The 2018 Formula 1® season is only four races in, but it’s already shaping up to be one of the closest-fought and most unpredictable in some years. For the second year in succession, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix delivered crashes, chaos and close racing, with Lewis Hamilton emerging the unlikely winner.
After a quick look around this fascinating city, our weekend in Baku began on Thursday afternoon with our Drive the Track Tour, a unique chance to see this incredible street circuit up close. The highlight was the tight uphill section of the circuit where it is so narrow you can almost touch the old city walls! Next up, an Exclusive Pit Lane Walk in which our guests were able to get up close to the teams at work in the garages. Finally, the chance to pose for an unforgettable photo with the winner’s trophy on the Main Straight.
On Friday, the F1® cars hit the track for the first of two practice sessions, with Valtteri Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo taking the fastest respective times. Once the on-track action finished, our Hero and Trophy guests were treated to Insider Access to the F1 Paddock, which included visits to Pirelli, the McLaren garage and a chat with Safety Car Driver Bernd Mayländer. Some of our lucky guests even got to sit behind the wheel of Bernd’s awesome Mercedes AMG GTR! After a quick photo op on the podium, it was time for our Paddock Club Party with special guest Marcus Ericsson from Sauber! After a Q&A with our James O’Brien, Marcus was happy to chat with our guests and pose for some photos, including one epic selfie (see main image above). A perfect day ended with British funk band Jamiroquai taking to the stage at Crystal Hall for a greatest-hits set, including tunes such as Virtual Insanity and Cosmic Girl.
Some of our guests were treated to Guided Paddock Access on Saturday, which as always was tailored to the preferences of the group and included photos atop the podium. On track, Sebastian Vettel ended qualifying on top with the Mercedes duo of Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas completing the top 3. Our guests ended another big day seeing Christina Aguilera live in concert at the Crystal Hall.
After sunny weather all weekend, race day dawned with overcast skies, strong winds and cooler temperatures. Hopes of a clean race were dashed on a chaotic first lap, with several clashes resulting in immediate retirements for Esteban Ocon and Sergey Sirotkin. After the Safety Car came in, Sebastian Vettel led from the Mercedes duo of Bottas and Hamilton.
Meanwhile, Max Verstappen and Red Bull teammate Daniel Ricciardo were having a huge duel for fourth. After passing each other for position several times and even touching wheels at one point, it all came to a head on lap 41 when Ricciardo ran into the back of Verstappen at the end of the Main Straight, putting both drivers out of the race. This brought out the Safety Car again, which Mercedes made the most out of, pitting Bottas and bringing him out in the lead.
On the restart, Vettel went for a big lunge on Bottas into Turn 1, but missed his braking point and fell to fourth. Bottas looked to be on track for the win until his luck ran out just three laps from the chequered flag. After running over debris on the Main Straight, the Finn picked up a puncture and was out of the race, gifting Hamilton a lucky win and the lead in the driver’s championship. Our weekend in Baku ended in the Crystal Hall with Dua Lipa live in concert. What a race and what a city. Next stop, the Spanish GP in Barcelona. See you in two weeks!