Ricciardo wins crazy Azerbaijan GP as Vettel, Hamilton come to blows

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Daniel Ricciardo survived one of the most chaotic Formula 1 races in recent memory to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as championship rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton both hit trouble and came to blows on-track.

A clash between the pair under the safety car acted as the first sign of a needle in their title fight, with relations having remained fairly cordial to this point.

Vettel was deemed to be responsible for dangerous driving, receiving a penalty, while Hamilton was forced into an unplanned second stop when his headrest came loose, ruling both title contenders out of contention for victory.

All of this allowed Daniel Ricciardo to battle his way from 10th place on the grid to take Red Bull’s first win of the season, leading home Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas and F1 rookie Lance Stroll, who took Williams’ first podium in over a year in just his eighth grand prix start.

Hamilton managed to make a clean getaway from pole position to retain his lead ahead Mercedes teammate Bottas and Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen, only for contact between the two to leave both cars with damage. In Bottas’ case, a new front wing was required, leaving him to limp back to the pits and fall a lap down.

The incident allowed Vettel to gain two places and run second behind Hamilton, with Sergio Perez moving up to third for Force India ahead of Max Verstappen and Raikkonen down in fifth, the Finn unamused by Bottas’ move at Turn 2.

Hamilton wasted little time in beginning to push at the front, quickly opening up a three-second gap ahead of Vettel, forcing the Ferrari man to respond to stop the gap from growing further.

In the battle behind, Perez was left fighting hard to keep Verstappen back with some bold defensive moves, only to soon be relieved of the pressure when the Red Bull driver suffered an engine problem, causing him to slow and drop all the way to eighth.

The safety car was deployed on Lap 12 to allow Daniil Kvyat’s stricken Toro Rosso to be recovered after an engine issue, sparking the lead drivers to dive into the pits. Hamilton was able to retain his lead ahead of Vettel, but Verstappen was forced to park his car up in the garage, marking his fourth retirement in six races.

The entirety of the field made use of the safety car to pit and switch to the soft tire that would likely take them to the end of the race, with Hamilton heading the field ahead of Vettel and Perez for the restart on Lap 17.

Hamilton bolted early as the safety car peeled in, dropping the surprised Vettel into the clutches of Perez behind. Vettel was able to defend on the inside at Turn 1 and hold the position, but teammate Raikkonen was less fortunate, slipping behind Felipe Massa and Esteban Ocon. The Ferrari driver also lost a chunk of bodywork from his car at Turn 1, prompting the stewards to throw a second safety car to allow the track to be cleared.

After nearly catching the safety car up on the first restart, Hamilton went to the other extreme the second time around, bunching the field right up. The Briton slowed so much that Vettel bumped into the back of him at Turn 15, before going side-by-side and raising his hand to complain. The pair touched again, Vettel appearing to drive towards Hamilton in a deliberate move.

When the race returned to green, Hamilton streamed away at the front while Vettel, running with damage, was left to defend his position from Massa, Perez and Ocon behind.

Massa tried to pass on the inside and moved up to third, while Ocon dived past Force India teammate Perez at Turn 3 and made contact, leaving both cars with damage. Ocon pitted and got a new front wing before going back out, but Perez was less fortunate, returning to his garage.

The safety car was deployed for the third time as debris was cleared, albeit too late for Raikkonen, who sustained damage to his car after running over bodywork at Turn 1, forcing him to head to the garage.

With debris strewn across the track, the FIA race stewards opted to throw a red flag so that the marshals could properly clear it, leaving all of the cars to return to the pit lane and queue up. Both Vettel and Hamilton were left in deep conversation with their teams regarding their clash, with the stewards doing much the same, confirming the incident was under investigation.

As teams waited for the race to resume behind the safety car, Ferrari and Force India were both able to complete rapid repairs on Raikkonen and Perez’s cars to get them back into the race, albeit two laps down on the field.

Around 25 minutes after the red flag was thrown, the race resumed behind the safety car with Hamilton and Vettel leading the way. Felipe Massa and Lance Stroll made the most of the madness to rise up to third and fourth respectively for Williams, while Ricciardo sat fifth for Red Bull.

Ricciardo was the big mover on the restart – which was absent of contact – to move from fifth to third ahead of both Williams drivers. Having reported a problem on his car, Massa began to lose multiple positions, while Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg clipped the wall and damaged his car, resigning both to retirement.

As the stewards continued to mull over his clash with Vettel, Hamilton began to pull away at the front once more, running over two seconds clear of his rival as the race passed half distance. His race took a twist when his head rest started to come loose, forcing the Briton to try to push it back down while running at 200 mph on the main straight. Unable to clip it back in fully, Hamilton was left to manage as best he could to keep the head protection in place.

Not wishing to risk a safety breach, Mercedes had no choice but to pit Hamilton from the lead and fit a new headrest, dropping the Briton all the way back to eighth place. However, just as he came in, the stewards announced that Vettel had been hit with a 10 second stop/go penalty for dangerous driving, pulling the race away from the Ferrari man just when it had been presented handed to him.

Vettel served his penalty and emerged back out on-track in seventh, one place ahead of Hamilton, with both drivers unhappy with the sanction that had been handed out. All of this left Ricciardo leading from Stroll and Magnussen, with Ocon fourth and Bottas – who was a lap down early on – fifth with 15 laps to go.

Magnussen was powerless to stop the Mercedes-powered cars from passing, with Bottas also overhauling Ocon to take third. Vettel and Hamilton were also able to slip past Magnussen before coming across Ocon, the Force India being made light work of, making Bottas the next target with six laps to go, who himself was catching Stroll at a rapid rate of knots.

At the front, though, Ricciardo had no such dramas to contend with. After 51 crazy laps in Baku, the Red Bull driver crossed the line to record the fifth victory of his grand prix career and the team’s first of the season.

Bottas denied Stroll second place at the line, finishing just 0.1 seconds ahead after a drag race at the finish, but the Canadian was nevertheless able to take third for Williams in just his eighth grand prix start, acting as a remarkable result for the rookie.

Vettel’s fightback from his penalty saw him finish fourth and extend his championship lead to 14 points over Hamilton, who was left to settle for fifth place.

Esteban Ocon took sixth for Force India – a good result given his clash with Perez and damage – while Kevin Magnussen took seventh for Haas ahead of Toro Rosso’s Carlos Sainz Jr.

Fernando Alonso was another driver to benefit from the race of attrition, crossing the line ninth to take McLaren’s first points of the season and end its point-less run. Pascal Wehrlein rounded out the points for Sauber in P10.

Formula 1 returns in two weeks’ time with the Austrian Grand Prix in Spielberg.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).