Lewis Hamilton has ended his longest victory drought since 2015-16 with a win on the streets of Baku, but the reigning world champion admitted his Mercedes car wasn’t fast enough to win on merit.
Hamilton had difficulties with his car all weekend, particularly when it came to warming up the tires in the cool Azeri weather, and though some of his issues were rectified enough for him to qualify second and less than 0.2 seconds behind pole-sitter Sebastian Vettel, he never felt he had the race pace to mount a legitimate challenge.
Indeed while Vettel was able to both keep Hamilton at bay and maintain a healthy margin on his tire life, Hamilton had to choose one, and on lap 22 he complained his Pirellis were shot as he locked up into Turn 1, losing four seconds.
His poor tire should have discounted him from the battle for the lead, which his Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was attempting to snatch from Vettel by making his tires last as long as possible.
Bottas would have succeeded too, thanks to the late-race safety car, but when a high-speed puncture eliminated him from the race and driver error dropped Vettel out of contention, the path was clear for Hamilton to pick up the pieces.
“I have really mixed emotions,” he said. “Obviously I did a good job in qualifying and put myself in a good position, but there were a lot of faults in the race, which is rare for me.
“I struggled with the car, struggled with the tires, and that’s something I don’t take lightly, so I’ve definitely got to go away from here and work even harder to make sure that there’s not a repeat performance-wise of today for myself.”
With Ferrari having performed strongly at all four circuits visited so far this season, Hamilton said it was clear Mercedes could no longer count on having an inherent pace advantage to see it through its difficult days.
“We’ve definitely got a lot of work still to do, we still are behind,” he said. “While we finished ahead today, that was due to lots of different circumstances getting in the way.
“We definitely are there in the mix and we’ve not got a terrible car at all, by any means; we’ve just got to refine it a little bit and make it a little bit easier to drive.
“She definitely isn’t as easy to drive as it was last year. That’s what we’re going to continue to work to.”
Hamilton assumed the lead in the drivers’ championship standings with a four-point margin over Sebastian Vettel, but Mercedes has fallen three points behind Ferrari on the constructors table.