Bottas holds off Hamilton in simmering Azerbaijan battle

Baku, Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Valtteri Bottas has claimed victory in Azerbaijan, holding off a late challenge from Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton. Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel took the final podium spot.

Valtteri Bottas took victory in a nail biting climax to Sunday’s race in Baku. After starting the race from pole position, the Finn steely held his nerve through the opening corners as he fended off a very strong attack from Hamilton. Hamilton eventually acquiesced through the opening lap, eventually settling into P2 as Sebastian Vettel settled into P3 in the Ferrari.

Charles Leclerc, who started P8 in the other Ferrari, initially lost positions off the grid as he got his Medium tyres up to temperature. However, by Lap 3, he was starting to enjoy the grip of the Mediums and started picking his way through the field. Climbing up to P4, he eased up behind Vettel just before Sebastian pitted for the Medium tyre.

Once the two Mercedes drivers followed suit, Leclerc led the race by thirteen seconds over Bottas, Hamilton & Vettel. Trying to get as far into the race as possible, Leclerc’s lead was eroded away over the next twenty laps with the top four all closing in on each other. Max Verstappen, who had run longer in the first stint, also started edging in on Vettel and, with twenty laps remaining, the top five were all covered by just ten seconds.

Once Bottas got within DRS range of Leclerc, he quickly pounced to pass the Ferrari, who was then overtaken by Hamilton a lap later. Ferrari weren’t optimistic of making the Soft tyre last the distance on Leclerc’s car, which is why he stayed out what seemed beyond where was logical. With the leaders having been grouped up, Leclerc eased off to allow Vettel through to continue harrying the two Merc drivers. Leclerc eventually did stop with sixteen laps to go, switching to the Soft tyre for a blast to the chequered flag.

The two Mercedes drivers, closely shadowed by Vettel, continued to close up and, with five laps to go, Bottas’s lead was just a second. Hamilton managed to get within DRS range but, just before his final attack point down the main straight to start the final lap, made a small error that allowed Bottas some breathing room. Vettel wasn’t able to match Merc’s pace and finished eleven seconds from the front by the chequered flag.

Verstappen finished P4 in what was an encouraging race for Red Bull Racing. He was 17 seconds from the front at the end at what is a high speed circuit, and over forty seconds clear of Charles Leclerc. The Ferrari driver, having realised the Soft tyre wasn’t going to work, made a late pitstop again for another fresh set of Soft tyres specifically to go after the fastest lap point. He took this on the penultimate lap.

Sergio Perez finished P6 for Racing Point, promoted in the late stages by a retirement for Pierre Gasly. The Red Bull driver retired while in P6 having also run a long first stint on the Mediums, and had looked far more comfortable than he has in the season opening races. Perez finished seven seconds of the two McLarens. Carlos Sainz finished P7 after a long battle with Lando Norris, who finished P8 and eight seconds behind his teammate. Lance Stroll finished P9, meaning a double points haul for Racing Point. Kimi Raikkonen took the final point by finishing P10 for Alfa Romeo. The Finn, who started from the pitlane after being disqualified from qualifying, made a very early pitstop to get rid of the Soft tyres and, while his pace was far from electric at the end of the race, held off a challenge from the Toro Rosso of Alex Albon.

Outside the points, Albon finished P11 ahead of the second Alfa of Antonio Giovinazzi. Kevin Magnussen was P13 for Haas, ahead of Nico Hulkenberg’s Renault. The French team had a bad weekend overall, compounded by a silly mistake from Daniel Ricciardo late in the race. Battling Daniil Kvyat, he outbraked himself and forced both cars into the escape area. He engaged reverse and backed up into the Toro Rosso and the resulting damage forced both drivers to retire.

The final two classified drivers were the two Williams of George Russell and Robert Kubica, the Pole compromised at the start by a drive through penalty. This was because his team put him out into the pitlane ahead of the race start, almost ten minutes prior to the permitted time.

There were four retirements with Pierre Gasly, Romain Grosjean, Daniil Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo all sidelined.

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Thomas Maher

Co-owner, Chief Editor and a journalist for FormulaSpy.com - Ireland's only accredited F1 & Formula E website. https://www.patreon.com/thomasmaheronf1

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