Lewis Hamilton: ‘I didn’t brake-test Sebastian Vettel’
PUBLISHED: 19:52 25 June 2017 | UPDATED: 19:59 25 June 2017
Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.
Lewis Hamilton could only finish fifth in an incident-packed 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku and admitted it was “difficult to swallow” the result.
The 32-year-old Mercedes Formula One driver from Hertfordshire was leading the race in Baku when he was bizarrely forced to make a pit stop for a loose headrest.
That dropped him down to eighth place and he was unable to battle back for a podium after starting the race from pole position.
Red Bull star Daniel Ricciardo won the 2017 Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Hamilton’s Silver Arrows colleague Valtteri Bottas, with rookie Lance Stroll third for his first podium.
Sebastian Vettel controversially finished fourth after being hit with a 10-second stop and go penalty for dangerous driving following an incident with Hamilton.
Vettel collided into the back of Hamilton’s Mercedes behind the safety car and then pulled level with the Stevenage-born racer and drove sideways into the Silver Arrows driver.
Hamilton said: “I definitely didn’t brake-test Sebastian. I controlled the pace under the Safety Car and, just like with the other restarts, I slowed down in the same place on the entry to T15.
“At that point, it is up to me to control the pace and then I felt a bump from behind.
“But that wasn’t the issue for me – everybody saw clearly what happened after.
“All the young kids in other series look up to us, as champions, to set an example and that is not the behaviour you expect to see from a multiple champion.
“But we know that when times get tough, true colours show, and we have managed to apply some good pressure in the last weeks.
“Personally, I want to do my talking on the track and win this championship in the right way. More than ever after this weekend, I believe we can.”
The collision with Vettel was just one incident in a chaotic race which saw the grand prix red-flagged after 22 laps due to debris on the track following earlier safety car periods.
Hamilton was gutted at failing to convert his 66th F1 pole position into victory.
Afterwards he said: “It’s difficult to swallow a result like this after a strong weekend. I drove my heart out today right to the line – I gave it everything.
“I know the team will be devastated about the issue with the headrest, but what we have to take away from this weekend is the great performance we have shown.
“We all feel that pain, but it’s on me to gather my thoughts and try and lead the team through this adversity. We’ll pull together and move forwards.
“I’m proud of my performance and I hope we can take the speed we’ve shown this weekend forward.”
Hamilton, with 139 points, trails Vettel by 14 points in the Drivers’ Championship, with Bottas (111) a further 28 points back in P3.
Bottas fought back from a first lap puncture to claim an unexpected podium.
After starting on the front row, Valtteri dropped back to P20 on Lap 1 but recovered to snatch P2 on the finish line at the Baku City Circuit.
He said: “Today was a crazy race, especially for me. I had a puncture on the first lap after the contact with Kimi [Raikkonen] on Lap 1.
“I was a lap down, then had to overtake the field under the Safety Car.
“The second Safety Car after that really helped me out and, step by step, I moved forward from there.”
The Finn added: “My main goal today was to fight for the win but that went out of the window after the first lap.
“I was actually last at one point, but I got my head down, gave it absolutely everything and tried to get the absolute maximum out of every single corner.
“We didn’t quite manage to win but P2 from where we were is a great feeling. Importantly for the team, we scored more points in the fight with Ferrari and I got some good points for myself as well.”
Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport (250 points) lead the Constructors’ Championship by 24 points from Ferrari (226 points) in P2.
Team boss Toto Wolff said: “When the winner was at one point in P17, and the guy in second was a lap down and last after lap two, then you know it’s been a crazy day!
“Our big picture from today is that we extended our lead in the Constructors’ Championship by 16 points and confirmed we have a very fast race car. But that isn’t what people will remember.
“For Lewis, it was a really eventful race. With the Vettel incident, I think the FIA has made its decision during the race and we can’t rewind the race now.
“Emotions cook high in the moment but it doesn’t change the relationship between our two teams.
“Then he was leading after the red flag when we had the problem with the headrest and had to change it; that cost him the win but we need to investigate what exactly happened there.
“It is never about blame; we look at the process to see what we can improve, then go to the next race better and stronger, and this is what we will do again as a team.
“But we should be encouraged with the pace Lewis had.
“As for Valtteri, it just goes to show you can never give up.
“He did a sensational job from a lap down and it was the perfect finale to steal P2 on the line.
“But nevertheless it could have been P1 and P3 today, so we need to learn our lessons and keep pushing for the next race in Austria.”
James Allison, Mercedes’ technical director, added: “It was a bittersweet race, more sweet than bitter on balance given how much worse it could have been, but it hurts to cost ourselves the win because of a detail like a loose headrest.
“Taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, both cars were fast and had the pace to convert the promise of their qualifying positions – and in the end we still brought home a useful haul of championship points.
“But we now can’t wait to get back out on track in a fortnight’s time in order to chase the full reward that the car’s pure performance deserved this weekend.”
Fernando Alonso, meanwhile, steered his way through chaos, collisions, debris, penalties, multiple Safety Car periods and even a mid-race stoppage to finish ninth and score McLaren-Honda’s first points of the season in a memorable, incident-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The Spaniard ran as high as fifth as the leaders encountered problems in the heat of the afternoon, then looked set for eighth until being overtaken by countryman Carlos Sainz Jnr in the closing laps.
McLaren colleague Stoffel Vandoorne finished 12th after driving an equally strong race.
A flat-spot towards the end prompted a late stop for fresh tyres, and, while he was able to close a 17-second deficit to the two Saubers ahead of him, he couldn’t quite get a pass to stick along the track’s long final straight.
Alonso said: “Starting 19th because of our penalties, on one of our least competitive circuits, yet still scoring our first championship points is unreal; a complete surprise.
“The race really came to us through the many retirements and a lot of action. I managed to stay away from the walls, just brushing them here and there.
“Nevertheless, I think we could have fought for a podium finish today – and perhaps even the victory. We were behind Daniel Ricciardo during the first Safety Car period; then Lewis had a problem with his headrest and was forced to pit; Sebastian had a penalty; Kimi (briefly) retired; the two Force Indias touched each other, so we automatically found ourselves in a decent position.
“We missed out on further opportunities because we weren’t quick enough in the race and couldn’t hold on to that position. Still, we got our first two points of the season today, so let’s just take that.”