AUSTRALIA'S Daniel Ricciardo has scored his first win of the year – and his fifth in Formula One – after a madhouse, headshaking Azerbaijan Grand Prix in which the two leading world title protagonists clashed spectacularly.
Ricciardo started 10th after a crash in qualifying, slipped back to 17th after an early pit stop to clear debris from the brake ducting of his Red Bull, and claimed the top of the podium after a stunning climb back remembered best for his superbly judged restart after the race had been red-flagged for 15 minutes.
“I have never really had a boring win and today was certainly not that,” said a giggling Ricciardo after his unexpected triumph in which championship contenders Hamilton and Vettel sparred on the track to finish well down the order.
“After all the chaos and the red flag I felt that a podium was in reach but then once Lewis had to pit and Seb had the penalty I knew the win was possible. I kind of said yesterday that after my qualifying mistake and starting in 10th place, today was going to be a race of no mistakes, capitalising on moments and opportunities and I felt like we did everything we could this afternoon.
“The last re-start was the most important and I think it was Stroll, Hulkenberg, Massa and me, all nearly four wide but I managed to get third and I think that was, in a way, the winning move.
“What a day, it’s crazy and it’s slowly sinking in.”
There was also a whole lot more.
Second was stolen right on the finish line by Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas, who at one point in the race was a lap down.
“Today was a crazy race, especially for me,” Bottas said. “I had a puncture on the first lap after the contact with Kimi on lap one. I was a lap down, then had to overtake the field under the safety car. The second safety car after that really helped me out and, step by step, I moved forward from there.”
Finishing third in his eighth grand prix was Williams’ sometimes maligned rookie, Lance Stroll, the 18-year-old Canadian uncorking an impressive mistake-free weekend on a circuit not without its pitfalls and challenges.
“I’m just lost for words right now,” said the elated teenager. “It was such a hectic race and so much happened, but the team kept me cool on the radio, the pace was good, we took it to the end and stayed out of trouble.
"I can’t quite believe what’s just happened. We just lost out to Valtteri at the end there in one of the closest finishes of all time going side-by-side across the finish line. Coming into this weekend I never thought I would be standing on the podium.”
Who could have predicted that top three? Certainly not Ricciardo.
Last year, Azerbaijan’s capital city Baku became the sixth different venue to hold the moveable feast that is the European Grand Prix since it first materialised in 1983. Twelve months on, the Baku race became the inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Confused? You’re excused.
But the real, confusion came on Sunday at 5pm during a thrilling, bizarre contest that lurched and crashed through many plot changes. There was also some strange behaviour by championship leader, Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who was obliged to take a penalty after some unseemly frolics with Lewis Hamilton at a safety car restart.
As the safety car was about to pull off, Vettel rear-ended his Mercedes enemy when either Hamilton lifted off the throttle, or the German was too enthusiastic in accelerating off a turn…
Carbonfibre flew everywhere. That wasn’t the end of it. Gesticulating angrily, Vettel immediately drew alongside, and appeared to steer into the side of the Mercedes as the two took to the pit radio to vent their displeasure.
"He brake tested me," screamed Vettel over the radio.
“He just turned in and hit me,” Hamilton reported.
The safety car was quickly deployed again for debris and there was more car crunching in the next attempted resumption with the two Force India cars getting together, ending Perez’s 37-race sequence of race finishes. More importantly, the biffo killed chances of both cars getting high finishes.
Kimi Raikkonen picked up a debris-related rear puncture.
Officials quickly red flagged proceedings on lap 23 for a major spring clean, the cars returning to pitlane for a rash of repairs as officials and spectators contemplated the likely repercussions of the road-rage incident between Hamilton and Vettel.
The restart, uneventful between Hamilton and Vettel, brought Ricciardo into play. From fifth, he opportunistically fired past the two Williams (Felipe Massa troubled by a broken damper) in a daring, cleverly judging late braking move into turn one.
He was in a podium position, but had half a race distance ahead of him.
Stroll was pushing hard but Ricciardo reeled off some fast laps to ease the gap to a comfortable few seconds by the end.
The surprises kept coming when the television cameras picked up a potential safety issue with Hamilton’s u-shaped headrest, which was loose. The team asked him to attempt to push it into place on the straights. He couldn’t and then he was ordered to pit to have the errant item fixed.
That dropped him to seventh, which became eighth when Vettel was told to serve a 10-second pit-lane penalty for his fender bender with the Mercedes driver.
Vettel went on to finish one place ahead of Hamilton in fourth, extending his championship lead.
Elsewhere there was plenty going on, and more retirements than usual in the modern era.
Max Verstappen had another lively start but retired early with a Red Bull that failed again.
Contact with teammate Perez aside, Esteban Ocon (Force India) drove strongly for sixth, with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, and Carlos Sainz (Toro Rosso) also picking up good points.
And here’s the biggie: Fernando Alonso scored McLaren’s first points of the year with ninth, ahead of Pascal Weherlein (Sauber).
Leaving Baku, Hamilton and Vettel must have reflected on what might have been.
Hamilton probably lost the win due to the wayward headrest, while Vettel’s rash retaliatory move cost him likely victory.
Hamilton wasn’t cutting Vettel any slack over their incident. “I slowed down in the same place on the entry to T15. At that point, it is up to me to control the pace and then I felt a bump from behind. But that wasn't the issue for me - everybody saw clearly what happened after. All the young kids in other series look up to us, as champions, to set an example and that is not the behaviour you expect to see from a multiple champion.”
Indycar: Dixon scores first win of 2017
Brisbane-born New Zealander Scott Dixon has beaten the Team Penske armada to win his first IndyCar race of the season, at Grand Prix Road America.
Dixon, who raced at Le Mans last weekend, started from fifth behind the Penskes, but pounced on the lead on lap 31 of the 55-lap race and was never headed.
American Josef Newgarden was second, with pole-sitter Helio Castroneves third.
With seven races of the 17-race season yet to be run, the consistent Dixon has pushed out his advantage to 34 points over Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, who was fourth at the weekend.
Toowoomba’s Will Power, who started on the outside of the front row, was fifth. He won at Road America a year ago.
It was an unexpected success for the Chip Ganassi-Honda driver, with Team Penske Chevrolets expected to dominate the race after their drivers claimed the first four positions on the grid during qualifying.
"This is not a track which suits us, so I can't thank the team enough," Dixon said.
"It's not what I expected; I'm just so pleased for the whole team."
He made a crucial pass on Newgarden at a restart, using a tyre advantage to surprise the leader with a stunning outside pass.
"Josef made it easy for me,’ Dixon said, understated as usual.
Rossi wins Dutch MotoGP thriller
The world’s most popular motor sporting figure, Valentino Rossi, thrilled his army of followers when staving off the threat of his close mate Danilo Petrucci to win the Dutch Grand Prix at Assen in a race result in doubt to the last corner.
In another sign of his class and longevity, it was the 38-year-old Italian’s first win of 2017, coming 20 years and 313 days after his first Grand Prix victory.
Rossi’s Yamaha teammate Maverick Viñales crashed out of the race – and the championship lead – during a troubled weekend made difficult by the changeable weather conditions.
Defending MotoGP champ Marc Marquez took a close third for Honda in a race that started on a dry circuit but ended with drizzle.
Australia’s Jack Miller finished sixth in a race with plenty of fallers.
At the start, Rossi slotted in behind Johann Zarco and Marquez while Ducati’s Petrucci continued his fine recent form to tag along with the front bunch.
Rossi picked off Marquez for second and then pounced on Zarco for the lead a lap later, the French rookie fading with tyre issues.
With eight laps remaining, Rossi looked in charge, but then light rain started to fall.
Some led by Zarco pitted to switch to bikes shod with wet-weather tyres. The leaders stayed on track.
Rossi, pioneering out front, eased off warily and lost much of his lead as Pedrucci, Marquez and the late-charging Andrea Dovizioso closed.
Petrucci, seeking his first MotoGP win, passed Rossi with five laps to go, but a lap later the more nimble Yamaha YZR-M1 regained the lead.
The last laps were drama filled as the pair scythed through backmarkers, with Pedrucci baulked on two occasions. Rossi held firm, taking a sensational win.
“I‘m so happy, and for different reasons, because it‘s a very important victory for the championship, but especially the feeling of coming back to the number one spot after one year is fantastic,” said the happy Rossi. “Sincerely, I race with motorcycles for this feeling: for what I feel in the five or six final laps of the race. That‘s always great and especially after a year without a victory.”
It must have been galling for multiple world champ Jorge Lorenzo on the factory Ducati to see Petrucci go within 0.063sec of victory when he could only land a distant 15th after changing bikes. He qualified 21st.
Dovizioso’s fifth place moves him into the lead of the MotoGP championship standings.
Just 11 points covers the top four, with Viñales second, from Rossi and Marquez.