Azerbaijan GP – Lewis Hamilton Wins As Madness Reigns in Baku

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Lewis Hamilton scored an unlikely win in the fourth race of the Formula 1 2018 season at the Azerbaijan GP. In another chaotic race with Safety Car (SC) periods, Hamilton was handed the win as the two frontrunners hit trouble in the last laps. Kimi Raikkonen, after he suffered damage and pitted on lap 1, came back to claim second spot. Sergio Perez was third, again coming from behind.

Sebastian Vettel, who looked like the most likely winner, ended up fourth after an overtake that went wrong in the last laps. Carlos Sainz completed the top 5. Charles Leclerc, Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll, Stoffel Vandoorne and Brendon Hartley rounded out the top 10 positions.

Lewis Hamilton Wins As Madness Reigns in Baku

The race started in cool conditions at the Baku City Circuit in Baku. The air temperatures were at 16 degrees C and track temperatures at 23 degrees C. The wind was gusting across the track in the “City of Winds”. Vettel was on pole for the third consecutive race. Title-rival Hamilton joined the German on the front row. Bottas and Daniel Ricciardo were on the second row. Max Verstappen and Raikkonen lined up on the third row. The top five drivers started on the supersoft tyres. Only Raikkonen was on the ultrasoft tyres.

The Chaotic Start

Vettel made a clean start. Hamilton and Bottas followed him into Turn 1. Ricciardo and Verstappen were behind them. But then chaos unfolded behind them. Esteban Ocon collided with Raikkonen and retired. Sergey Sirotkin retired after he was involved in an incident with the other Force India car of Perez, Alonso and Nico Hulkenberg.

The Safety Car was deployed. Raikkonen pitted for a change of front wing and put on the soft tyres. Alonso limped back to the pits with two punctures and managed to rejoin the race. Perez suffered damage after Sirotkin hit him and pitted under the SC also.

On the SC restart, Vettel led Hamilton, Bottas, Ricciardo, Verstappen, Sainz, Lance Stroll, Hulkenberg and Pierre Gasly. Both Hulkenberg and Gasly were the big gainers climbing up eight spots.

Renault Drivers Move Up

Even as Verstappen and Ricciardo struggled to warm up their tyres and deploying their battery power on the long straights, the two Renault drivers Sainz and Hulkenberg overtook them. So Sainz was in fourth position, with Verstappen, Hulkenberg and Ricciardo behind him. Gasly was upto P7 behind them.

On lap 11, Hulkenberg had an unforced error as he hit the wall and retired. This brought Verstappen and Ricciardo in close proximity and the two Red Bull drivers were allowed to race. Meanwhile, Raikkonen was moving up the field after his first lap pitstop.

First Pitstops

The feisty Verstappen and the ‘master of overtakes’ Ricciardo were engaged in continuous battle lap after lap. As the two were hustling through the narrow circuit wheel-to-wheel, it was exciting for the fans. But the Red Bull pitwall watched on nervously.

Among the frontrunners Hamilton was the first driver to pit. On lap 23, Hamilton pitted for soft tyres and rejoined third behind Vettel and Bottas. On lap 30, Vettel pitted and rejoined behind Bottas and ahead of Hamilton in P2.

Bottas led the race and stayed out with the Red Bull drivers on the old tyres. Finally, Ricciardo, who was now ahead of Verstappen, pitted on lap 38 and was now on the fast ultrasoft tyres. On the next lap, his teammate Verstappen pitted and managed to come out ahead of Ricciardo.

Verstappen and Ricciardo Duel Ends In Tears

On lap 40, the exciting duel between Verstappen and Ricciardo reached its climax. Ricciardo went for an overtake move on the inside and Verstappen held position and the two drivers crashed spectacularly into each other. For the whole race, this outcome seemed on the cards. Sadly for Red Bull, it ended with both drivers out of the race.

With the SC deployed with only 11 laps to go, Bottas who had gambled by staying out pitted and emerged in the lead again. Vettel, Hamilton and Raikkonen also pitted for ultrasoft tyres and came out behind him.

There was lots of debris that had to be removed from the track. Bottas led Vettel, Hamilton, Raikkonen, Perez, Grosjean, Sainz, Leclerc, Stroll and Alonso behind the SC.

Grosjean Crashes Out Behind The Safety Car

As the SC car period stretched out, in the cool conditions the drivers complained about cold tyres and lack of grip. On the cold tyres, as Grosjean weaved around behind the Safety Car to keep his tyres warm, he crashed into the barriers.

The SC period was further extended as Grosjean’s car was on a part of the track where it was hard to retrieve. The laps wound down with the drivers bunched up in the front behind the SC, all on new tyres.

Vettel’s Overtake Move Goes Wrong

Finally on lap 48 of the 51 laps, the Safety Car came in. Bottas controlled the restart well. Vettel determined to overtake Bottas for the win, overcooked his move and ran deep. Bottas, Hamilton and Raikkonen passed him. Vettel had flat-spotted his tyres and was overtaken by Perez. For the second race in a row, Vettel had lost a race which he had controlled for the majority of the laps.

More Drama As Bottas Suffers A Puncture

Bottas, who had lost out on a win in the last race beacuse of a SC, was firmly in control. Until some debris on the track caused a puncture and ended his race. Bottas had driven a well-crafted race and did not deserve the cruel end.

Hamilton was now the race leader and clinched one of the most unlikely wins of his career. Raikkonen had survived the first lap madness to finish second. Perez also a victim of the first lap melee completed the podium places.

Vettel finished a disappointing fourth. Sainz was fifth after a strong race. Charles Leclerc, the rookie French driver in a Sauber, finished sixth and was voted the “Driver Of The Day”.

Alonso, with a double puncture and significant floor damage after lap 1, managed to finish seventh. Stroll scored the first points for Williams this season as he finished eighth. Vandoorne and Hartley finished behind him in the points as the drivers in front of them retired.

Baku Madness Again

Just as last year’s race here was chaotic with all kinds of drama, so also this year we saw an unpredictable race. Hamilton who was behind Vettel for the whole race ended up the winner. The Briton also leads the drivers’ championship now from Vettel by four points. Mercedes looked set for a 1-2 finish, until tragedy struck Bottas. Ferrari now leads Mercedes in the constructors’ championship by four points.

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