Lewis Hamilton claimed a fortunate 63rd career win and control of the Drivers’ Championship standings at the end of a chaotic and incident-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix that saw long-time race leader Sebastian Vettel drop to fourth after a collision between the Red Bull drivers and Valtteri Bottas exit the race from the lead with a late puncture.
Kimi Räikkönen was left to take second place behind Hamilton, with Force India’s Sergio Perez taking a second career podium finish in Baku thanks to a late pass on Vettel.
The 2018 Azerbaijan GP was full of drama right from the start. Pole position man Vettel held his advantage when the lights went out, taking the lead ahead of Hamilton, Bottas and the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
Behind them there was drama as Räikkönen and Force India’s Esteban Ocon collided in Turn 1. The impact pushed the French driver into the barriers and out of the race, but the Finn was able to make his way back to the pits for a new front wing and a set of soft tyres.
More incidents were to follow soon after, when Williams Sergey Sirotkin tagged the front right wheel of Fernando Alonso’s McLaren. The Russian driver was forced to retire, but the Spaniard was able to limp back to the pits, though by the time he had reached the McLaren pit box he had shed both right side tyres. He too took a new front wing and soft tyres. With debris strewn across the track, the Safety Car was deployed.
When the action resumed, Vettel again held his advantage, demonstrably backing the field up to shorten the run to Turn 1. He quickly opened up a gap to the Mercedes and it was further back in the battle for fourth to sixth that the big battles began to happen.
Verstappen passed team-mate Ricciardo but in doing so Renault’s Carlos Sainz pounced and managed to slot between the two Red Bulls. The Spaniard then began to exert pressure on the Dutch driver and quickly made a decisive move past the Red Bull.
Behind them, Ricciardo was also a target for Renault. Nico Hulkenberg swiftly passed the Australian and then got past Verstappen as both Red Bull drivers complained of battery charging problems.
Hulkenberg’s stay in fifth place was brief, however, as on lap 11 he made an error in Turn 4. The German lost the back end of his Renault and the rear left of hit the wall. He drove straight down the escape road at Turn 5 and retired.
The Red Bull drivers appeared to now be recovering from their woes and as Verstappen began to push back towards Sainz, the Spaniard opted to pit, shedding his ultrasoft starting tyres for a set of softs.
At the front, Vettel was busy constructing a comfort zone back to Hamilton, and by lap 20 the Ferrari driver had built a four second cushion over the Mercedes man. Hamilton was in turn six seconds clear of team-mate Bottas.
Vettel’s advantage was stretched on lap 21 when Hamilton suffered a huge lock-up into Turn 1, flat-spotting both front tyres. He dropped three seconds to Vettel and immediately headed for the pit lane were he took on a set of soft tyres. He rejoined in P3.
The race then settled until Vettel, with a 4.8s lead over Bottas and 23.6s in hand over Hamilton, made his pit stop at the end of lap 30, taking on soft tyres. And when they crossed the line next, the German found himself 11.7s behind new leader Bottas (who needed to make a pit stop) and 7.9s ahead of Hamilton who was going to the end on older soft tyres.
Behind them, the Red Bulls, who had been duelling fiercely throughout the race, traded positions once more. Fourth-placed Verstappen complained of waning grip from his ageing supersoft tyres and Ricciardo, spotting the opportunity, pounced at Turn 1, using a good two from his team-mate to overtake around the outside. The Australian did well to keep his car out of the wall on exit as he locked up. It was all in vain, however, as when they pair pitted the Dutchman jumped his team-mate and re-took fourth place.
Ricciardo was urged by his engineer to “get it all done again” but in doing the Red Bulls set the pattern for the end of the race.
Ricciardo tried to pass his team-mate into Turn 1. The interplay between the cars was hard to judge, as Verstappen moved marginally right and then more decisively defended to his left, but the result was that Ricciardo slammed into back of Verstappen’s car and both crashed out of the race.
The safety car was deployed, but as it dictated the pace, sixth-placed Romain Grosjean lost control as he weaved to keep heat in his tyres and he hit the wall.
The medical car was sent on track, the safety car stayed out and it took a number of laps before the Frenchman’s Haas was lifted off track.
Racing finally resumed on lap 48, after all of the leading drivers had pitted for ultrasoft tyres, and Vettel desperately tried to get past Bottas. The German locked up though and went wide, allowing Hamilton and Räikkönen to get past.
The race took and even more dramatic turn later in the lap as Bottas suddenly suffered a punctured rear left, caused by debris, that dropped him out of the race. Further back Vettel was struggling with his tyres and he was passed by Sergio Pérez.
And that was how the podium shaped up, with Hamilton taking a somewhat fortunate 63rd career victory ahead of Räikkönen and Perez. Vettel was left with fourth place ahead of Sainz, while Sauber’s Charles Leclerc collected his first F1 points with sixth place. Alonso brought his damaged McLaren home in seventh place ahead of Williams’ Lance Stroll, the second McLaren of Stoffel Vandoorne and the final point, for 10th place, went to Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley.
2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Race
1 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes -
2 Kimi Raikkonen Ferrari 2.460
3 Sergio Perez Force India 4.024
4 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 5.329
5 Carlos Sainz Renault 7.515
6 Charles Leclerc Sauber 9.158
7 Fernando Alonso McLaren 10.931
8 Lance Stroll Williams 12.546
9 Stoffel Vandoorne McLaren 14.152
10 Brendon Hartley Toro Rosso 18.030
11 Marcus Ericsson Sauber 18.512
12 Pierre Gasly Toro Rosso 24.720
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas 30.663
14 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 3 laps
Ret Romain Grosjean Haas 9 laps
Ret Max Verstappen Red Bull Racing 12 laps
Ret Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull Racing 12 laps
Ret Nico Hulkenberg Renault 41 laps
Ret Esteban Ocon Force India -
Ret Sergey Sirotkin Williams -