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F1: Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2017 - the most entertaining race for years

Publication: 
Bryan Edwards
chiefofficersnet

Leaving aside Vettel's dangerous driving and the stewards' lenient treatment of that, the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix was a genuine classic with some inspired driving by several drivers and some surprising results.

For those that watched the Formula 2 race that preceded the Grand Prix, there is a conclusion that is difficult to avoid: the Baku circuit is better suited to F2 than to F1. The cars are slower and smaller and therefore more nimble. Yes, there are still some heavy shunts but those are more due to exuberance than due to the nature of the track and/or cars.

F1 cars are not, in truth, designed for twisty narrow tracks, even those that have a long straight at some point. It is obvious, of course, that the drivers, the best the world has to offer, should be able to control their right foot and not go flat out towards a corner and expect the car to sort it out if they get into a mess. But they don't. Racing drivers do not have an off-switch. Also, it often seems as if they have a congenital inability to drive at 90% if 100% might help them catch someone else or maintain a position.

And yet, that is what Lance Stroll did, proving wrong those who claim he has his seat solely because of his father's money. Before the Canadian Grand Prix, Stroll did a private test using a 2014 car (the latest that can be used in F1 testing without falling foul of the ban on in-season unsupervised (by the FIA) testing. His result in Canada, ninth and gaining his first points, was the direct result of getting some genuine track car in an F1 car, albeit an old spec. But in Baku, he belied his age: still several months to go to his 19th birthday, by being second until right before the line and finishing third, behind our man of the race, Bottas.

F1's official driver of the day was Stroll, but honestly, that was as much emotion as anything else, not that we should in any way detract from his performance.

But Bottas who was last at the end of the first lap after tangling with Raikkonen in the first corner, drove an absolute stormer of a race, consistently the fastest on track except for Hamilton and Vettel, and aided by safety car periods that had a concertina effect on the field and negated his deficit to the next group within his range, simply drove magnificently. Indeed, had he been on that form, without the first corner drama, even Hamilton might not have beaten him. AS it was, he got an amazing exit from the final corner, Lance Stroll plaintively saying into his mic "he's got me," and with only feet to go passed the Canadian in his maiden season in F1 to take second place by only one tenth of a second.

Special mention must also be made of the eventual winner, Daniel Ricciardo. He's having a horrible season with failures and mishaps, mostly not of his own making. But until something goes wrong, he's always there or thereabouts, waiting to pick up points as others falter. A third in Canada was followed by a win in Baku. But no one wins if they are not in front and his overtaking of both Massa and Stroll was both inspired and brave.

In parc firmé, there was a parade of drivers congratulating Stroll who is only eight months older than the legal drinking age in Azerbaijan. He was overwhelmed by what he'd done and quite right, too. It's refreshing to see someone who is humbled by a great achievement: no finger waving for him: just a really nice young man. Long may he stay that way.

Hamilton, off the podium, was deflated: he could not comprehend how a dominant performance had fallen apart. Of course, he knew exactly how, but it was still incomprehensible.

But Hamilton has turned into a nice young man, too. He's lost the brashness that made him irritating. Now he's thoughtful, considered, mature and, most importantly, he's becoming the number one ambassador for the sport: professional in all respects (albeit still a bit too blingy and his tattoos do nothing for his new stature) and, as he closes in and passes one F1 record after another, the only thing that eludes him is many more titles.

But he's not going to let that prevent him racing: he told Fox Sports Asia's Michelle Holland that he sees his career as taking up the baton in a relay, where Ayrton Senna's career was cut short and his results stopped, that Hamilton would like to continue from where Senna left off. Hamilton's yellow colours on his helmet honour his fallen hero, in Canada where he matched Senna's number of pole positions, the family gave Hamilton a helmet that Senna had worn to race.

Hamilton was almost incoherent with joy and respect at being able to hold such a thing, given to him at Montreal's Senna Corner.

What can one say about the Baku 2017 Grand Prix? The race was incredible, the result was superb, and despite Hamilton's disappointment, he came away with more respect than he arrived. Not too shabby.