Over the years in Formula 1, we’ve had practice sessions cancelled because of bad weather, but Friday in Baku was possibly the first time that we lost all but 12 minutes of Free Practice 1 because of a problem with the track itself. George Russell’s Williams lifted a manhole cover off the road and that put an immediate end to practice, as the FIA then had to inspect every single drain cover on the entire six and a bit kilometre-long Baku street circuit. It seems that one of the locking cams on the drain cover was broken and the vacuum created by an F1 car was enough to lift it off the road. Everything was then fixed for FP2, which could regularly take place.
The lack of track activity this caused was the same for everyone, but in the run up to FP2, Daniil’s car required a power steering change which cost him even more track time and then, pushing hard and showing competitive pace as he searched out the limits of the car, he oversteered into the barriers, damaging mainly the left side of the car. Daniil could take some consolation in the fact that we were clearly quick around this circuit as he still managed to finish the session P6 after just three laps! Our Russian lad also managed a smile when, late on Friday night, we presented him with a birthday cake as he turned 25 that day. He’s been part of the Red Bull family for so long, it’s hard to believe he’s still so young!
For the mechanics it meant another late night, but they could take some small consolation that, from leaving the garage to being in their hotel room took about 8 minutes given that, along with many other teams, we were staying in a hotel that overlooked the paddock.
Qualifying was also hit by red-flag delays, which meant the track temperature dropped more than expected and that was certainly part of Alex’s difficulties, which resulted in him qualifying 13th. The more experienced Daniil really showed what he could do and blitzed his way to sixth fastest, the first time one of our guys has made it to Q3 this year. It showed just how competitive the STR14 was this weekend, partly helped by Honda introducing a Spec 2 version of its engine.
There was no late birthday present for Daniil in the race: his first set of tyres went off very quickly and an early pit stop lost him track position and then, in one of the most bizarre incidents since….a manhole cover attacked a car, Daniil was forced off line by Daniel Ricciardo, who had outbraked himself and headed down an escape road. As if that wasn’t bad enough, before Daniil could reverse back onto the track, Ricciardo reversed up the escape road and straight into the Toro Rosso. Game over when a point was on the table for the Russian. Alex said he had some fun during the race, but most of it was off-camera and he produced another solid drive to finish eleventh.
We leave Baku with the knowledge that our car was competitive, and combined with the work Honda has done, with its latest spec PU and the fact the STR14 looked good in Barcelona in winter testing, there are reasons to be optimistic about the next few races.