(Photos courtesy John Force Racing)

The REAL Force that drives NHRA superstar John Force: his wife Laurie

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Whoever coined the phrase “Behind every good man is a better woman” could very easily have been thinking of Laurie Force.

As Laurie and her husband, 16-time NHRA Funny Car champion John Force, close in on their 35th wedding anniversary next month (Sept. 26), life together has been a drag – a perpetual drag race, that is – but it’s never been boring.

Laurie is the yin to John’s yang. While her oftentimes hyperkinetic husband rolls through every day and everything he does at 330 mph – even when he’s not in his famed race car – it’s been Laurie who has been the steadying influence, the one who has been a sea of calm and leadership and voice of reason.

As John Force prepares for the sport’s biggest race of the year, the Chevrolet Performance U.S. Nationals this weekend in Indianapolis, Laurie will once again be there by his side, keeping steady a ship that can sometimes become rocky due to John’s quest for excellence and winning.

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HE FLIPPED A CAR RIGHT AFTER FLIPPING FOR HER

John and Laurie first met at a wedding of mutual friends in 1972, where John was best man and Laurie was maid of honor. They dated off and on for nearly 10 years before getting married in 1981.

Early on in their courtship, John wanted to impress his new love by showing how fast his car was. On a quiet, nondescript street in Southern California, John got behind the wheel while Laurie watched from the sidelines.

Before you could say “one-day 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ,” John hit a curb, flipped the car and it promptly caught fire.

It would be the first of numerous times where he’d flip his car – and occasionally catch fire – over the following 40 years.

And yet, Laurie stayed. She wasn’t shaken, wasn’t afraid. She knew her eventual husband lived, slept and breathed drag racing.

Force and Laurie early days

When John proposed marriage, Laurie knew it would be a wild ride being married to a drag racer; she just never knew it would be as wild as it has been.

“We dated off and on for 10 years before we got married,” Laurie told NBCSports.com in an exclusive interview. “So, I don’t have the excuse of well, we got married and I just didn’t get the chance to get to know him better. I had plenty of chances. I couldn’t say I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I did know.”

I had plenty of chances. I couldn’t say I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I did know.

John has gone from a struggling amateur racer to the winningest driver (145 wins) and champion in NHRA history. For the better part of the past three decades, John has been the face of NHRA. You literally cannot talk about the NHRA without mentioning John in the conversation.

He’s the sport’s biggest icon, fan and pitchman. And even though he’s now 67 years old and is watching two of his daughters follow in his footsteps (another daughter, Ashley, also raced before starting a family), there’s no slowing John down.

To him, the R word – retirement – is a dirty word.

“People talk about him retiring and I think well, he’d just sit at home and drive me crazy,” Laurie says. “He still just can’t let go of it.

“The thing he loves is the driving, so if he retired from that, he’s still going to be out there, he’s still going to be doing that, so I say you might as well continue to drive then, if that’s what you really love.”

There has been talk that John may hang up his firesuit after his current contracts with several sponsors including Peak and Chevrolet expire after the 2020 season, when he’ll be 70.

Yet at the same time, John has said he may follow in the footsteps of Top Fuel racer Chris Karamesines, who is still rocketing down dragstrips around the country at 300 mph – at the ripe age of 84.

“I think deep down he’ll know,” Laurie said of if or when her husband will call it quits. “When it’s just too exhausting or he’s just not there anymore, then he’ll want to quit and it’ll be the right time.”

Through it all, Laurie is always there, offering a balance when things can get a little crazy. And with John and his effervescent personality, things indeed can get crazy at times.

“She never had an ego like me,” John Force told NBCSports.com in an exclusive interview. “She was the one person that would tell me I had an ego. She would tell me the reality of life. I think that checks and balances is what has kept me going.”

1st win-AHRA nationals Chicago, John and Laurie Ashley a (1) (1)

Particularly in the early years, Laurie unquestionably was — and continues to be — the backbone of John Force Racing. She wrote contracts, sold merchandise, packed the parachutes on the back of John’s car, cooked for the team (back then, it was usually a ragtag group of volunteers) and even mixed the nitro fuel that powered John’s Funny Car.

She even worked on the car at times. While Austin Coil would eventually come on board and become John’s legendary crew chief, taking him to the majority of his 16 championships, Laurie was – and still is – the crew chief of John’s life.

Even when John failed to win even one race in the first nine years of his professional career, Laurie never wavered in her support or belief in her man and his ability. Leaving was not an option. Love will do that.

“Laurie is the love of my life,” John said. “She is the backbone of my family. In the early days she drove the pick up truck, mixed fuel and did the parachutes on my race car. She did all that while she was going to college to get an education. I was lacking in that. I wrote the first Wendy’s contract and they sent it back to me. She re-wrote it and I knew then she was in and I needed to marry her.

“Through the road with the ups and downs of this life, as much as you love it, it has its bad sides and it is hard. You need a balance and that is Laurie. She always kept the kids in line and got them an education. She helped keep the peace between me and them when I was nuts.”

And keep going they have: From their humble beginnings, the couple has built a multi-million dollar empire in both Southern California and suburban Indianapolis, with over 100 employees.

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FAMILY FIRST, DRAG RACING A CLOSE SECOND

And then there’s their family. John and Laurie have three children – two who are racing currently (Brittany in Top Fuel and Courtney in Funny Car) and Ashley (as noted, who retired from driving to raise a family but serves as a vice president of JFR).

“When we decided to have children, I thought it would be best to name them A, B and C, to make it easier for John to remember their names,” Laurie said. “When we decided to have children, I thought it would be best to name them A, B and C, to make it easier for John to remember their names.

John also has another daughter, Adria, from his first marriage, who serves as JFR’s Chief Financial Officer and is married to Robert Hight, JFR’s president and a 2009 NHRA Funny Car champ.

John and Laurie Force along with daughters, from left, Ashley, Brittany and Courtney
John and Laurie Force along with daughters, from left, Ashley, Brittany and Courtney (isn’t she cute with her pacifier?)

That all members of Force’s family work within the JFR organization is not surprising. Laurie built a strong family unit while her and John’s daughters were growing up. With John on the road so much, missing school events, more birthdays than they can count, and the like, Laurie spent much of the time raising the family by herself.

She was the one who took the girls to piano lessons, cheerleading practice and competition, dance, ballet, picnics – and then of course shepherded the girls when they would visit racetracks to watch their father drive.

In so doing, the Force family has developed an undeniable and strong bond. Without question, while drag racing has put food on the table and clothes on their backs, family is the most important aspect for John and Laurie.

To Laurie’s credit, she made sure that all three daughters went to college and earned their degrees.

And when the three girls all decided to get behind the wheel of a Funny Car or dragster, Laurie – in her mid-50s – earned her own drag racing license to get a better understanding of what her girls would go through and how she could best counsel them.

“She motivated those kids,” John said of his wife. “She told them if they were going to do it (racing) do it like your dad. Because she said I did it the right way.”

While John would talk to the girls about how to cut a quicker light on the starting line or how to peddle a car from wrecking, Laurie wanted to make sure the girls were racing because they wanted to – not because Dad wanted them to.

“The girls come to me all the time,” Laurie said. “I think John’s hardest position is to walk the line between father and boss.

“It’s difficult for him because he’s so used to being in charge.”

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That difficulty of sorts stems from John’s protective nature of what he still calls “my little girls” – even though Ashley is now 33, Brittany is 30 and Courtney 28.

“He just sees them as his little girls and he’s going to come in and tell them what to do and how they should drive,” Laurie said. “I think that’s a big struggle for him in letting go. He can’t understand that they aren’t him, they can’t get all amped up on the starting line and have great reaction times. For them, they have to work through it differently.

“He’s still in charge and wants to run everything and hasn’t realized the girls are adults now, too, and they want him to try to. He’s also trying to win. He loves to watch his girls win, but not when it means he might have to lose. He’s still in it to win it.”

He wants to win even when he’s not racing.

“He’s a workaholic,” Laurie said. “For him to take a break from that is pretty huge. We try to go on vacations, slow down and have fun, and he struggles with that because he thinks if he lets go for one day, the whole business will fall apart.

“It’s hard to get this ‘No worries, let’s just go have fun’ kind of guy, because it’s not built into him to be that way. I think when he enjoys life is when he’s around his daughters and of course the grandkids and we can just do simple things like stay home and barbecue, go swim or let the grandkids drive their little cars around the front driveway. It’s when he’s like that that I think he’s most happy.”

For some reason, John’s three “grandbabies” as he likes to call Autumn (Adria and Robert’s daughter), and Jacob and Noah (Ashley and son-in-law Dan Hood’s sons), not only seem to calm grandpa down, they also bring out a side of John not many people see.

Example: cell phones. John isn’t just technologically challenged.

“The best way to say it is he doesn’t want to learn,” Laurie said. “It’s like teaching an old dog new tricks. He’d rather have somebody do it for him. He just stays in that kind of zone.

“Even the little grandkids that just turned five, they show him how to work a cell phone. They can go on it, pull up games, pull up anything. John’s always stuck, always lost.”

Even something simple as a kitten can have a big impact on John.

“We used to have animals and then about six, seven years ago they all passed on, so we never got any new animals because John suddenly decided he was allergic,” Laurie said. “Sure enough, people would bring an animal around and he’d start a coughing attack.

“Then Brittany got one and we were kind of kitty sitting for her and John fell in love with that little thing. In the middle of the night, he’d get up to go to the bathroom and it would follow him there and I could hear him talking to it in the bathroom.”

family at races

As a result, John and Laurie now have a new kitten of their own, Champs.

As for her own champ, Laurie is very proud of all that John has achieved in his career, going from nothing to the greatest driver the sport has ever known.

And she’s been there every step of the way.

“I was there at the very beginning,” she said. “I saw when he couldn’t even start his car up. Or when he oiled a track down so bad that they kicked him out of the race.

I saw when he couldn’t even start his car up. Or when he oiled a track down so bad that they kicked him out of the race.

“I saw how bad it was and how we didn’t have any money and were just scraping to get by to get $600 from two runs at a match race – and then they’d deduct $500 for a grease sweep (to clean up the oil that Force’s car laid down). It was terrible back then.

“Really, he did not come from money, did not have an easy time of it, didn’t have sponsors lined it. He had basically nothing, but just the determination and the hard work he put into it.”

But Laurie also had determination and put in as much — if not more — hard work as John did to assure his success. Without equivocation, he gives her all the credit.

“I can’t imagine my success or the success of the girls without Laurie,” John said. “I don’t think I would be where I am. I am not just saying that. I am such a radical person. I am too emotional to be a crew chief. If you give me 10 roads I will try and run down them all. I am the one running into walls when there is an earthquake in California and she is calmly taking the kids and moves them to a safe spot. I don’t think I would be here without her.”

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THE DAY LAURIE FORCE WOULD RATHER FORGET

John Laurie Brittany Jacob

Looking back on her husband’s career, Laurie has all the wins, championships and good times to remember. But there’s one time that she’d rather forget: the day her husband almost died in the worst crash of his career.

During a run in a race at Texas Motorplex south of Dallas in September 2007, John crashed hard. He sustained serious injuries including severely mangled fingers and toes (there was talk early on of possible amputation of some of his digits), a broken ankle, fractured left wrist and a right knee abrasion.

He was hospitalized for a month, but after intense physical rehabilitation, less than five months later John proved wrong the naysayers that said he might never race again. Not only did he come back, he eventually went on to win his 15th and 16th championships in 2010 and 2013.

“When he had his accident, when he was on drugs in the hospital, I have to say, I didn’t think I was going to get my husband back,” Laurie said. “The stuff he said – I think when we took him off morphine, he became himself and he was so determined to be back in the race car.

When he had his accident, when he was on drugs in the hospital, I have to say, I didn’t think I was going to get my husband back.

“I remember telling him you can’t even walk or crawl, but he said, ‘I think I’ll be there by the first race of the year (in 2008).’ The fact that he did it, I’m still pretty shocked.

“It was a hard role for John to be in because he wants to be in charge of everything – and for once, he couldn’t. He couldn’t do anything for himself. … But the better he got and the more results he saw, it just encouraged him to work harder.”

Fans love Force because he’s real. What you see or what you hear is what you get, the real, true, unplugged John. But when pressed to reveal something about her husband that his millions of fans have never known, Laurie laughs at something John may blush at when he reads this story.

“He is the mushy one in our relationship,” Laurie said. “I never thought I would see that happen, but he definitely is.

He’s the mushy one in our relationship.

“He’s very emotional and watching movies, it’s the same thing. He just thinks I have no heart if I’m not bawling at a movie. I think most people wouldn’t know that about him, that he’s so mushy.”

Mushy? John Force? Who knew?

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Good news for F1: Gloves are off between Hamilton and Vettel

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BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) The gloves are off between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, and Formula One is already the winner.

After so much talk of mutual respect, their previously harmonious relationship melted in the heat of Sunday’s hectic Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Hamilton said Vettel “disgraced himself” by deliberately driving his Ferrari alongside and swerving it into the side of him. Vettel, who was given a time penalty, said he only did it in response to a dangerous braking move by Hamilton right in front of him.

Whatever the arguments, F1 finally has what it craves: a saga between fiercely competitive champions that promises to last all season.

“Now we have a situation where there is more controversy. It was clear this could happen the closer it gets,” Mercedes head of motorsport Toto Wolff said. “(It) certainly doesn’t help their relationship going forward. So now the gloves are off.”

Hamilton and Vettel have won a combined seven F1 titles and more than 100 races. Vettel has four of those titles, while Hamilton has three. But the British driver has won more races, 56 to 45.

This season they are evenly matched, with three wins each, and Vettel leads Hamilton in the overall championship by 14 points after eight races.

While Hamilton often tangled with former Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg over the past three years, losing the title to him last year, this new showdown is more intriguing. Not only does it oppose multiple world champions – which was not the case with Rosberg – it also pits Mercedes against a fiercely proud Ferrari team chasing its first drivers’ title since 2007 and its first constructors’ since 2008.

Ferrari is desperate to end its barren run and is banking on Vettel to deliver. The German driver is under enormous pressure.

“The sport needs the rivalry and what we’ve seen has the ingredient of a great championship,” Wolff said. “At a certain stage, the best ones that compete for world championships can’t be friends. Maybe we’ve seen the limitation of that respect.”

Wolff has noticed a change in behavior from Ferrari, too.

“Normally I get a breakfast (at Ferrari) on Sunday morning. (This time) only a tea,” he said. “For me the analogy is like rugby, during the race they are our enemies. But we must be capable, once the race is done, to have a beer like rugby players and acknowledge someone’s performance.”

Although Vettel appeared to be more to blame on Sunday, Wolff had some sympathy for him.

“They’re warriors and you’re at war at that moment, fighting for the race win and the championship,” Wolff said. “Emotions are running high.”

Hamilton finished fifth in Sunday’s race, while Vettel was fourth. Although that meant Hamilton lost a bit of ground, he saw something to exploit over the remaining 12 races, something he considers Vettel’s vulnerability under high pressure.

“As a team we can only look at that as a positive for us,” Hamilton said. “He’s obviously under pressure and that’s not a bad thing if that’s how he reacts.”

The next race is the Austrian GP in two weeks, Round 9 of their heavyweight contest.

Bird to skip Nurburgring WEC in favor of New York Formula E race

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Sam Bird has confirmed that he will miss the FIA World Endurance Championship race at the Nürburgring on July 16 in order to enter the inaugural New York Formula E round on the same weekend.

Bird was one of a handful of drivers forced to choose between commitments in WEC and Formula E after the series were unable to avoid a clash despite previously enjoying a gentleman’s agreement to not hold races on the same weekend.

Bird races with DS Virgin Racing in Formula E and with AF Corse in WEC, and previously hinted that a decision regarding the July 16 weekend would hinge on his result at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Alongside full-season teammate Davide Rigon and Le Mans addition Miguel Molina, Bird finished fifth in the GTE-Pro class in the No. 71 Ferrari 488 GTE at Le Mans and as the fourth-highest WEC entree.

Despite being just 14 points off the GT world championship lead, Bird confirmed on Monday that he would be missing the race at the Nürburgring to take part in the New York double-header, with races on July 15 and 16 in Red Hook, NY.

“With the first ever FIA-sanctioned motorsport event to be held in New York, Formula E is continuing to push the boundaries and break new ground, and it’s exciting to be part of that,” said Bird.

“I know we’ll put on a great show for the people of New York and I’m expecting big crowds to turn up on both days. Being a double race event, there’s a huge amount at stake for all the teams and the drivers so it’s definitely one to watch.”

Bird’s teammate for the New York weekend is still to be confirmed, with regular racer Jose Maria Lopez contracted to race for Toyota in the WEC at the Nürburgring on that weekend.

Reserve driver Alex Lynn is set to bail on his own WEC duties with G-Drive Racing in LMP2 in order to make his Formula E debut in New York, but DS Virgin team boss Alex Tai said that the team is still “assessing options”.

Formula E championship leader Sebastien Buemi is yet to formally confirm his absence from New York, but, like Lopez, he is contracted to race for Toyota at the Nürburgring on that weekend.

Newgarden on Road America runner-up: ‘It’s going to sting’

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. – With arguably his most complete weekend as a member of Team Penske in the books at Road America, Josef Newgarden looked a likely winner in Sunday’s KOHLER Grand Prix.

Alas, an ill-timed caution and being on the wrong compound of Firestone tires at the wrong time cost the Hendersonville, Tenn. native now living in Charlotte likely his second win of the season.

Scott Dixon moved around him on the outside of Turn 1 following a restart on Lap 31, and wasn’t headed the rest of the way.

The win lost though, Newgarden was able to at least match his car number – 2 – with a runner-up finish in his now No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet, and his fourth podium finish of the season. He won at Barber, came third at Long Beach and came second in race two at Detroit. This finish today comes after starting third, and after leading 13 laps.

“It stings a little bit coming home second when you feel like you have a winning car. Scott was great today. So was Ganassi Racing. Those guys did a great job. Certainly very deserving of the win.

“But that’s tough coming up a little bit short. I felt like when the caution came out and we were on the primary tires, Helio and Scott had the alternates, I thought this is probably not going to be very good on the restart. It was hard to get temperature in them to get up to speed for the restart.

“I don’t know if it sealed our fate, but once the race was over, I was like, That’s what sealed our fate. It was an ill-timed caution. If that didn’t come out, we would have gotten 10 laps or so on the tires, we would have been okay.

“Once we shuffled back to third, it was about trying to get back by those guys. At that point we were on the same strategy pretty much the last stint. So it was hard to do anything with Scott. Felt we were a touch quicker than him, but couldn’t do anything on that final stint.

“Tough coming up short, but a great weekend for us at Team Penske. We were strong all weekend. Just didn’t get it done when it counted in the race, so that’s going to sting.”

Incidentally, Newgarden’s Barber win was probably at a race he didn’t figure to win – but he’d usurped Dixon for what became the lead there – while here this looked a race he planned to win but didn’t, and lost out to Dixon in the process. He reflected on the humor of this in the post-race press conference.

“I mean, Scott’s one of the hardest to pass. It was funny, because it was kind of a reverse Barber situation,” he laughed. “At Barber this year, you had Scott behind me at the end with a little more overtake, then it was me behind Scott this time with a little more overtake. You kind of had a similar result almost.

“I think it doesn’t necessarily matter who it is. For sure, you know, you give Scott a lot of credit, he’s going to be tough. He’s not going to make a lot of mistakes. You really got to push the issue with him.

“But I think I was concerned about getting by him, just his race pace. We were quicker than him, but we weren’t quick enough to overtake him. We were probably only 2, 3/10ths quicker than him outright speed, which wasn’t enough to do much with him.

“Once we were up to temperature, we were all running full, we both had red tires on, they were new tires for both of us, it was kind of hard to do anything once we got up to speed. I couldn’t make anything happen. As soon as I did something with overtake, he would do it. We were just kind of tit for tat till the end. He’s obviously one of the toughest to race against.

“I think if the situation were reversed, we would have been okay, as well, to win the race. So it’s just tough strategy today.”

Newgarden at least had a simpler weekend at Road America this year. He took in the ambience of the weekend without many of the distractions of a year ago, recovering from a collarbone injury and having launched a children’s book.

“I mean, certainly no distractions. Last year there was probably a little more distraction from trying to deal with comfort inside the cockpit. But from a performance standpoint, I don’t think it was much different.

“I wouldn’t blame the injuries last year for any performance deficit. I thought we were actually very good in the race last year. We had a top 10. I made a mistake in qualifying, which I think if we didn’t do that, we probably could have had a top five last year. If anything, it was nice not having any distractions personally.”

It was a solid weekend altogether though. Newgarden sits fifth in points with 318, 61 behind Dixon at the top.

He heads next to Iowa, where in his most authoritative of his four career victories, he led 282 of 300 laps last year. That race comes up Sunday, July 9, at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Smith: Baku, Ricciardo, Stroll shine as Vettel/Hamilton title fight ignites

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Almost 24 hours have passed since the checkered flag fell in Baku, yet the dust shows few signs of settling after one of the most explosive Formula 1 races in recent memory.

It was inevitable though, wasn’t it? The chummy, cordial, sickly-sweet duel between Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel for this year’s F1 drivers’ title had to blow up at some point.

And boy, did it blow up.

This was a race that had it all. A far cry from some of the more processional races that have been rather regular in recent times, the inaugural Azerbaijan Grand Prix will be remembered for all of the right reasons (well, unless you’re Sebastian Vettel); a defining moment for the 2017 season and the new era of F1 that started in Australia.

THE INEVITABILITY OF SEB VS. LEWIS

It was bound to happen in the end. There was no way that a direct fight between the two of the finest racers of F1’s current generation could not descend into chaos at one point.

It’s perhaps surprising that we made it eight races before the first cracks in the Gatsby-esque “well done old sport” camaraderie between Hamilton and Vettel began to show.

This will be looked back on a key flashpoint in the title fight for 2017 and the wider rivalry between Hamilton and Vettel. Baku was where things got nasty.

The incidents themselves were pretty cut and dry. Anyone watching could see what happened.

The first contact between them coming out of Turn 15 was a result of Vettel misjudging how Hamilton was controlling the pack. With the safety car’s lights going out and peeling away, Hamilton became the defacto safety car. He had every right to go as fast or as slow as he liked.

Vettel was expecting Hamilton to accelerate out of Turn 15, perhaps thinking the Briton would bolt early as he did on the first restart. Hamilton instead kept at a steady pace, with the FIA data confirming as much, leading to the contact between the pair.

Vettel was unhappy and frustrated. That was perhaps justified. But what happened next was not. Not one bit.

Drawing alongside Hamilton, Vettel wanted to make his feelings known. He raised his hand in complaint, which may have been enough to get the Mercedes driver to speed up. After all, he needed to stay ahead as the lead car.

The swipe that Vettel then made towards Hamilton was, as explored by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton in this thread, a scare tactic. It was meant to spook his rival. But he got it wrong and the two made contact.

The FIA’s response was to give Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty, the strongest in-race sanction barring disqualification. It dropped Vettel back down the order and ended his win hopes, yet because of Hamilton’s unplanned pit stop to fit a new headrest, the German actually jumped ahead of his rival.

The end result should not be part of the context of the incident, though. Hamilton losing his headrest and dropping behind Vettel was totally separate and, frankly, just bad luck for the Mercedes man. The two incidents were unconnected.

Would Hamilton have been so aggrieved had he won the race and regained the lead of the championship from Vettel? One would hope so. Because it was a dangerous incident that, as Hamilton told NBCSN after the race, sent out totally the wrong message to young drivers coming through the ranks.

You do not, even just to spook your rival, deliberately drive towards another car like that under the safety car.

Why no disqualification? A report from Germany’s Auto Motor und Sport after the race suggested there were fears it could impact the title fight. Exclusion may have been a strong response, but it would certainly have sent out a clear message. Perhaps this was a missed opportunity to do exactly that.

Instead, Vettel and Hamilton will now be left to stew over it for a couple of weeks before heading to Austria. Once both drivers have cooled off, hopefully proper, adult talks can take place in a bid to clear things up.

We may like a bit of heat between sporting rivals, but respect is a rarer, more precious thing. It is something that was severely lacking in Baku.

Hopefully we can then see them settle things out on-track the proper way, just as they have done for much of the season so far.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 25: Race winner Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing celebrates his win in parc ferme during the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 25, 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

“BUTTER MY BUTT AND CALL ME A BISCUIT”

Daniel Ricciardo rarely disappoints when it comes to a good a quote, with the words of wisdom above gracing his Twitter account in the aftermath of the race. Frankly, we couldn’t have put it any better.

Ricciardo’s charge from P10 on the grid to victory was an unlikely one, requiring him to negotiate a number of pitfalls that caught out his rivals – and, as proven by his qualifying crash on Saturday, had already bitten him.

Ricciardo attacked the race with his usual gusto and bravado, with the race-winning move – albeit just for third at the time – being a brave double-pass on the Williams pair of Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll into Turn 1 after the safety car restart.

Ricciardo has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. All five of his F1 wins have come from starting outside the top three, and all have required a good dose of fortune. Alas, a win is a win – and when the front-runners falter, more often than not it is Ricciardo who is there to pick up the pieces.

Ricciardo’s victory also means that we have more than two teams winning races in a season for the first time since 2013, when Red Bull, Mercedes and Ferrari again shared the spoils. Variety is never a bad thing.

The top officials at Red Bull are under no illusions about the team’s current standing in F1. It still remains the third-fastest team and, under normal conditions, would stand no chance of beating Ferrari or Mercedes in a straight fight.

But that doesn’t devalue Ricciardo’s win at all. Instead, it makes it all the more impressive that he was there to capitalize on the opportunity that came his way.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 25: Second place finisher Valtteri Bottas driving the (77) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO8 crosses the line ahead of third placed Lance Stroll of Canada driving the (18) Williams Martini Racing Williams FW40 Mercedes during the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 25, 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

A FLYING FINNISH FOR BOTTAS

While the majority of the plaudits after the race lay with Ricciardo and Lance Stroll (who we’ll come onto), perhaps the greatest fightback of all in Baku came courtesy of Valtteri Bottas.

The Finn tangled with Kimi Raikkonen at Turn 2, sustaining a puncture that left him limping back to the pits for repairs and a lap down on the field. The race already appeared to have been turned into an extended test session.

But Bottas dug deep. He was able to get a wave-by under the first safety car, and then put the hammer down to pick his way through the field as those ahead began to lose their heads.

The drag race with Stroll to the line was dramatic, with Bottas emerging just 0.1 seconds ahead to clinch second place and salvage a big result from a pretty disastrous race for Mercedes, all things considered.

So what more can Bottas do to secure a contract renewal and ease the current “uncomfortable situation” he is in?

Frankly, nothing. He’s doing all he can. If the team wants harmony and stability, then surely keeping Bottas for 2018 and beyond is the way to do that.

If the appeal of Alonso, Vettel (well, maybe not after this weekend…) or Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon is a greater pull for the team, then it isn’t for want of trying on Bottas’ part he would depart, that’s for sure.

He has everything it takes to race for a title-winning team. Baku proved that.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 25: Lance Stroll of Canada and Williams celebrates his first podium and finishing in third place during the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 25, 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

STROLL COMES GOOD – FINALLY

Lance Stroll’s charge to third place in Baku may have come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t have.

He was, after all, F1’s best-prepared rookie since Lewis Hamilton thanks to an extensive test program prior to his debut, and came off the back of a record-breaking Formula 3 title win.

But after a raggedy first six races in F1, the critics were beginning to question Stroll’s readiness for grand prix racing, with his charge to ninth in Canada going some way to proving a point.

Sure, his rise has been accelerated by funding from his billionaire father, Lawrence, but the talent has to be there to back it all up. We saw that talent in Baku.

Stroll drove a clean, trouble-free race that would have seen many other rookies lose their cool at the chaos that was unfolding around them. The Williams FW40 is a quick car, and while he couldn’t keep Bottas back at the end, P3 was nevertheless a remarkable result for the young Canadian.

The catalyst for all of this may have been a revised preparation program for Baku. Following his run to his first points finish in Canada, Stroll stayed out in North America to complete a private test at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, Texas with a 2014-spec Williams, and has also been working with a new driver coach.

All of this appears to have calmed the 18-year-old. Now with his first points and podium chalked up, Stroll will hopefully be more at ease. He doesn’t have a point to prove anymore. Perhaps that will yield more displays like the one in Baku on Sunday.

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN – JUNE 23: Max Verstappen of the Netherlands driving the (33) Red Bull Racing Red Bull-TAG Heuer RB13 TAG Heuer on track during practice for the European Formula One Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on June 23, 2017 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

WELL DONE BAKU

The trackside message of “Well Done Baku!” that ultimately turned into a meme during F1’s first visit to Azerbaijan actually rang true in the wake of this year’s race: the crazy Baku City Circuit delivered, and then some.

The track is one of the maddest on the F1 calendar, featuring a mix of slow-speed sections, two high-speed complexes – oh, and a castle. It’s the kind of thing you might find in Mario Kart.

It was all said prior to the 2016 race when a crazy event featuring multiple safety cars and crashes galore was expected, only for a disappointingly straightforward race to set in. This time around though, Baku threw up the madness that has been expected.

Much like the 2012 European Grand Prix at Valencia, yesterday’s race proved that street circuits can throw up some spectacular results. For an event that seemed an odd addition to the F1 calendar at first, Baku has found a good groove with its second running.

So, well done Baku. You’ve given us a race that will be looked back on in years to come. Good on you.