Lewis Hamilton picked up a surprise win in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Sebastian Vettel led the way for most of the race until a late safety car shuffled the order
The Red Bull drivers had a close fight. A bit too close, it turns out…
Lewis Hamilton picked up an unexpected victory in a wild Azerbaijan Grand Prix, benefiting from a late-race error by Sebastian Vettel and a puncture for his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas.
Vettel led much of the race on the streets of Baku in his Ferrari until stopping for new tyres, with Bottas able to benefit by holding out for his stop until a late-race safety car. That allowed him to emerge in the lead ahead of Vettel and Hamilton.
Then Vettel’s attempt to reclaim the lead at the restart ended with him locking up and running wide, allowing both Hamilton and Kimi Räikkönen to go past. The German then lost another spot to Force India’s Sergio Pérez.
The drama wasn’t over, because Bottas’s bid to win a second race in 2018 ended when a tyre blew in dramatic fashion after he ran over some debris. That gifted Hamilton an unlikely win – and, with it, the championship lead.
Here are more takeaways from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Hamilton: we have work to do
Despite claiming his first victory of the season, world champion Hamilton admitted that both he and Mercedes have work to do to match Ferrari.
“I’m definitely struggling to extract the car’s potential, but also my potential. It’s definitely been a little difficult, but I have to be happy with today.
“We’ve definitely got a lot of work still to do: we still are behind [Ferrari]. We’ve not got a terrible car by any means; we’ve just got to refine it a little bit.”
Hamilton also acknowledged Bottas’s bad luck, adding: “He deserved to win. He did an exceptional job; a faultless drive. I couldn’t have got by him if he hadn’t had that tyre blowout.”
Vettel might have rued the ill-timed safety car that cost him victory but, given his win in the season-opening Australian Grand Prix was due to a well-timed safety car, he didn’t complain too much.
In addition, Vettel said he didn’t regret his attempt to pass Bottas: “I’m happy that I tried; I’m not happy that it didn’t work.”
Vettel now trails Hamilton by four points in the championship.
Red Bull fighters in the dog house
For the third race in a row, Max Verstappen was involved in an on-track clash with an opponent – but this time it was his Red Bull Racing team-mate Daniel Ricciardo.
The pair had battled for much of the event, even making contact early in the race. Ricciardo overtook Verstappen shortly before their stops, but the Dutchman was able to regain the advantage in the pits.
Chinese GP winner Ricciardo then got a run on his team-mate heading down Baku’s long straight, only to run into the back of Verstappen, who appeared to be making multiple moves in an attempt to block. The stewards reprimanded both drivers for the collision, as did Red Bull team boss Christian Horner.
“They are both in the dog house,” said Horner, who added that the two drivers have been summoned to the team’s Milton Keynes factory. “Drivers drive for a team, and they both recognise they have screwed up today. They will be apologising to the team, and all members of the team. It’s a team sport, and that seemed to get forgotten about.”
Baku bumper cars
The Red Bull duo weren’t the only racers to get physical on the tight-but-fast Hermann Tilke-designed Baku street circuit.
Williams driver Sergey Sirotkin was slapped with a grid penalty for the next race after being ruled to have caused a first-lap pile-up when he tagged the back of Pérez’s car. The resulting clash also involved Force India’s Esteban Ocon and Williams’ Lance Stroll.
Sirotkin retired soon after due to another clash involving Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) and Fernando Alonso (McLaren).
Haas racer Kevin Magnussen was given a time penalty for a clash with Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly.
Räikkönen and Ocon also clashed early in the race, although both escaped without censure. Räikkönen pitted after the incident, but was then able to run to the end of the race, grabbing an unlikely second.
Starring supporting roles
Pérez’s late-race pass on a hobbled Vettel secured Force India’s first podium of the season and it was the second time the Mexican has been on the podium in F1’s three visits to Baku. He was also third on the circuit in 2016, when the race was named the European Grand Prix for convoluted reasons.
Ferrari junior driver Charles Leclerc also impressed, dodging the troubles to claim his first F1 points with sixth in his Sauber.
Despite being involved in that lap one clash, Stroll recovered to claim eighth, the first points finish of the season for Williams. That means all 10 F1 teams have scored points in the first four races of the season.
Next race: Spanish Grand Prix (Barcelona), 13 May