John Floyd
Motorsport columnist
4 minute read
2 May 2018
1:20 pm

Lewis Hamilton races to the top

John Floyd

With the damage teams suffer at street races, how can those in control even consider a cost cap?

Love it or loathe it, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix once again turned the results sheet on its head.

It gifted Lewis Hamilton his first win of the season and a four point lead in the 2018 Drivers’ Championship.

His victory moved the Mercedes team closer to Ferrari in the Constructors title, with the Brackley-based team just four points behind with 17 races still to run.

I have never been a fan of street circuits, including Monaco, the so called “Jewel in the Crown”.

I must admit that Baku offers overtaking opportunities, eliminating the processional racing normally associated with town centre tracks, but I still have serious reservations.

Having moved from its original June date, a change in the meteorological conditions played a very significant role. Gusting winds and lower temperatures made tyre selection difficult if not impossible.

Couple this to a surface with very little grip and things were bound to go wrong.

Safety car periods are a foregone conclusion, but I am not convinced that races where safety or virtual safety cars are almost guaranteed deserve to be on the calendar.

The teams have enough difficulties and expenditure to run a team on conventional race tracks.

Adding factors such as SC and VSC, the norm at most street circuits, surely introduces an element that is about as predictable as a lottery.

With the damage teams suffer at such circuits, due to circumstances beyond their control and their subsequent increased expenditure, how can those in control even consider a cost cap?

A team certainly counting the cost must be Red Bull following the debacle that put paid to their chance of a good points haul.

The fierce competition between Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen was very exciting as they battled for position, but as they entertained us they were losing ground to those ahead and others close behind.

The primary objective is surely to battle the opposition not just your team-mate.

As the race went on and the blocked overtaking moves intensified, including some rather robust tactics, it became obvious it was all going to end in tears.

Calls from the pit wall to “keep it clean” appeared to have gone unheeded and the inevitable occurred, with both cars extensively damaged and out of the race.

I think Red Bull’s Adrian Newey summed it all up when he left the pit wall with a look of total disgust on his face.

Team principal Christian Horner did well to restrain himself as, visibly enraged, he made his way to the team’s debriefing room.

When questioned about the incident, he said he would make no comment until he has spoken to all concerned.

Fair comment, but the intrepid presenter was not giving up and attempted to probe further.

Not a good move with the intensely angered Horner, who ignored him.

I cannot recall ever seeing Horner not responding to the media, but it seems this time the boundaries had been pushed too far.

The stewards officially reprimanded both drivers and Horner demand that the two drivers apologise to all the staff back at the factory.

The introduction of team orders would almost seem the only step Horner has left to cool the close quarter fighting between his two drivers.

That is not something anyone wants to see, but Verstappen and Ricciardo have left him with very little option.

One has to remember that a loss of points is not just about the Constructors’ championship but also prize money at the end of the season.

Azerbaijan was an expensive race for the Milton Keynes team in more ways than one.

Perhaps the strangest exit was that of Romain Grosjean when he nosed his Haas into the wall, extending the safety car period.

The Frenchman, in sixth place, was weaving from side to side in an attempt to keep heat in his tyres when it all went wrong.

He reported in the post race Haas press release.

“The conditions were tricky, there was a lot of wind, the car was going left and right, pushing and then not pushing. I was warming up my tyres and bumped into a switch that I’d moved by two positions. When I touched the brakes, the brake balance was locked rearward, so it just locked the rear wheels and I spun.”

It must worry the team that a small bump of a switch could result in such a result. Grosjean was lucky that it ended then.

I dread to think of the consequences if this switch issue had only been noticed at the end of a long straight with a tight bend next up.