F1 1000: Bonkers Baku a modern classic - GPFans' favourite races
As Formula 1 reaches its 1000th race at the Chinese Grand Prix, GPFans' writers are looking back through the previous 999 to find their favourites. Here, Tom Jeffries chooses the most recent race among our selections, but it is a sure-fire modern classic.
Ask any race fan what they want from a race and they'll all reply with similar responses. They want excitement. They want drama. They want unpredictability. They want to see people at the peak of their careers operating at the absolute limit of their skills and capabilities.
They want the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
The circuit snakes its way around Azerbaijan's glittering capital, mixing the blistering speed of Monaco with the almost non-existent margin for error of Monaco. Since its addition to the calendar in 2016 it had been a personal favourite and, as the race was about to start, I settled in and hoped for action.
I didn't have to wait long.
The exit of turn two saw Fernando Alonso, Sergey Sirotkin and Nico Hulkenberg, all fighting for the same piece of track, collide, puncturing the front tyres of Alonso and Sirotkin.
At the next corner several hundred feet further down the track, Kimi Raikkonen and Esteban Ocon squabbled over position in turn three, the end result being an unhappy Finn and a Frenchman in the wall. Three corners in and a quarter of the field had been involved in contact. I was hooked.
With debris covering a good section of the second straight and Ocon's car wedged firmly against the wall, the safety car was released.
Meanwhile Alonso, showcasing his notorious warrior spirit, nursed a two-wheeled McLaren back to the pits (and to an eventual seventh-place finish). This alone was almost more action than we'd seen all season to this point.
The restart five laps later set up what was to become the main talking point of the race, a bloodthirsty battle between Red Bull's two drivers. Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo – one the apple of his team's eye, the other a man fighting for all his worth – were racing as though their lives depended on it.
We could all see what was going to unfold from the sixth lap, but it took until lap 40 to happen – contact.
Ricciardo threw a Mansell-esque dummy to the outside, then chopped to the inside down the main straight.
Verstappen, unwilling to give any space, went the same way – covering Ricciardo's car and removing the downforce-providing air he needed to stop.
He couldn't stop. He ploughed into the back of Verstappen and, in a hail of smoke, carbon fibre and curse words, the two were out on the spot.
Two Red Bull drivers colliding, the younger one blaming the Australian driver despite it being more to do with his own actions; now where have we heard that before?
Thankfully the safety car was released again as it gave everyone (myself very much included) time to reset our blood pressures and recover from the excitement of the previous 40 laps. A nice quiet safety period was exactly what we needed to set up the remainder of the race. Of course, that's not exactly what we got…
Romain Grosjean managed to have a head-on collision with the wall whilst behind the safety car.
Trying to warm his tyres, he locked the rear so aggressively that his race engineer thought he'd been hit from behind, uttering the now-immortal line: "I think Ericsson hit us." He hadn't, but a thousand memes were born that day.
Hey Giedo, you may want to use those... ??? I never blamed Ericsson, listen more carefully! ? I made a mistake and never blamed it on anyone pic.twitter.com/E0BqADvRte
The safety car seemed to be more for the fans' safety at this point, as I certainly wasn't ready to witness the remainder of the race – a four-lap dash to the line.
As the safety car peeled into the pits the order ran: Bottas, Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Perez.
Questions had been asked of Sebastian Vettel's aggressiveness before the restart – would he bank the points, or make an all-or-nothing move up the inside of Bottas?
Having started on pole and led most of the race, he opted for the latter, flat-spotting his tyre and ruling himself out.
My heart rate rose worryingly. How much more could we take? Surely it had to be over. It wasn't.
With three laps to go Bottas hit debris. As he entered the braking zone for the first corner his tyre exploded, sending rubber and his hopes of his first win of 2018 with it – the wait, of course, would go until this year. I could take no more.
Thankfully the final two laps went without a hitch. Hamilton cruised to a win, Perez took an unexpected podium and I realised that history had just unfolded on my TV. It had been an utterly spectacular race, and it would likely be the best for quite some time.
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