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Bottas Woe Hands Victory To Lucky Hamilton After Red Bull Implosion
Graham Read, Formula 1 Correspondent
Hamilton congratulates third placed Perez on the podium
With Vietnam possibly set to be included in the Formula 1 calendar shortly, another recent addition, Azerbaijan, was the focus of attention this weekend as only the third ever F1 race around the streets of the capital city Baku took place.

After Ferrari and Red Bull had claimed the spoils in the opening three races this season the Mercedes team, which has been all-conquering for the last four years, arrived on the back foot with much to prove and fortunately for them by the end of an eventful three days it was their number one driver Lewis Hamilton who occupied the top step on the podium after taking his first victory in 2018, if rather fortuitously.

Lewis commiserates with the unlucky Valtteri
In the opening Free Practice session Mercedes’ flying Finn Valtteri Bottas had set the pace ahead of Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, whereas the problems of late for the latter’s young Dutch team-mate Max Verstappen continued as he crashed out early on.

Also by Graham Read...
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Hamilton Cruises To A Sixth Victory At The Hungaroring
A Mercedes 1-2 In Germany As Team Orders Ensure Hamilton Wins
Lewis Hamilton Signs A New Two Year Deal With Mercedes
Vettel Wins A Scorching Silverstone Thriller To Extend His Lead
Ricciardo subsequently topped the timesheets in Free Practice Two as Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen proved to be his closest rival. In contrast championship leader Sebastian Vettel could only set the eleventh fastest time in the other Ferrari, but this was only Friday. Come final practice on Saturday Vettel showed the rest a clean pair of heels, 0.361s faster than Hamilton.

In the opening part of the subsequent qualifying hour Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly showed lightning reactions to avoid his slow-moving team-mate Brendon Hartley, whom he came across in the middle of the track after the New Zealander had suffered a puncture. Formula 1 breathed a collective sigh of relief as a potentially massive accident was so narrowly avoided.

Come the all-important final part of qualifying Vettel set a time on his first run which was to prove to be unbeatable, earning the German driver his third pole position in succession. The Mercedes duo were next quickest, followed by the pair of Red Bulls, and Räikkönen could only claim sixth on the grid after making a mistake on his final run.

There was a real sense of anticipation in the air before the start of Sunday’s Grand Prix as the tight and unforgiving nature of much of the Baku street circuit has given it a deserved reputation for high drama, incidents and Safety Car periods.

Hamilton flies past the castle
The very first lap lived up to this reputation as an early Safety Car period followed several skirmishes, but Vettel remained in charge following the restart and looked in control and set for a further victory. However, Bottas then hit the front with impressive tyre conservation.

When the Red Bulls of Ricciardo and Verstappen spectacularly collided and took each other out of the race team principal Christian Horner was understandably far from impressed and a further Safety Car intervention was required.

The timing gave Bottas the opportunity for a quick pit stop and it looked like he was set for victory ahead of second placed Vettel. Following the restart the German launched a big attack at Turn One, but he ran wide and ended up rejoining back in fourth position behind Bottas, Hamilton and Räikkönen.

Vettel was on top post qualifying, if not after the race
Formula 1 can at times be a cruel sport though and one lap later the unlucky Bottas picked up a puncture and was forced to retire, handing the victory to Hamilton. Subsequently Force India’s Sergio Perez passed Vettel for third, leaving Renault’s Carlos Sainz to claim fifth place as a highly impressive Charles Leclerc, a Ferrari protégé, took sixth for Sauber.

Victory for Hamilton handed him the lead in Drivers’ Championship standings four points clear of Vettel, whilst Ferrari reclaimed the advantage on the Constructors’ front.

After three longhaul races and a trip to Eastern Europe so far this year the F1 paddock happily packed up on Sunday evening knowing that the next Grand Prix in two weeks’ time will involve just a short hop down to Barcelona for this year’s Spanish Grand Prix.

Ricciardo on fine form before that collision with his team-mate Verstappen
The true European season is about to begin at the circuit in Montmeló, just north of Barcelona itself, which the teams know well from testing. It’s also a Grand Prix I can very much recommend for anyone looking to combine the special experience of attending a live Formula 1 race with a city break.

2018 Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

1 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 1hr43m44.291s
2 Kimi Räikkönen (Ferrari) +2.460s
3 Sergio Perez (Force India) +4.024s
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari) +5.329s
5 Carlos Sainz (Renault) +7.515s
6 Charles Leclerc (Sauber) +9.168s
7 Fernando Alonso (McLaren) +10.931s
8 Lance Stroll (Williams) +12.546s
9 Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren) +14.152s
10 Brendan Hartley (Toro Rosso) +18.030s
11 Marcus Ericsson (Sauber) +18.512s
12 Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso) +24.720s
13 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +40.663s
14 Valtteri Bottas (Mercedes) Retired
15 Romain Grosjean (Haas) Retired
16 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) Retired
17 Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull) Retired
18 Nico Hülkenberg (Renault) Retired
19 Esteban Ocon (Force India) Retired
20 Sergey Sirotkin (Williams) Retired

2018 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship (after 4 of 21 Grand Prix)

1 Lewis Hamilton 70
2 Sebastian Vettel 66
3 Kimi Räikkönen 48

2018 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship (after 4 of 21 Grand Prix)

1 Ferrari 114
2 Mercedes 110
3 Red Bull 55

Bottas Woe Hands Victory To Lucky Hamilton After Red Bull Implosion, 29th April 2018, 21:53 PM