The 2018 edition of the Azerbajian Grand Prix proved to be a race to forget for the Team, as a thrilling battle between Daniel and Max ended in a 39th-lap collision that dumped both drivers out of an incident-packed race at the Baku City Circuit.
The duel began almost from the start. When the lights went out, pole position man Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari held his advantage ahead of Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and third-placed Valtteri Bottas. Behind them, Daniel held his grid position of fourth place, with Max tucking in behind.
With the drivers free to race each other, Max immediately began to look for a way past his team-mate and on lap six, he saw an opening and pounced, edging past his team-mate. The move left Daniel exposed, however, and Renault’s Carlos Sainz exploited the opportunity to also past the Australian.
There was more pain to come from Renault, as both Red Bulls began to report battery charging problems. That allowed Sainz to attack Max and on lap eight the Spaniard stole fourth place from the Dutchman.
Daniel too was feeling the pressure and on the same lap he was passed by Sainz’s team-mate Nico Hulkenberg. The German’s stay in fifth place behind his team-mate only lasted two laps, however, and on lap 11 he made a mistake into Turn 4. He lost the back end of the car and the rear left corner of his car connected hard with the wall, forcing him to immediately retire. That put Daniel back to fifth place and the Red Bulls woes began to evaporate.
Max began to close on Sainz and as the on-load Red Bull driver began to feel the pressure on ageing ultrasoft tyres, Renault opted to pit the Spanish driver. Max and Daniel were now back to fourth and fifth respectively.
Up ahead the race was a more orderly affair, with Vettel steadily building a four-second gap to Hamilton with Bottas third. The gap widened on lap 21 when Hamilton suffered a huge lock-up into Turn 1, flat-spotting both front tyres. He immediately headed for the pit lane and after taking on a set of soft tyres, he rejoined in P3.
The race then settled until Vettel, with a 4.8s lead over Bottas and 23.6s in hand over Hamilton, made his pit stop at the end of lap 30. He took on soft tyres and when the field next crossed the line next, the Ferrari driver found himself 11.7s behind new leader Bottas – who had yet to make a pit stop – and 7.9s ahead of Hamilton who was targeting a drive to the flag on his soft tyres.
Behind them, the Bulls were trading positions once more. Fourth-placed Max complained of low temperatures and fading grip from his ageing supersoft tyres and Daniel, spotting the slight drop in pace, pounced at Turn 1, using a good tow from his team-mate to make a move around the outside. It was a risky move that required him to brake exceptionally late and he did well to keep his car out of the wall on exit as he locked up.
The move was in vain, however, as when they pair pitted for ultrasoft tyres (Daniel on lap 37 and Max a lap later) the Dutchman jumped his team-mate and regained fourth place. Daniel was urged by his race engineer Simon Rennie to “get it all done again” and the Honey Badger once more began to stalk his team-mate.
But disaster struck when Daniel once more set up a move on the run to Turn 1. The interplay between the cars was hard to judge but the result was that Daniel crashed into back of Max’s car and both forced to retire from the race.
The incident brought out the safety car and the leaders duly pitted for new tyres. Bottas, having being afforded a free stop, now led Vettel with Hamilton third ahead of Räikkönen. A crash under the SC involving Romain Grosjean extended the cautionary period and racing eventually resumed on lap 48.
Risking all, Vettel tried to pass Bottas into Turn 1 but he went wide and allowed Hamilton and Räikkönen past.
There was further drama, though, when just two laps from a fourth career win, Bottas hit debris and suffered a rear right puncture that dumped him out of the race. Hamilton thus crossed the line to take a fortunate 63rd career victory ahead of Räikkönen. Vettel’s woes were exacerbated when Force India’s Sergio Perez made an opportunistic overtaking move soon after Vettel’s failed attempt on the lead and the Mexican went on to claim his eighth career podium finish.
Vettel was left with fourth place ahead of Sainz, while Sauber’s Charles Leclerc collected his first F1 points with sixth place. Alonso brought his damaged McLaren home in seventh place ahead of Williams’ Lance Stroll, the second McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne and the final point, for 10th place, went to Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley, who also took his first career F1 points.