2018: Disaster at Red Bull, heartbreak for Bottas
A year on from his Baku victory, Ricciardo’s tail was up as he returned to Azerbaijan, apparently a genuine threat for the world title. Meanwhile, highly-rated team-mate Verstappen was in something of a slump, having made a string of mistakes.
In Baku, their worlds would collide in the fall-out would contribute to Ricciardo’s big decision on where he would drive in the future.
Usually in a rear-end collision, either on the race track or the road, the blame is squarely placed on the driver who hits from behind. But this was one of those occasions not so easy to judge. Verstappen’s tendency to swerve from his line under braking had contributed to a clash that cost Red Bull a possible one-two. Christian Horner, Helmut Marko, Adrian Newey – they were all furious. But with Verstappen escaping a level of team censure Ricciardo believed was merited, further doubts were sewn about staying at the team with which he had achieved so much.
A year on, he’s unlikely to find himself a victory contender in Baku, as his new team, Renault, continues its struggle to find both pace and reliability. What will be in his mind as he returns to the city that holds so much past history – both good and bad?
Bottas is another who will surely carry conflicted memories. This time last year he put in the type of performance to show he has the ability to beat his usually masterful team-mate, only for a late-race puncture to rob him of victory and gift a first Baku win to Lewis.
The Finn needs to harness that form that took him so close 12 months ago, and empowered him so convincingly at the start of this season in Australia, too. Victory on Sunday would do much to sooth the pain of 2018 and rekindle our belief that Bottas can ‘do a Rosberg’ and defeat a great champion over a season.
The past offers lessons and a focus for motivation. But as in all sport, there’s no accounting for luck when the red lights switch off on Sunday afternoon.
Photography by Motorsport Images.