Frederic Vasseur, Charles Leclerc, Sauber, Baku City Circuit, 2018

2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Star Performers

2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Charles Leclerc, Valtteri Bottas and Sergio Perez are RaceFans’ Star of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend. Here’s why.


Charles Leclerc

This was the kind of giant-killing performance many expected from the reigning Formula Two champion. Particularly after his inspired performance in Baku last year.

Leclerc was miles ahead of Marcus Ericsson in qualifying. From 13th on the grid he avoided the various first-lap collisions, then fought his way past Lance Stroll. Later in the race he scrapped convincingly with Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz Jnr, delivering a fine sixth place which is Sauber’s best result for three years.

Valterri Bottas

Although Hamilton had the edge on him in qualifying, Bottas came to the fore in the race thanks to his excellent opening stint on super-soft tyres. He still had great pace on the rubber after almost 40 laps on them, and could have been a contender for victory even without the Safety Car.

He was extraordinarily unlucky, therefore, to miss out on victory when he struck a piece of debris which punctured his tyre with three laps remaining.

Sergio Perez

Although he was shaded by his team mate in qualifying, by the end of lap one Perez was their only car left as Esteban Ocon had gone out in an unnecessary clash with Kimi Raikkonen


Romain Grosjean

Romain Grosjean, Haas, Baku City Circuit, 2018
Grosjean remains on zero
Although he struggled in practice, Grosjean felt the final changes he made on Saturday morning had transformed his car. But then he went off three corners into his qualifying lap, so his ultimate potential remained a mystery.

He dragged himself up from last place to be in contention for points, but spun into the barriers behind the Safety Car. That painful mistake means only he and Sergey Sirotkin are yet to score points this year.

Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo

There was a feel of ‘irresistible force meets immovable object’ about the collision between Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo. Both should have done more to avoid it.

Whether it was a chastening experience the pair will learn from, or the beginning of a downward spiral in their relationship, remains to be seen.

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And the rest

Carlos Sainz Jnr, Renault, Baku City Circuit, 2018
Sainz got stuck into the Red Bulls
Hamilton admitted his win was somewhat fortunate after a flawed but occasionally fast drive. Vettel was unlucky with the Safety Car but blew his chance to win with an overly optimistic attempt to pass Bottas.

A series of errors in qualifying compromised Raikkonen’s race badly. He spoiled his run on super-softs in Q2, which meant he had to start on the less favourable ultra-softs. Then in Q3 he made errors on both runs, meaning a driver who was clearly capable of starting from pole position lined up sixth instead.

For the second year running Ocon can reflect on the fact he would have been on the podium in Baku had he been a bit more savvy in his wheel-to-wheel racing. Much the same could be said of Nico Hulkenberg, who binned his Renault for the second year in a row. Carlos Sainz Jnr sparred impressively with the Red Bulls on his way to fifth.

Both McLaren drivers were in the point. Fernando Alonso took a deserved rewarded for dragging his mostly wrecked car back to the pits on lap one. Stoffel Vandoorne had a tough time in practice but fitting warm tyres for the dash to the flag was a smart move which reaped rewards. Lance Stroll finished between the pair of them, wishing he’d been on Perez’s strategy, but unlike his team mate at least he made it as far as lap two.

Brendon Hartley took a somewhat fortunate first point after his team mate was hit by Kevin Magnussen. Hartley had also frightened the life out of poor Pierre Gasly during qualifying.

Gasly came in 12th behind Marcus Ericsson, who picked up damage on the first lap, and one place ahead of Magnussen. The latter had carried damage from early in the race.

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Over to you

Vote for the driver who impressed you most last weekend and find out whether other RaceFanss share your view here:

2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Author information

Keith Collantine
Lifelong motor sport fan Keith set up RaceFans in 2005 - when it was originally called F1 Fanatic. Having previously worked as a motoring...

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39 comments on “2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Star Performers”

  1. @keithcollantine I was watching the onboards earlier and it gave the impression that Hulk crashed because of a puncture, maybe due to his contact with Sirotkin at the start. He crashes exactly at the same time his team tells him he has a puncture and you can see him struggling on the power right before that corner, he has a alide mid-straight and again at the turn which sent him into the wall.

    1. @johnmilk I wondered about it while watching the race live, but Hulk himself blamed it on a gust of wind, so…

    2. I have the same impression, maybe he went over a fragment that had not been cleared

    3. @johnmilk – ah, if that is the case, that is good news in that it wasn’t driver error (I was a little uncharitable in my thoughts of the Hulk after he put it in the wall).

    4. I have the same impression

    5. From the news:

      “Last year it was the only mistake that he’s done so frankly if it has to be the same again, one mistake a season in Baku, that is done, let’s move on and he will be more than forgiven for that,” Abiteboul said. “He missed an opportunity to be part of that party because it was clearly an amazing race.”

    6. Ah, excellent… Not sure why I didn’t think of that when I was clutching at straws as to reasons why he binned it. And it could be legitimate too (especially given the odd look of the crash). So it was bad luck, yet again… Sigh…

      1. Aaditya (@neutronstar)
        2nd May 2018, 14:47

        @hugh11 Stop it, please. :( If it was really bad luck, then why was it labeled as a mistake by Cyril Abiteboul and why did no one from the team clarify the actual reason for his crash (including Hulk himself) in the post-race interviews? Hulk cannot keep hiding behind the “it happens/bad luck” wall all the time. He has missed at least half of his podium opportunities because of his own mistakes and momentary brain-fades. :'(

    7. Exactly at the sime time cuz he crashed.
      He understeered into the corner first, then oversteered. And it was done.

  2. Whether it was a chastening experience the pair will learn from, or the beginning of a downward spiral in their relationship, remains to be seen.

    I strongly believe this event with bring some sort of hate between both drivers.
    Maybe Ricciardo must think a bit more before pulling those late braking tricks next time

    1. Maybe.. but i noticed he still had his DRS open when he crashed into the back.. The DRS was manual during this race as a result of a technical problem on track. Maybe that contributed to his to late reaction.
      His speed was simply to great and his downforce was lost behind the other RB.

      1. Matteo (@m-bagattini)
        2nd May 2018, 8:37

        Are you sure? I’ve seen the “from all angles” video on Formula 1 YouTube channel and the wing closes as soon as he starts breaking as far as I can tell.

    2. Pretty sure that ship has sailed.

      Max has no interest in the team, his sole focus for the entire race was “I won’t let Dan past me” not – we need to catch up to those in front.

      Team management did absolutely nothing to diffuse what everyone could see was an accident waiting to happen. Someone there should have pulled one or the other of them in for new tyres and split them as there was nothing t be gained by leaving them there.

  3. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
    1st May 2018, 20:03

    I really expected Ericsson to be one of the strugglers here. He had a messy start collecting a penalty and his pace didn’t look great either.

    1. And his collision with Gros of course ;)

      1. Can’t believe he was so careless as to crash into someone under the sc, he should’ve been nowhere near him!

  4. Perez will be a fantastic fit at Ferrari for 2019 when Kimi moves on. If I remember right Perez was also part of the Ferrari driver academy.

    1. @Nigel Yes, he ‘would’ be ‘if’ Kimi moves on, but let’s wait and see what will eventually happen on that front.

    2. I think Sergio Perez probably deserves that drive but I think Raikkonen will stay for one more year until Charles Leclerc is ready

  5. Have to say I disagree with both Ferrari drivers’ ranking here. Vettel’s performance was simply stellar for 40 laps, especially after the first safety car restart on lap 6, putting in a ligthning-fast lap that nipped the threat from the Mercedes duo in the bud.
    He did lose out at the final restart, but I found his mistake to be very minor under the circumstances it was made in. His track position was stolen by the safety car, the pack bunched up, and the start-finish straight is a pathetically artificial construct with the sole purpose of creating drama by making it impossible to have a normal flying restart. This lead to a farcical situation where he had to attack Bottas, while Hamilton was gaining on him with a double slipstream as well. He got it wrong, but it was a very minor mistake, smaller than, say, Hamilton’s in Melbourne (as he was stuck behind Vettel after being robbed by the safety car as well). It’s the circumstances that made this mistake costly, not the mistake itself.
    But, while Hamilton was conspicuously named a star performer in Melbourne, Vettel is ignored again.
    I guess the malus points have to go somewhere, now that Rosberg has retired?

    As for Räikkönen, he was a struggler if there ever was one. Terrible qualifying with three wasted attempts and a destroyed set of the favoured compound of tyres, bad start that only saw him going backwards (on the softest tyres available and the quickest car on the grid, no less). The accident with Ocon wasn’t really his fault, but not too wise, either. The rest of the rest was underwhelming, too. He was lucky to escape the lap one carnage in 13th place despite needing to pit for repairs, and he contributed no more than 3 on-track overtakes (all with DRS, as far as I know) on Vandoorne, Stroll, and Leclerc. All the other places he gained were due to incidents or pit stops. And he was leagues off the pace, too. After finally overtaking Leclerc and slotting into 6th, in other words the lowest position a Ferrari, Mercedes, or Red Bull driver can finish in as long as they have more than three turning wheels left, he was already lagging 33 seconds behind his team mate. Which can be explained by the fact that he had traffic, of course. However, he did not have any traffic in the next 12 laps before Vettel pitted, but he still lost and additional 14 seconds, i.e. 1.2 seconds per lap on average.
    Then, the race was turned on its head, the Red Bulls eliminated each other, Vettel (who would’ve been over 40 seconds ahead without that safety car) overshot the braking point, Bottas had a puncture, and Räikkönen somehow collected 18 points. Basically for keeping his car out of the wall in a four-lap sprint race where absolutely everything, including his starting position behind the safety car, fell into his lap.
    Don’t be fooled by his result (results tend to mean nothing at all in Baku), his race was abysmal.

    Struggling to get past the ‘you’re posting too quickly, get a life’ filter …

    1. I agree to an extent. I thought vettel was superb this weekend, especially in the race but for the very end. he probably could have waited and passed bottas the next time round into turn 1. raikkonen’s race was so underwhelming, i assumed he must have had damage but apparently not.

      i would have put alonso in the stars category. he just doesn’t go away. he whines and moans but that shouldn’t detract from his incredible stubborn will to win. bottas was good, but again anonymous in the race until near the end. without errors from others (hamilton, then the red bulls, then vettel) he would probably have been third.

      1. The thing pretty much everybody made a mistake here and there, Vettel’s was exacerbated due to the SC bunching up the field, which essentially made him lose to 4th.

        I wouldn’t rank him a star performer, but I wouldn’t rank Bottas and Perez either. Stroll for example had a better weekend imo

        1. The thing is nase, what’s the difference between Hamilton and Vettles performances in Baku ? Qualifying was close with the Ferrari looking the better car so both drivers did the best they could there. Their race pace was simmilar ( both better than Bottas) until Hamiltons lock up. They both struggled to switch on the soft tyres which brought Bottas back into play. Vettels lock up was simmilar to Hamiltons. Ok, he was going for an overtake but they were a simmilar error. Overall, I think they both had really simmilar weekends in terms of performance but I don’t see Hamilton as the DOTW.

          The above is also why I feel Bottas is being a bit overrated as he couldn’t match their race pace until they pitted onto slower tyres.

          1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
            2nd May 2018, 9:20

            But the reasons have been explained why Bottas may have been slower to start with. Being slow and not driving close to the driver in front will allow his tyres to last longer. Given he was driving far faster near the end of his stint (on much older tyres by now) and setting fastest sectors sort of indicates is could well have just been managing his tyres when he was slower than Hamilton and Vettel. I don’t think it is just that Hamilton and Vettel made mistakes that made their race worse than Bottas. Vettel was flawless until his mistake however.

  6. Once again keith forgets alonso

    1. Agree. I thought Alonso was more impressive than Bottas and Perez this race. Also thought he belonged in the top 3 in Bahrain and China, but surprised there’s been no inclusion in the “Star drivers” here.

  7. Hamilton rated lower than Bottas despite beating him in qualy and havin g the legs of him for the early paret of the race until caught out by a very strong gust. I thought Valtteri had a lacklustre early part of the race and yet he attracts rave reviews.

    1. Ben Rowe (@thegianthogweed)
      2nd May 2018, 9:26

      Seriously…. Hamilton had wind catch him out and no other drivers did? You can say the wind may have been related to what happened, but there is no chance that at some stage over all of the laps that any other driver won’t have experienced a similar direction change of the wind.

      I just don’t get why so many people are saying Bottas had a bad first part of the race. Why would his pace change significantly on the same set of tyres if he was trying his hardest to start with? He was faster than Vettel and Hamilton were at the start when he was on tyres that had nearly done 40 laps… Surely this shows that he may have been slower for a reason at the start. This came into play later in the race and worked to perfection until his bad luck. I may be a fan of Bottas, but the choice he made was smart. Hamilton shouldn’t have been pushing as hard as he was.

      1. @thegianthogweed Mercedes had no pressure from behind, so they had every chance of attacking Vettel with both cars. Hamilton was pushing hard initially, making Vettel use his tyres more than he would have liked. Meanwhile, Bottas was taking it easy and only started to push after Hamilton’s run-off and subsequent pitstop. I think their race pace was similar, it was Hamilton’s lock-up that tipped the balance in favor of Bottas. Bottas’ delayed pitstop and his great pace on worn tyres should have given him the win.

  8. Not sure exactly why Bottas deserves the nod over Alonso here.

    Alonso passed a ton of cars on track with a damaged car.

  9. Bottas like Shanghai should ve taken advantage of Ferraris strategy mishap. In baku Mercedes used Lewis to undercut on softs and Bottas to eventually overcut on ultras, the overcut proved the way to go, sc or no sc. Ferrari fell for it with Vettel covering a safe gap to the undercutter Hamilton, on softs vettel would be no match to bottas on ultras, therefore I reckon you are correct Bottas would have been a contender regardless.
    Finally Leclerq, hope this isnt just a stroll, ericssob a tad unlucky and a tad bad, particularly in a critical venue.
    Sainz crushed again in qualifying and with his teammate almost on him early in the race, massively under performing but he delivered, even if Renault strategy and tyre preservation was awful, that rear wing was monza spec.

    1. FlatSix (@)
      2nd May 2018, 14:39

      @peartree I’m really not convinced Bottas would’ve gotten past Vettel on the US. To begin with he first had to pass Hamilton, and then bridge a 12 second gap before he could perform his first move. Granted the softs were a terrible tyre, but I believe it’s no done deal Bottas would’ve won this without the SC. I’m fairly sure the quick S2 Vettel was doing would be plenty to keep Bottas at bay on the straight. I’m even more sure after I saw Hamilton in the double stream and it was still Vettel who went faster behind Bottas.

      1. @flatsix Bottas need not to pass Hamilton, Bottas was still due to come out of the pits in 2nd place, and even if he didn’t, there was a big margin between the softs and ultras, largely because of working temperatures, not to mention the difference in tyre life and typical mercedes team orders, ham would let him through had that been necessary.
        Vettel only did manage no to get taken by Hamilton on the restart because eventually vettel got Bottas slipstream. If you rewatch it, youll see that Bottas made a good restart gapped vettel then vettel who was losing to Hamilton got Bottas tow midstraight.
        Bakus straight is simply too long to defend, on the restart everyone is on high battery and able to use full power, a couple laps later that might not be the case, particularly for non mercedes cars.

        1. FlatSix (@)
          5th May 2018, 5:50

          @peartree Couple of remarks;

          Bottas was still due to come out of the pits in 2nd place

          That’s definitely not what live timing indicated right up until the SC. So we’d still be banking on Hamilton letting him through.

          there was a big margin between the softs and ultras

          Also not certain, the pace after the SC was not of such proportion compared to after when everyone was on the softs. Bottas would’ve still needed to bridge 12 seconds at least.

          If you rewatch it, youll see that Bottas made a good restart gapped vettel then vettel who was losing to Hamilton got Bottas tow midstraight.

          I might have worded that wrong. What I meant was that when they were so close to each other Vette was still accelerating whilst Hamilton ran into his limiter, and Vettel once again pulled away couple of metres before the braking zone. I don’t think it is automatically given that Bottas would’ve overtaken Vettel on the straight given the speeds shown.

  10. The “paragraph” about Sergio Perez star performance was really dissapointing. Didn’t mention anything about his race, only about how Ocon beat him in qualy and his crash with Kimi, it’s like you say it was a star performer but dont know why.

    1. True, even though he had a relatively quiet race until the final safety car.

      1. I don’t think his race was quiet. If you see his progression, from 16th to 3rd it was outstanding. True some cars crashed but he recovered 13 positions.

  11. ColdFly (@)
    2nd May 2018, 10:43

    Interesting analysis.
    Two of our stars didn’t outqualify their teammate, and two of the strugglers gave us the best racing actions.

  12. It was a brilliant battle between the two RB drivers. The best part of the race maybe season so far, yet the team and sponsors are apparently unhappy. They should be proud. What to they think that we wont drink Red Bull sugar water anymore? I’m going to buy a couple of cans to celebrate. And as for the hard workers back at the factory being offended, what are they on a minimum wage or something?

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