Valtteri Bottas leads Mercedes one-two finish at Azerbaijan Grand Prix
Valtteri Bottas held off Lewis Hamilton before cruising to victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday to continue Mercedes’ dominance of the title race.
That was the fourth straight one-two finish for Mercedes, the best start to a season by a two-car team in Formula One history. Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari were never even close to victory.
“It obviously means a lot. It’s incredible as a team the kind of level we are performing at now,” Bottas said. “It’s only my fifth win so of course it feels great.”
Bottas was challenged by teammate Lewis Hamilton at the start but held on to the lead after they battled through the opening two corners.
Bottas took over the championship lead by a single point from Hamilton, who took second place behind the Finn. The standings look much like they did from 2014 through 2016, when the title race was an all-Mercedes affair between Hamilton and Nico Rosberg.
Back then, Hamilton often feuded with Rosberg, but he was generous with praise for Bottas on Sunday.
“Today he was very fair in giving me space and after that he was faultless, so he truly deserved the win,” Hamilton said. “It’s going to take some really great performances from both of us to outperform each other and that’s how it should be.”
It was Bottas’ second victory in four races this year after a winless 2018.
It came a year after the Finn was agonizingly close to victory in Azerbaijan before a puncture forced him to retire from the lead and handed the win to Hamilton.
Sebastian Vettel was third as Ferrari failed to challenge Mercedes on a track that had been widely considered to favor the Italian team.
“It was never really working. I was uncomfortable, inconsistent, I couldn’t get a feel for the car,” Vettel said of his early stint on soft tires. He added that later in the race, “we had some pace to at least go with them, sometimes put a bit of pressure,” but Bottas and Hamilton already had a comfortable lead.
Max Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull, while Charles Leclerc took fifth for Ferrari after a crash in qualifying left him starting eighth before he fought through the field.
Leclerc also claimed the bonus point for fastest lap. The Monaco driver took advantage of a big gap behind him to take an essentially free pit-stop for fresh tires and go on a qualifying-style final run to set the fastest time.
Sergio Perez took sixth for Racing Point, while Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris were seventh and eighth in McLaren’s best two-car finish in more than a year. Racing Point’s Lance Stroll was ninth, and Kimi Raikkonen claimed 10th for Alfa Romeo after starting from the pit line when he was disqualified from Saturday qualifying.
Baku hosted unpredictable and crash-strewn races in 2017 and 2018, and a dramatic qualifying session on Saturday was decided by the finest of margins.
Sunday’s race was nothing like that.
A dry contest decided largely by pit strategy and car setups, there were few incidents of note after Bottas fended off Hamilton into the second corner.
After a poor start, Leclerc swept past a string of slower cars before overtaking Max Verstappen, who complained of poor handling in his Red Bull. When Leclerc took the lead on old tires after other cars pitted, an unlikely podium briefly seemed possible for the driver who dubbed himself “useless” after crashing in qualifying.
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Had the safety car come out, it could have saved Leclerc’s race, but his challenge faded with his tires. Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel reeled him in before all three passed him into turn one on successive laps.
When there was a collision, it was more farce than Formula One. Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat fought for position and both ran off the road, before Ricciardo reversed into the Russian as he tried to rejoin.
Both cars limped to the pits to retire, meaning there was no impact on the leaders.
The race was briefly neutralized under virtual safety car conditions on lap 40 when Pierre Gasly’s Red Bull broke down in sixth position with a driveshaft problem, giving Bottas more help to protect his lead.
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