F1

F1 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix: What we learned from the race

After a Baku bonanza RealSport picks out some of the key points from an eventful race.

by Matt Ashman

(Photo credit: REUTERS/POOL)

Valtteri Bottas was on course to win after Mercedes took advantage of a late safety car to jump long-time leader Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari. But after Vettel had thrown away second place with a mistake at the restart, Bottas suffered a puncture on the next lap. His two rivals out of the way, Lewis Hamilton was handed victory and the championship lead on a plate after looking set to finish third.

Verstappen’s final straw?

The late safety car had been triggered by a crash between the two Red Bulls, Daniel Ricciardo slamming into the back of teammate Max Verstappen while trying to pass into the first corner.

There will be recriminations at Red Bull, whose drivers had appeared on the edge of a crash for much of the race as Ricciardo fought to pass Verstappen and the Dutchman defended right on the edge of acceptability – and some might say beyond.

Red Bull are well known for employing two drivers who fight fiercely on track, but there has not been a coming together of this magnitude since Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber ended each other’s race during the Turkish Grand Prix in 2010.

But although their incident will generate headlines they played bit-parts in a race that Vettel had in a headlock for so long.

There will be those who feel Verstappen paid the price for moving too many times in the braking zone, something he has made a controversial trademark since his debut.

Mercedes non-executive director Niki Lauda sided with Ricciardo, saying the incident was “70% Verstappen’s fault because he moved too many times”.

Lucky Lewis takes title race lead

Hamilton has endured a difficult start to the season and a mid-race mistake, in which he locked up into Turn One when trying to catch Vettel, had appeared set to condemn the Mercedes driver to another frustrating afternoon.

It was Bottas who then carried the fight to Vettel, running for over 40 laps before pitting under the Safety Car and emerging ahead of the Ferrari at the restart. Only a puncture, caused by running over debris, denied the Finn a deserved victory which would have propelled him into the heart of the title fight.

Instead, it is Hamilton who now leads the title race after four rounds although the Mercedes driver’s post-race demeanour spoke volumes about his win.

“I was really, really fortunate,” admitted Hamilton.

Midfield battle continues to confuse

With both Williams and Sauber in the points, the midfield fight has well and truly ignited with every single team on the grid now having scored points in the first four rounds. Something we haven’t seen in F1 in decades. 

Leclerc, who began his debut F1 season with high expectations, qualified superbly in 14th place for Sauber. He then drove a brilliant first lap to dodge the melee and emerge in tenth place. He ran in the top ten for most of the race and took a superb sixth, finally delivering on his potential after a shaky start to his career. 

Elsewhere, Sainz brought his Renault home an excellent fifth place producing great racing early against his former teammate Max Verstappen. Both the Renaults looked racy, prompting thoughts of a genuinely competitive works team.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso finished an outstanding seventh despite suffering two punctures and floor damage when caught in a first-lap incident with Hulkenberg and Williams’ Sergey Sirotkin, one of two that triggered the first safety car.

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Matt Ashman

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