise, the extra points gained for Vettel might prove crucial. He is now 12 points ahead of Hamilton, having dropped 13 points to his title rival, but might have lost 17 points and sit only 8 points clear. That could make all the difference later on.
The race saw a first for 2017 – a one-two finish for Mercedes. Hamilton saw out a comfortable win that included pole position and the fastest lap of the race, whilst Bottas was never troubled by Ricciardo. Mercedes regained the lead in the constructor’s championship too – Raikkonen had brake issues at one stage and could finish no higher than seventh. Elsewhere, Williams driver Lance Stroll scored his first F1 points, with ninth, and did so in front of his home crowd too. Nico Hulkenberg continued his fine form with eighth for Renault, and Grosjean took a point for Haas. In a not-so-surprising twist, Fernando Alonso’s McLaren failed him with two laps remaining, robbing him of a points finish. Alonso leaped from his car and ran into the crowd, to their great delight, but elsewhere, Alonso has been issuing warnings that he might quit McLaren if things don’t improve, and he is out of contract at the end of the year, whilst McLaren themselves are deeply concerned at how ‘lost’ Honda look, and are rumoured to be looking at returning to Mercedes power. The weekend will have done nothing to help Honda’s image.
Finally, Sir Patrick Stewart lent his distinctive booming voice to the podium interviews, and even indulged in Ricciardo’s famous ‘shoey’ (that is, he drank champagne from his shoe). It was a weird and wonderful way to conclude a race that saw one dominant performance, one fight-back, inter-team issues and an expected McLaren retirement. Next up is Baku.