Valtteri Bottas has recaptured the lead of the championship standings with a flawless drive to victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix to claim a record-breaking one-two finish for Mercedes.
The Finn fended off an assault by Lewis Hamilton for his lead after a tardy getaway, but by the third turn he’d dispatched his teammate and won the right to dictate the pace of the race through to the end.
It was Bottas’s second win of the season and the first conversion of pole to victory this year, taking him to one point ahead of Hamilton on the points table.
“It was actually a tough race, even though there wasn’t much happening at the front,” Bottas said. “Obviously Lewis was putting pressure on all the time, I couldn’t do any mistakes.
“It’s incredible as a team the level we’re performing now. I was saying to the guys I’m so proud to be part of it.”
Hamilton completed Mercedes’s fourth consecutive one-two finish, the most dominant start to a season of any constructor in Formula 1 history. The Briton paid tribute to his team, which will start the European leg of the season with a 74-point lead in the teams standings.
“It’s a great result for the team,” he said. “Honestly, this is the best start of a season we’ve ever had.
“Everyone back at the factory has been working non-stop every year to come back more hungry for success. I’m really proud of everyone and proud to be part of it.”
Sebastian Vettel finished a quiet third, unable to challenge either Mercedes despite Ferrari’s pre-race hype and falling to 35 points off the championship lead. The German took heart in the fact he managed to stay close to the leading pair, but he conceded the Scuderia was a way away from where it expected to be so early in the year.
“I think we had some pace to at least go with them,” he said. “It was crucial to get that third.
“Obviously we’re not quite where we want to be, but at this point I think we need to maximize what we can.”
Red Bull Racing’s Max Verstappen finished fourth, the Dutchman unable to make an impression on the two front-running teams in pursuit of his first place on the rostrum since the first round in Australia.
Though a battle for the podium failed to materialize, with the top three finishing in qualifying order, there was substantial intrigue about the effect Charles Leclerc could have on the composition of the podium. The Ferrari driver crashed out of qualifying and started eighth but with the benefit of starting on the more durable medium compound, and although he dropped two places at the start, he made ferocious progress to catch up to the leaders by Lap 10.
Only Bottas, Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel remained ahead, but by now it had become clear to the grid that the soft tire was badly suited to the warm, sunny conditions early in the race. Sebastian was hauled into the pits for a switch the medium rubber at the end of Lap 11, with leader Bottas and second-place Hamilton doing likewise on the following two tours and Max Verstappen stopping on Lap 14.
Leclerc was left to lead the race with a 13.6s advantage, but he was unable to stretch any further into the lead without risking prematurely burning through his tires, and by Lap 32 he was under attack by the Mercedes pair.
His tires now thoroughly worn, Leclerc was easy meat. Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel each cruised past on Laps 32 and 34 to resume their podium places. Ferrari had no choice but to pit the 21-year-old at the end of Lap 34, but he exited the pits in sixth and more than 27 seconds off the lead. He got past Pierre Gasly on Lap 36, but there was no more progress to be made. His only consolation was a late second stop for new soft-compound tires, enabling him to set the fastest lap and take the race’s bonus point.
Sergio Perez finished sixth at the head of the midfield, effectively holding down his qualifying position. He came under mid-race pressure from McLaren’s Lando Norris, but the Briton made a late-race pit stop for soft tires and dropped to eighth, allowing his teammate, Carlos Sainz to take home the points for seventh.
Lance Stroll finished ninth for Racing Point, while Kimi Raikkonen completed a pit lane-to-point drive to finish 10th in his Alfa Romeo.
The Azerbaijan Grand Prix didn’t live up to the chaos of practice and qualifying, with the race largely free of any unusual incidents. Only four retirements were recorded, two of which were Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo, who sustained damage in a bizarre backwards crash in the turn-two run-off zone.
Ricciardo outbraked himself and had to dive into the escape zone, forcing Kvyat, who was on his outside, to do likewise. The Australian then accidentally reversed into him as he attempted to rejoin the race, causing both terminal damage in an embarrassing footnote in Renault’s poor weekend.
Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean also failed to finish, both due to technical problems.