Lewis Hamilton secured his first victory of 2018 and took over the lead of the championship standings after a chaotic end of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, while Kimi Räikkönen and Sergio Pérez claimed the remaining podium spots.
The race will be remembered for a high profile collision between Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, while Sebastian Vettel and then Valtteri Bottas both found their own chances of victory ending heading in separate incidents into turn one, the former with a lock up as he attacked for the lead following a late race safety car restart, while the latter suffered a puncture a lap later whilst looking set for his fourth victory of his Formula 1 career.
Vettel had looked comfortable in the lead and was on course for his third victory of the season for Scuderia Ferrari, only for Bottas to take a different course with strategy, but even then the Finn was only able to take over the lead when he was able to pit behind the safety car.
On the restart, Vettel attacked into turn one, only to lock up his brakes and run wide, dropping back not only behind Bottas but also Hamilton and Räikkönen, while the flat spot on his tyre also meant Perez was able to find a way ahead into fourth, which would become third on the following lap.
Bottas was clear of Hamilton and out of the range of Hamilton heading down the start/finish straight, only to run over some sharp debris that immediately punctured his right rear tyre, with Hamilton inheriting the lead for the first time, with the Briton securing the win by 2.460 seconds from Räikkönen.
Perez withstood the pressure of Vettel to take the final step on the podium despite having earlier been given a penalty for overtaking before the safety car line on the first restart, with the Sahara Force India F1 Team racer standing on the Azerbaijani podium for the second time in three years.
The Battle of the Red Bulls
The Aston Martin Red Bull Racing driver’s were involved in a race long battle almost from the start, with Verstappen finding his way ahead of Ricciardo heading into turn one at the restart following the first safety car period.
Verstappen then defended robustly from Ricciardo, particularly into that turn one, with the two banging wheels on lap twelve, coming close again on lap twenty-seven at the same point, before Ricciardo finally edged himself back ahead into the turn on lap thirty-five.
However, after the pit stops to switch from the Supersoft to the Ultrasoft tyre, Verstappen found himself ahead again, but the drama between the two was to intensify at the end of the lap after the Dutchman’s pit visit, when the two collided, again into the opening turn.
Ricciardo was able to benefit from using the DRS down the straight and sent a dummy to Verstappen, only for the Dutchman to react again to his second move, with the Australian then ramming the back of his team-mates car, ending both of their afternoons in the turn one run-off.
The incident brought out the safety car for the second time on the day, and it allowed Bottas to make his stop and retain the lead, mainly due to Vettel and Hamilton also opting to switch from the Soft to the Ultrasoft for the final stint.
Unfortunately, Romain Grosjean’s race ended when he lost control of his Haas F1 Team car behind the safety car and hit the wall sufficiently hard enough to break his suspension, ending his promising race that had seen him set for a top seven finish and his first points of the year.
First lap drama for many…
Everyone managed to get around turn one unscathed, but turn two saw numerous incidents, with Sergey Sirotkin clipping the back of Sergio Perez, who in turn nudged Esteban Ocon. Further back there was also contact between Kevin Magnussen and Marcus Ericsson.
Heading towards turn three, Ocon edged ahead of Räikkönen’s Ferrari but was tipped into a half spin into the wall, ending his race and causing only his second retirement of his Formula 1 career, the first coming in the Brazilian Grand Prix last season.
Sirotkin’s race also ended at the same turn as he found himself squeezed between Nico Hülkenberg and Fernando Alonso and he suffered damage to the left-hand side of his Williams Martini Racing FW41, while Alonso, Magnussen, Ericsson, Brendon Hartley and Ericsson all pitted at the end of the lap for repairs, while the field bunched up behind the safety car.
Alonso in particular was lucky to make it back to the pits, suffering as he did punctures to both his right front and right rear tyres, while there was also damage to his floor.
First points for Leclerc and Hartley
Behind the leading quartet, there were some standout performances, with Carlos Sainz Jr. earning the an excellent fifth for the Renault Sport Formula One Team.
The early stages saw the two Red Bull’s struggling for pace as both struggled with their battery, and at one point the two Renault drivers found themselves ahead of them in fourth and fifth, Sainz ahead of Hülkenberg. However, the German’s race was over on lap eleven when he clipped the wall at turn four with his left rear tyre before pulling off the track at turn five with a broken suspension.
Sainz held off the challenge of the two Red Bull’s as his Ultrasoft tyres faded in the first stint, but fought back superbly in the final stages, passing Charles Leclerc in the final few laps for fifth.
Leclerc was one of the stars of the race, keeping himself out of trouble throughout and running inside the top ten for the majority of the day. The Alfa Romeo Sauber F1 Team racer secured his first points of his Formula 1 career, finishing just ahead of Alonso, who gave the McLaren F1 Team more points in seventh despite his first lap double puncture, while Lance Stroll secured Williams’ first points of the season in eighth, although the team continue to sit last in the championship standings leaving Baku.
Stoffel Vandoorne was able to secure two points despite a tough weekend for the second McLaren driver, while Hartley secured his first point of his Formula 1 career in tenth, taking advantage of an incident between his team-mate Pierre Gasly and the Haas of Magnussen to claim tenth.
Ericsson, who at one point was lapped after running down the turn three run-off area and then suffered a penalty for causing a collision with Magnussen on the opening lap, ended just half a second away from the points in eleventh in the second Sauber, while Gasly and Magnussen were left pointless in twelfth and thirteenth following their clash.
Bottas was classified fourteenth despite retiring thanks to his puncture with three laps to go, while the rest were all eliminated due to contact, either with others or the wall.
Championship lead for Hamilton
Hamilton arrived in Baku with a seventeen-point deficit to Vettel but leaves Azerbaijan with a four point advantage on the German, while Räikkönen is now third, twenty-two points adrift of the reigning champion, while only Grosjean and Sirotkin are now the only drivers not to have scored a point in 2018.
Hamilton avoided the chaos and was there when it matters, but it was clear that Ferrari still were the team to beat had it been a straightforward afternoon, while his team-mate would have possibly taken the win had it not been for his puncture.
But as it always is and always will be in Formula 1, to finish first, first you have to finish. And for the unlucky Finn, this will hit home hard in Azerbaijan.
Azerbaijan Grand Prix Race Result
[table id=2941 /]