Bottas wins in Baku to secure fourth straight Mercedes 1-2
Valtteri Bottas extended Mercedes’ incredible opening to 2019, enjoying a lights-to-flag victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as the Silver Arrows secured their fourth consecutive one-two of the season.
Sebastian Vettel completed the podium in Baku, Ferrari once again failing to de-stabilise Mercedes despite their apparent straight-line advantage. He was ahead of Max Verstappen, the Red Bull driver maintaining his record of finishing in the top four at every race this year.
Charles Leclerc was next up, meanwhile, the Monegasque recovering decently from his qualifying crash yesterday to take his third fifth place of the year – while a late stop to try and get the extra point for fastest lap paid dividends as he set a new lap record for the track.
Baku specialist Sergio Perez was a strong sixth for Racing Point, ahead of the McLaren pairing of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. The second Racing Point of Lance Stroll took ninth, while Kimi Raikkonen made the most of a pit lane start to claim the final points-paying position for Alfa Romeo.
Despite a relatively trouble-free Azerbaijan Grand Prix for much of the field, Daniel Ricciardo recorded his third non-finish of the year after running wide into Turn 3 and then reversing into the stopped car of Daniil Kvyat, who was also forced to retire.
It was Lewis Hamilton who, as in China, got the better start of the two Mercedes drivers off the line in Baku. But whereas in Shanghai, polesitter Bottas had had no answer to Hamilton going into the first corner, here, the Finn wasn’t prepared to let it go, toughing it out around the outside of his team mate through Turn 1 to lead the Mercedes battle, as the rest of the field made their way cleanly through the first lap.
Sergio Perez made his second strong start in a row to slip past Max Verstappen and claim a fourth place that he’d hold onto until Verstappen breezed past him down the straight on Lap 6, while the biggest loser off the start was Charles Leclerc, whose medium tyres lacked the bite of the soft-shod runners all around him. Having started P8 on the grid following his crash in qualifying yesterday, the Monegasque fell down to 10th off the line after getting jumped by the McLaren of Carlos Sainz and the Renault of Daniel Ricciardo.
After that disappointing beginning, though, Leclerc used his Ferrari power to good effect to reel off a series of DRS-assisted overtakes. That meant that, by the time Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen had all pitted to get rid of their soft tyres by Lap 15, it was Leclerc who led the race, as he eked out the tyre life on his yellow-walled rubber, Ferrari appearing to try to cover themselves off in case a Safety Car was called out.
By Lap 30, though, the two Mercedes of Bottas and Hamilton were lurking ominously in Leclerc’s mirrors, with Leclerc’s team mate Sebastian Vettel just three seconds off Hamilton’s rear wing himself. Three laps later, both Mercedes were past and Leclerc was on the phone to Ferrari begging for new softs, which he was given on Lap 35, the 21-year-old emerging in a distant fifth place behind Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel and Verstappen.
Behind, Lap 32 witnessed a bizarre incident when Daniel Ricciardo, still hunting for braking confidence in his Renault R.S.19, locked up and went straight on at Turn 3. Daniil Kvyat had to take avoiding action and pulled up to stop, only for Ricciardo to reverse out of the slip road and straight into the Toro Rosso – the resulting damage putting both cars out, with Ricciardo recording his third DNF in four races.
Then on Lap 40, the man who replaced Ricciardo at Red Bull, Pierre Gasly, was in trouble, as his sixth-placed RB15 ground to a halt, bringing out a Virtual Safety Car, while Gasly’s compatriot Romain Grosjean retired into the Haas garage on the same lap.
When racing resumed, however, and despite nipping at his team mate’s heels, Hamilton was unable to launch a proper challenge against Bottas, who saw out the remaining 10 laps to take his second win of the year, and lead home Mercedes’ fourth straight one-two in 2019.
For Bottas, the result here would have been particularly sweet, given that the Finn was robbed of victory here last year after suffering a puncture while leading with three laps to go.
Sebastian Vettel took his second straight third-place finish, while Charles Leclerc, 30-odd seconds off the lead with three laps to go, made the call to dip into the pits and claim the extra point for fastest lap, adding that to the 10 he took for his fifth-place finish – while he also claimed the Driver of the Day award – while Verstappen was fourth for a third straight race.
Sergio Perez was once again strong at Baku to claim Racing Point’s best finish of the year in sixth, while a McLaren team desperately in need of a good result got one in Azerbaijan, Sainz finishing seventh and taking his first points of the year, with Norris just one place back.
So Mercedes have once again pulled the rabbit out of the hat, defeating Ferrari at a track where, up until Leclerc’s crash in Q2, pole and victory for the Scuderia had seemed assured. But as we prepare to return to Barcelona, the place where Ferrari proved so strong during pre-season testing, can the Italian team turn it all around, and stop the tide of the Silver Arrows?
The European season will begin in earnest next time out in Barcelona, with the Spanish Grand Prix set to take place on May 10-12. Expect to see upgrades aplenty, with the teams tending to bolt on their first major design tweaks of the year at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.