Friday: A GRATE DAY OUT
The weekend started with a series of comical events.
Charles LeClerc dislodged a drain cover down one of the back straights, which was then run over by George Russell’s Williams, causing a spectacular carbon fibre explosion and ending the session.
I’ve seen several similar incidents involving drain covers- Juan Pablo Montoya smashed loose drain cover at Shanghai in 2005, Rubens Barrichello drove over a drain cover and shortly afterwards crashed out of the 2010 Monaco GP, Jenson Button hit a drain cover that Nico Rosberg sent flying into his path during practice for Monaco in 2016, and Romain Grosjean had a high-speed puncture during practice for Malaysia in 2017.
Of course, Supercars fans might remember Frosty Winterbottom’s encounter with said Shanghai drain cover in 2005.
This absurd incident was then followed by the flatbed truck carrying the Williams back to the pitlane hitting the underside of a bridge.
And then the damaged crane started dripping fluid on to the Williams, which I’m surprised didn’t top off the hilarity and randomly explode.
And this was only Practice 1. Well Done Baku.
Anyway, things returned to normal by Saturday, and Dan The Duncraig Man was struggling for pace all weekend with his three legged Renault engine, returning to normalcy after a solid weekend in Shanghai, qualifying in 12th, before being promoted to 10th with the Alfas of Kimi Raikkonen (Excluded) and Antonio Giovinazzi (Reliability penalty) incurring their own problems.
Up the front, Valtteri Bottas scored another Pole Position ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton, while Ferrari found another way to light themselves on fire, after Charles LeClerc, who was the fastest driver in Practice, slammed into the wall at Turn 8 and started from 10th.
As was the case all weekend, the Renaults of Nico Hulkenberg and Daniel Ricciardo were about as effective as a mule taking on Winx in a straight line, always hovering around midfield and unable to seriously threaten for decent points.
While Dan started the race well and was running in the Top 10 during the opening stint, the Renault engine was a sitting duck on the long pit straight, and it’s typically not a good sign for the boys at Enstone if you’re being outpaced by some perceived slower cars like the McLaren (Also using a Renault engine), while Toro Rosso with their Honda are crawling up your backside.
When Dan pitted from 10th, it was the last time a Renault would get a sniff at a solitary point.
Ricciardo worked his way up to 12th (With some classic lick the stamp overtaking) by the halfway mark, and was battling his former teammate Daniil Kvyat in his Toro Rosso for a spot on the edge of the points, but on Lap 32, he fired up the inside at Turn 3, locked up and went up the escape road.
Then Ricciardo, like every Perth driver, didn’t use his mirrors and smacked straight into Kvyat’s right sidepod, before resuming for a few laps and eventually deciding to retire along with the Russian, because like a bad relationship, they weren’t scoring after they met each other.
It’s rare to say that Danni Kvyat can be involved in an incident that wasn’t his fault, but this was absolutely our Daniel’s fault, which he admitted and apologised after the race.
3 retirements in 4 races for Duncraig Dan, in scenes reminding me of the good old days of tuning in to Channel 10 and hoping for the off chance that Mark Webber would squeak out a point in a crummy Jaguar and a useless Williams.
Meanwhile, out in front it was the same standard stuff, Bottas started from pole and had to fight off a determined Hamilton, while Vettel, Max Verstappen and LeClerc fought out the Top 5 positions.
Normally we get utter chaos in Baku (2017 & 2018 especially), but today it was virtually uniterrupted, and the closest we came to an appearance from the Safety Car was when Pierre Gasly retired and the Virtual Safety Car was enforced.
Bottas would win the race, the first polesitter to win in 2019, making amends for the 2018 race, which he cruelly lost thanks a puncture in the dying laps, as Mercedes racked up a record fifth consecutive 1-2 finish to start the 2019 season, with Vettel 3rd, Verstappen 4th and LeClerc 5th with a Fastest Lap bonus point.
That’s the flyaway rounds done for now, and it’s back to the Old World in a fortnight for the European season!
Mercedes have won the last 5 Constructors’ titles, the last 5 Drivers’ titles, and I can say without hyperbole, that this start to the season is a million times more dominant than all of them put together.
The FIA may as well cancel every Championship from now until at least 2030 and send the trophies in the mail to Stuttgart, because if Ferrari are that utterly useless, then every team may as well just give up now and save themselves pain and money.
RICCIARDO TO RENAULT= WEBBER TO WILLIAMS