Where does one start on Baku? The first question asked, despite last year’s event, is where the hell is Baku? It’s the capital of Azerbaijan, a country bordered by names synonymous with civil unrest – Syria. Russia, Turkey and Iraq and Iran.
But mix oil money with a desire to become a tourist destination for the Western world and you have Baku – a quasi-Dubai precinct hungry for the attention of world sporting events. And it just hosted the best Formula One race in this hybrid engine era.
In a race filled with crashes, mechanical failures, fighting in the tight-corners, tyre punctures, driver penalties, a stubborn head-rest, a red flag and countless safety cars, this was one not to be missed.
Hamilton finds himself in yet another nasty rivalry
As though the in-fighting with Nico Rosberg over the last 3 seasons was not emotionally and physically draining enough, Hamilton now finds himself in what is seen as a bitter and nasty rivalry with Sebastian Vettel. Hamilton has been quite vocal this season about how “enjoyable” the duel with Sebastian and the Ferrari has been in 2017 which should have been taken as a compliment by Maranello.
Vettel decided to retaliate against Hamilton during the end of a safety car stint after Vettel felt he was brake-checked. The data shows otherwise, Hamilton was not on the brake when Vettel accidentally slammed into his rear. But what was not accidental was Vettel then pulling alongside Hamilton and slamming into the Silver Arrow side-body. It was down-right stupid, a cheap-shot.
Whiting and race control handed Vettel a 10 second stop-go and there is a lot of noise about his discipline on the track. But the sport needs this. The underdog needs to be able to bite and growl and harass the leaders. To intimidate the team who has cruised the victory for the last three years is necessary. Vettel did not hurt anyone, he did not damage anything. This is a moment equivalent to Senna running Prost off to win the championship in 1990.
We have a dog fight on our hands now. Liberty Media and race control should just let the drivers race for the entertainment of the fans. The sport shouldn’t become a nanny state of affairs.
Stroll cruises to the podium
Apart from the irrelevant McLaren team, Stroll did what no other driver could – minded his own business. Next to all the scrapes, crashes, mechanical failures and strategy failures Stroll seemed to stay out of trouble with the only battle being to avoid Bottas bullying him at the finish line – unfortunately for the rookies, Bottas scraped second place from him by 0.1s.
Finishing ninth in his home race in Canada Stroll seems to have turned a corner to a shaky start to his Formula One career. It puts to bed comments by the Formula One world at large that Stroll is not ready for the top grade and is there by the virtues of his father’s financial sponsorship.
The future of Baku
With its Monaco-esque street circuit, the challenges posed by the shade/sun spots, the tights bends and the quick, risky corners most would have to agree Baku must become a permanent fixture on the Formula One calendar. Limit entertainment to the Liberty Media era, and Baku is really the first entertaining race of this period. Not just for the exhilarating racing action, but because it gives the mid-field a crack at challenging the top-tier teams. For the first half of the race the good money was on Perez to bring home for Force India a podium finish…but for his team-mate once again ruining chances.
It would be a shame if Baku was not considered for the future of Formula One. Of course, this year’s fixture was a deal between Bernie and Azerbaijan. Given what we just witnessed, it would be good business for Liberty to reach a similar deal for 2018 and beyond.