Valtteri Bottas takes Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Mercedes one-two

Lewis Hamilton settles for second place while Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel completes podium

Valtteri Bottas took the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty

Valtteri Bottas took the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in Baku ahead of Lewis Hamilton. Photograph: Clive Mason/Getty

 

Valtteri Bottas won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a dominant run from pole position. With his teammate Lewis Hamilton in second it secured Mercedes a remarkable fourth successive one-two finish this season. Sebastian Vettel was third for Ferrari with Max Verstappen in fourth for Red Bull. Charles Leclerc who had started from eighth after crashing in qualifying made a valiant effort on an alternate strategy to come though to take fifth.

The win was hugely welcome for Bottas and some redemption after he was denied victory at this race last year, when a puncture while leading with three laps to go ended his race. Baku has produced huge drama in recent years and did so again in qualifying but this time the race proved to be closely fought but an uneventful battle at the front. Having held his lead off the start Bottas once again put in a consummate drive to secure victory.

Hamilton stayed with him throughout, as did Vettel, but neither could challenge for the lead.

It was enough for the Finn to retake the championship lead from Hamilton over whom he now has a one-point advantage. Vettel dropped further back, now 34 points behind Bottas.

This is Bottas’s fifth career victory and after his win at the opening round in Australia and two second places in Bahrain and China continues what has been the strongest start to a season of his career. The victory has issued stern notice to Hamilton that he will face a real fight from his teammate, who clearly intends to take a shot at the title.

In China Bottas had also taken pole but was beaten off the line by Hamilton. After starting at the front here, the Finn ensured no such repeat this time and having held his lead, went on to make the most of it and dictate the race.

Having expected to be chasing Ferrari, to conclude the opening four flyaway races with two wins is an opening Bottas would not have imagined. He has ensured he has been at the very front of the mix in every race and taken advantage of every opportunity. Mercedes too cannot have expected to have taken all four wins thus far.

Lewis Hamilton finished behind Valtteri Bottas in Azerbaijan. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters
Lewis Hamilton finished behind Valtteri Bottas in Azerbaijan. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Bottas and Hamilton went wheel to wheel with inches to spare through the first two corners but the Finn held his nerve and his line to maintain his lead. It was breathless stuff but both drivers kept it clean as the walls loomed over them. With his lead intact Bottas immediately opened a gap of over two seconds as they both dropped Vettel by over four seconds.

The two Mercedes found their rhythm with a stable two-second gap by lap six and while Vettel slipped further back, Leclerc was charging through the field. He had dropped to 10th from eighth on the grid, having started on the harder rubber, but had recovered to fifth by lap five. He then caught and passed Verstappen for fourth by lap 10 by which point he was only four seconds behind his teammate. He was enjoying the better pace of the two Ferraris, as he had displayed earlier in the weekend and with his medium tyres clearly working better than the softs.

Ferrari opted to pit Vettel on lap 12 to take the medium tyres. Mercedes brought Bottas in a lap later to match him and Hamilton on the lap after that. After which Leclerc held the lead, looking to go long before taking the soft tyre. With the new rubber up to temperature Bottas and Hamilton were putting in good times, swapping fastest laps, although their tyres needed to make it to the end of the race.

Both the Mercedes drivers and Vettel were putting in solid times as they sought to narrow the gap to Leclerc before his stop. Bottas was taking almost a second a lap from Leclerc by the mid-point of the race and by lap 30 was within two seconds as the front three all closed to within DRS range, Hamilton harrying his teammate.

Ferrari opted to keep Leclerc out, concerned how long the soft tyre could last but he was losing time in doing so. They brought him in on lap 35 and he emerged in sixth behind the Red Bull of Pierre Gasly and 28 seconds behind Bottas. He swiftly dealt with Gasly but there was too much to do and he had to settle for fifth although he secured the fastest lap point at the death.

Out front, Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel however had to stick to their plans and were settled with two-second gaps between them. While Verstappen was also very strong in fourth. Hamilton refused to give up, still pushing in the final laps but Bottas was undaunted and held his place for the win.

Sergio Pérez took a strong sixth for Racing Point with his teammate Lance Stroll doing well in ninth. McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris also turned in impressive runs for seventh and eighth, with Kimi Raikkonen in the Alfa Romeo in 10th. - Guardian

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