PUBLISHED: 15:23 29 April 2018 | UPDATED: 17:16 29 April 2018
Lewis Hamilton won the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku. [Picture:Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.]
Steve Etherington for Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix Ltd.
Formula One world champion Lewis Hamilton won a chaotic 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku for his first race victory of the season.
The 33-year-old Mercedes F1 driver from Hertfordshire took the chequered flag at the Baku City Circuit following an incident-packed grand prix.
Hamilton crossed the line first from Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen after Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas, who was leading the race, suffered a dramatic late puncture with only two laps to go.
Force India’s Sergio Perez took the final step on the podium as Hamilton took the lead in the World Drivers’ Championship in extraordinary circumstances.
Hamilton now tops the championship leaderboard with 70 points, four more than Sebastian Vettel on 66, with Raikkonen third on 48.
Even Hamilton was surprised at winning a thrilling race for his 63rd F1 career victory – and his first in Azerbaijan.
Speaking afterwards, Hamilton said: “I have very mixed emotions today. Valtteri deserved to win, he did an exceptional job and had a faultless drive.
“This is such a crazy and exciting race and I never gave up. I was constantly pushing but it was a real struggle.
“I feel incredibly grateful to come out with the win.
“You have to take the ups with the downs and I can’t complain that I won; I will take it and hopefully learn from today.”
Hamilton added: “But Valtteri was very, very unfortunate, a one-two would have been a great result for the team.
“I would not have got by him in the remaining laps if he hadn’t had his tyre blow.”
Despite overtaking Vettel in the championship race, Hamilton said: “It looks like Ferrari still has the better car, they outperformed us most of the weekend.
“We were able to just hold on to them during the race. We definitely have some work to do, but we are in the mix and it’s going to be very close.
“We have to keep our heads down and keep working.”
There was high drama late on around the Baku street circuit as Red Bull drivers Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen took each other out, resulting in the Safety Car being deployed.
That was the catalyst for an eventful, crazy finish to the grand prix, with Hamilton being the main beneficiary.
Haas F1 driver Romain Grosjean bizarrely crashed behind the Safety Car, extending the Safety Car’s stay out on track.
When the race finally restarted, Hamilton was the big winner as Sebastian Vettel went for broke and ended up losing two places.
The Ferrari driver, running second at the time, made a lunge to take race leader Bottas but locked-up, costing him dearly as Hamilton and Raikkonen moved into second and third respectively.
Incredibly, Bottas then suffered a right-rear puncture on lap 49 of 51 after hitting debris on the track.
That promoted Hamilton into the lead, as Silver Arrows colleague Bottas was forced to retire when he looked on course for victory.
Raikkonen moved into second place as a result.
Vettel, who had started on pole position, eventually finished fourth, with Sainz fifth for Renault.
Charles Leclerc finished sixth for the Sauber team to pick up his first ever F1 points.
McLaren drivers Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne threaded their way through the carnage on the streets of Baku to claim seventh and ninth places respectively in today’s action-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
After seeing victory cruelly snatched from his grasp, Bottas said: “I’m absolutely heartbroken. It hurts a lot.
“But this is racing; some days are good, some days are bad – and some days are very bad.
“A small piece of debris destroyed my entire weekend. We had a good race until the puncture.
“The car felt really good and we were fast. I thought I had everything under control on the Safety Car restart, but then suddenly my tyre exploded.
“I didn’t see the debris and I couldn’t feel it until the tyre blew.
“It was really close the last couple of races, so it’s good that our team won today, but I’m obviously still very disappointed. I’ll try again in two weeks.”
Mercedes boss Toto Wolff described the race as “brutal” as the Silver Arrows saw a potential one-two snatched from them at the death.
Wolff said: “That was just a brutal race and probably exactly the kind of Grand Prix that fans want to see, with twists and turns at every point.
“In the garage, it was a real rollercoaster of emotions for the whole team and I am really pleased to see us get our first win of the season with Lewis but equally incredibly disappointed for Valtteri who drove a perfect race.
“We went from looking like scoring a solid double podium, to suddenly having the possibility of a one-two before it was snatched away from us with Valtteri’s puncture, to still winning the race.
“For Lewis, I guess that his luck has come full circle after the misfortune earlier in the season, and it’s probably fair to look at today as him getting back the win he lost in Melbourne.”
Wolff added: “The race began pretty quietly, with clean starts for our guys and then everything unfolding steadily.
“Lewis got caught out with a gust of wind under braking, flat spotting his first set of tyres.
“This forced him to stop on lap 22 and take the Soft compound to the finish.
“Meanwhile, Valtteri stayed out and was just getting faster and faster; we stayed on track because he was building the gap to Vettel, and perhaps had a chance for the win with a late charge on UltraSoft, when the Safety Car came out for the Red Bull accident.
“We pitted both cars and, after Sebastian’s mistake on the restart, we were set for the one-two finish when Valtteri hit a piece of debris that was on the track.
“Clearly that perfect result wasn’t meant to be today in such an unpredictable race.
“So it’s a bittersweet feeling: fantastic to get the win on the board and to be leading the drivers’ championship, but also disappointed because the quickest guy DNF’d with a puncture – and because we know there is still work ahead of us to improve the pace of the car in what will be a close three-way fight for the rest of the season.”
Mercedes technical director James Allison was pleased to see the team finally chalk up a race victory – even if it was perhaps the wrong Silver Arrows driver taking the chequered flag.
Allison said: “After three races where we had opportunities to win that we did not take, it’s great to have victory come our way this afternoon in Baku.
“I am as pleased for Lewis as I am sad for Valtteri after the race. Both drivers delivered fine performances but it was a cruel blow to have the prospect of a one-two finish dangled in front of us and then whisked away at the last when Valtteri drove over some debris following the Safety Car period.
“That’s two races running where he has deserved a much better outcome and I am confident it will come for him in the future.”
Allison added: “For Lewis, this was perhaps not the kind of swashbuckling victory he relishes but it nonetheless represents a measure of compensation for some of his misfortune in earlier races this season.
“On the operational side, the entire team performed well to recover from a difficult Friday and secure solid grid positions which were the foundations for today’s races.
“We delivered quick pit stops and excellent strategy decisions, all of which keep us in the game as we work to improve the car, in what is shaping up to be a dramatic and very memorable season.”
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