Hamilton departed Baku on Sunday night in charge of this season’s championship for the first time after taking advantage of Valtteri Bottas’s dramatic 220mph tyre blow-out, a stunning crash involving Red Bull team-mates Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, and Sebastian Vettel’s overtaking gamble that backfired.
Vettel had appeared on course to secure a commanding, and well-deserved victory which would have marked his third from the opening four rounds, only for the race to turn on its head when Ricciardo ran into the back of Verstappen with 11 laps to go.
Their collision, which on Sunday night provoked Red Bull team principal Christian Horner to demand both of his millionaire drivers apologise to the team’s 800 staff at their Milton Keynes factory, paved the way for Bottas to lead by virtue of pitting for new tyres under the safety car.
Vettel was demoted to second and in attempting a gung-ho move for glory, fell of the track before crossing the line in fourth. Bottas’s chances of victory were then sensationally scuppered when he ran over a piece of debris and suffered a high-speed puncture just three laps from the end. Suddenly Hamilton, who for most of this chaotic street fight in Baku appeared certain to lose further ground in the title race, now leads his Ferrari rival by four points.
“I was really, really fortunate,” an almost sheepish Hamilton said on Sunday night. “It was definitely a very untidy race from me, but I’ve got to take it because I didn’t give up and I kept pushing.
“I struggled with the tyres and I’ve definitely got to go away from here and work even harder than before to make sure that there is not a repeat performance.”
At one stage he even called for the event to be abandoned as a truck precariously dealt with Romain Grosjean’s stricken Haas after the Frenchman crashed out under the safety car.
Hamilton’s victory, however, his first since October’s United States Grand Prix, went some way to making up for his defeat at the opening round in Australia and thus igniting his quest for a fifth crown.
Hamilton should have won in Melbourne only for a timing glitch by his Mercedes team see him lose out to Vettel.
“It doesn’t feel like justice or relief,” Hamilton, 33, added. “But it was a reminder to me that in my whole life I have been through those experiences where you climb a hill and you feel like you are slipping down.
“If my normal level is eagle and birdie, then today I was shooting pars and bogeys.”
“I am the captain of my own ship,” Vettel said. “I saw the gap and unfortunately it did not work out for me, but without a safety car it would have been a different race.”
The safety car was called upon following an almost inevitable coming together of the Red Bull cars.
Having earlier banged wheels, Ricciardo and Verstappen were at it again. On the longest and fastest straight on the calendar, Ricciardo lined up his overtake in the battle for fourth. But as Verstappen moved to his left at 220mph to cover off his team-mate, Ricciardo was left with little room for manoeuvre and thudded into the back of him.
In an instant, both drivers were wiped out of the race. Adrian Newey, Red Bull’s technical boss, removed his headset in disgust and stormed straight from the pit wall to the garage. Horner sat motionless, aghast at what he had just witnessed.
Horner refused to apportion blame to either of his drivers. The stewards hauled both men before them in the hours after the race and determined they were equally at fault. Both were hit with reprimands.
Niki Lauda, the non-executive chairman for Mercedes and three-time world champion, however, accused Verstappen of weaving in his attempts to stop Ricciardo from passing.
It is Verstappen’s third collision in as many races following run-ins with Hamilton, Vettel and now Ricciardo.
“It is 70 per cent Verstappen, and 30 per cent Ricciardo,” Lauda said. “If you move on him all the time where can the poor guy go?” Lauda added: “If I were the Red Bull team I would go home and cry. It is a disaster. I would bring them both into the office, and tell them how much less they will get paid for the damage they have done.”
MORE ON LEWIS HAMILTON:
Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton MBE (born 7 January 1985) is a British racing driver who races in Formula One for the Mercedes AMG Petronas team. A four-time Formula One World Champion, he is often considered the best driver of his generation and widely regarded as one of the greatest Formula One drivers in the history of the sport.[note 1] He won his first World Championship title with McLaren in 2008, then moved to Mercedes where he won back-to-back titles in 2014 and 2015 before winning his fourth title in 2017. Statistically the most successful British driver in the history of the sport, Hamilton has more World Championship titles (4) and more race victories than any other British driver in Formula One (63). He also holds records for the all-time most career points (2,680), the most wins at different circuits (25), the all-time most pole positions (73) and the most grand slams in a season (3).
In his first season in Formula One, Hamilton set numerous records as he finished runner-up in the 2007 season toKimi Räikkönen by just one point, including those for the most consecutive podium finishes from debut (9), the joint most wins in a debut season (4) and the most points in a debut season (109). The following season, he won his first title in dramatic fashion; on the last corner of the last lap in the last race of the season, becoming the then-youngestFormula One World Champion in history. After four more years with McLaren without finishing higher than fourth in the drivers’ standings, Hamilton signed with Mercedes in 2013, reuniting with his childhood karting teammate, Nico Rosberg. In his first season, he finished 4th once again, the third time in five years.
Two successful seasons followed as Hamilton won his second and third titles. Hamilton won 11 races in 2014, in a closely fought championship battle with Nico Rosberg, decided in the final race of the season, where Hamilton secured his second World Championship title by winning the race. The next season saw Hamilton seal his third World Championship title with 3 races remaining, in a season where he finished on the podium a record 17 times and matched his hero Ayrton Senna‘s three World Championships. After finishing runner-up to Nico Rosberg in 2016, Hamilton won his fourth title in 2017, joining Juan Manuel Fangio, Michael Schumacher, Alain Prost and Sebastian Vettel as drivers with four or more World Championship titles.