Valtteri Bottas scored his second victory of the Formula 1 season and resisted the late charge from Lewis Hamilton to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
What a difference 12 months make for Bottas, as he was about to win last year’s race but suffered a late puncture. This time, no issues and held his nerve under pressure to lead Hamilton home and regain the lead of the world championship.
As Mercedes clinched its fourth one-two in four races at the start of the 2019 season, Sebastian Vettel could only finish third again for Ferrari.
Vettel’s teammate Charles Leclerc recovered to fifth position, behind Max Verstappen’s Red Bull, after the qualifying crash that left him ninth on the starting grid.
Hamilton got the better start from the front row but Bottas held on around the outside of the first two corners and then built a strong margin through the rest of the opening lap.
Bottas kept Hamilton at bay until pitting on lap 12, one lap after Vettel and one lap before Hamilton.
That meant Bottas resumed in the race lead, but stopping two laps earlier than Hamilton drew Vettel closer to the other Mercedes.
The pace of the medium compound tyre was stronger than the soft, as demonstrated by Leclerc – who fell to tenth on the first lap but had charged to fourth by lap 10.
Leclerc, on new mediums following his crash in qualifying, assumed the lead when the top three pitted to get rid of their soft Pirelli.
He led the middle portion of the race, managing his pace effectively to stay ahead until Bottas finally got into DRS range and cleared the Ferrari into the first corner on lap 32 of 51.
Hamilton took another lap to get ahead of Leclerc, which gave Bottas more breathing space after Hamilton had reduced the advantage down to almost nothing.
Bottas had a two-second lead to protect once the Mercedes one-two was restored, and Hamilton’s attempts to cut into that were hit when Pierre Gasly ground to a halt and caused a virtual safety car.
Gasly had charged from the pitlane up to a comfortable sixth but his Red Bull, fitted with an upgraded Honda engine for this Baku weekend, had to be parked up on lap 39.
The two-lap VSC also helped Bottas by giving him an extra one second over his pursuers, presumably as it ended in a favourable position for the leader.
Hamilton chipped away at that margin and with three laps to go got within DRS range of his teammate.
Just as Hamilton looked like he might be about to launch a last-lap pass, Bottas picked up DRS himself down the start-finish straight as he lapped the Williams of George Russell.
That top-speed boost put Bottas 1.4 seconds clear as he started the final lap, and he finished it 1.5 seconds ahead to clinch his second win of the season.
Vettel ended up a lonely third, never quite close enough to attack a Mercedes but equally not under threat from Verstappen at the end.
Verstappen had a quietly effective race and looked like he could mount an attack on Vettel but fell away once the VSC period ended.
Leclerc finished almost a minute adrift of Verstappen after a second pitstop for another set of fresh soft tyres, which let him steal the fastest lap bonus point from Bottas.
Sergio Perez earned best-of-the-rest honours for Racing Point, finishing sixth to continue his fine record in Baku.
Though a third Azerbaijan podium was never on the cards, Perez was the class of the midfield after clearing early sixth-place runner Daniil Kvyat and never looked like being challenge.
Carlos Sainz finally scored some points for McLaren with seventh position, but only after twice overhauling teammate Lando Norris.
McLaren celebrated its first double points finish of the season as Norris came home eighth, while Racing Point also got two drivers in the top ten as Lance Stroll clinched ninth.
Kimi Raikkonen scored an unlikely point to keep his record of finishing in the top ten every race this season, despite starting from the pitlane after his Alfa Romeo failed a front wing deflection test.
Among the four retirements were Kvyat and Daniel Ricciardo, who have been summoned to the stewards over a bizarre incident in which Ricciardo reversed into Kvyat trying to get back on track after a failed overtaking attempt at Turn 3.
So congratulations to Valtteri Bottas in winning the race and retaking the championship lead. Super impressed by Mercedes taking another 1-2 finish. That’s four out of four. May that success continue.
Race results, Baku:
1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 51 1h31m52.942s
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 51 1.524s
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 51 11.739s
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull-Honda 51 17.493s
5 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 51 1m09.107s
6 Sergio Perez Racing Point-Mercedes 51 1m16.416s
7 Carlos Sainz Jr. McLaren-Renault 51 1m23.826s
8 Lando Norris McLaren-Renault 51 1m40.268s
9 Lance Stroll Racing Point-Mercedes 51 1m43.816s
10 Kimi Raikkonen Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 50 1 Lap
11 Alexander Albon Toro Rosso-Honda 50 1 Lap
12 Antonio Giovinazzi Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 50 1 Lap
13 Kevin Magnussen Haas-Ferrari 50 1 Lap
14 Nico Hulkenberg Renault 50 1 Lap
15 George Russell Williams-Mercedes 49 2 Laps
16 Robert Kubica Williams-Mercedes 49 2 Laps
– Romain Grosjean Haas-Ferrari 38 Brakes
– Pierre Gasly Red Bull-Honda 38 Gearbox
– Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso-Honda 33 Accident damage
– Daniel Ricciardo Renault 31 Accident damage
1 Valtteri Bottas 87
2 Lewis Hamilton 86
3 Sebastian Vettel 52
4 Max Verstappen 51
5 Charles Leclerc 47
6 Sergio Perez 13
7 Pierre Gasly 13
8 Kimi Raikkonen 13
9 Lando Norris 12
10 Kevin Magnussen 8
11 Nico Hulkenberg 6
12 Carlos Sainz Jr. 6
13 Daniel Ricciardo 6
14 Lance Stroll 4
15 Alexander Albon 3
16 Daniil Kvyat 1
17 Antonio Giovinazzi 0
18 Romain Grosjean 0
19 George Russell 0
20 Robert Kubica 0
1 Mercedes 173
2 Ferrari 99
3 Red Bull-Honda 64
4 McLaren-Renault 18
5 Racing Point-Mercedes 17
6 Alfa Romeo-Ferrari 13
7 Renault 12
8 Haas-Ferrari 8
9 Toro Rosso-Honda 4
10 Williams-Mercedes 0