Rating the heroes and zeroes from the first European Grand Prix to be hosted in the Azerbaijan city of Baku.
European Grand Prix Baku 2016 heroes
Hero – Force India mechanics
Force India looked strong in the build up to qualifying – right until the moment when Sergio Perez kissed the wall in free practice 3. Getting the car fixed in time to make qualifying seemed unlikely but Force India’s finest went to work. Not only did they get Perez out for qualifying, they gave him a car with enough feel and balance to score a front row qualifying run. Bravo.
Hero – Sergio Perez
Perez looked destined for my zeroes list with his free practice 3 accident. Thanks to his mechanics he made it out for qualifying and rewarded them with a stellar performance and a thoroughly well-deserved podium finish. Given the Baku circuit’s combination of high speeds and exceptionally tight sections, Perez showed great bravery in getting back on the pace of the leaders in qualifying.
In the race he used the power of his Mercedes engine to good effect. Securing third place over Kimi Raikkonen – without the benefit of the Finn’s harsh penalty for violating the pit lane blend line – was secured by speed and racecraft alone. A cracking performance.
Hero – Nico Rosberg
The German lost his head in the course of the last two races. Out-paced and out-muscled by Lewis Hamilton it felt like 2015 déjà vu. The opening practice sessions appeared to highlight the tide of form had truly shifted in Hamilton’s favour.
Admirably Rosberg continued to work away and took advantage of what Hamilton (unusually and to his credit) admitted was an ‘off day’ and his responsibility. It looked like a walk along the Baku promenade but Rosberg still needed to execute and deal with similar engine mode issues which had his team-mate in meltdown. For Rosberg, his fans and neutrals seeking another Mercedes fight to the finish, this was a great result.
Hero – Pete Bonnington
Pete ‘Bono’ Bonnington’s ability to remain calm in the face of often unreasonable and petulant comments from Lewis Hamilton is one of F1’s often hilarious sub-plots. In Baku Bonnington was on top form, trying to coax his increasingly agitated driver to the finish whilst tip-toeing around the FIA’s clampdown on pits-to-car radio ‘advice’.
A man to have around in a crisis, it would be fascinating to have access to Bonnington telemetry to monitor his heart rate and blood pressure during challenging races like Baku.
Hero – GP2 feature race
Perhaps worthy of inclusion on the zeroes list for creating a false sense of expectation ahead of the F1, the GP2 feature race in Baku was a thriller. Accidents, near constant slipstreaming and overtakes had everyone champing at the bit for Sunday and the F1 boys. In comparison the Grand Prix lacked most of the excitement and constant action of GP2.
European Grand Prix Baku 2016 zeroes
Zero – Baku Grand Prix DRS zones
Since the introduction of DRS zones to F1 they have tended to be a bit of hit and miss in terms of initial success. Whilst most attention was focused on questionable kerbs and the width of the circuit in places, no one was thinking about the DRS zones.
The zones were too long and made passes too easy. As a result, drivers had little incentive to try moves elsewhere on the circuit. Reducing their length for 2017 would be on my list of adjustments.
Zero – Well-behaved drivers
After the thrills and spills of the GP2 feature race on Saturday, the F1 drivers were on their best behaviour. Clean through the opening laps, there was none of the kamikaze moves we had witness from the support races.
One of the charms of a street circuit is the high incidence of bumps and bashes. Baku’s F1 race failed to deliver that aspect of the entertainment package this time around.
Zero – Ferrari team management
The number of times Ferrari have messed up races and championships with poor strategy calls is getting out of hand. Now firmly entrenched as a Ferrari bad habit, Sebastien Vettel had to ignore his team and run his own race strategy in Baku. With the mass of data available to top teams and strategists, the pitwall should be better able to guide a race strategy than Ferrari have been able to do.
European Grand Prix Baku – race rating
3 out of 5 – those GP2 boys just raised the bar too high.