Lewis Hamilton was subdued in his celebrations while his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas was left devastated after the defending world champion claimed an unlikely victory in Sunday’s incident-packed Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Their conflicting emotions summed up the range of moods following an extraordinary contest that saw two Safety Car interventions, championship leader Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari outwitted and beaten and the Red Bull drivers crash into each other.
Bottas had looked likely to win until he was hit by a puncture after running over debris in the final laps and gifted victory to his team-mate.
It was Hamilton’s first win this year and 63rd of his career and lifted him beyond Vettel back to the top of the title standings.
Hamilton had struggled to keep pace with Vettel and Bottas for much of the race and said it felt “a bit odd” to end up victorious after both men hit trouble in the closing laps.
Race win = GONE 😫
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 29, 2018
Chasing Bottas after the final re-start, Vettel made a lunge to pass him at the first corner, but succeeded only in out-braking himself and locking up as he speared off circuit before rejoining to finish fourth.
Bottas then retired with the end in sight when he suffered a dramatic puncture after running over debris left on the main straight.
“It was really quite an emotional race to be honest,” said Hamilton. “Valtteri did such an exceptional job and really deserved to have the win and Sebastian also did a great job.
“It feels a little bit odd to be up here, but I’ve got to take it. I didn’t give up, I kept pushing, but it was an untidy race for me.”
Hamilton’s first win in seven races stretching back to last October took him to 70 points in the championship ahead of Vettel on 66 and Kimi Raikkonen on 48. Bottas has 40.
Bottas, in dark glasses, said: “It was just unfortunate. Unlucky. Ten pints of beer and maybe I will be fine… I will get through it. You always have to get through it – it is a part of racing, but at the moment it is painful.
“Street circuits are difficult. There are always going to be crashes. I didn’t know I had run over anything, or seen anything. Just unlucky.”
Mercedes non-executive chairman Niki Lauda blamed the poor work in clearing the track after the multiple accidents for Bottas’s misfortune.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 29, 2018
“It was good and bad today,” he said. “Why didn’t they clean up the circuit properly? There was so much time to do it… It was a disaster for Bottas and for Lewis it was really good.”
Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff was philosophical.
“The win was really his, for Valtteri, but he pulled away at the re-start and ran over a huge chunk of debris. I just feel for him. There was even a tiny chance to win this race on normal strategy, but it cannot change the reality for us that we are a bit behind Ferrari at the moment.
“I guess, in the end, Lewis has got his Melbourne win back.”
In the season-opening race in Melbourne, Hamilton led until Ferrari took advantage of a Safety Car deployment to help Vettel take victory.
Provided by AFP Sport
The 33-year-old Briton praised the loyalty and values of the exit-bound Arsenal manager and swept aside doubts about his own future despite not yet signing a new contract. His current deal ends this year.
“I have always had great admiration for Arsene,” Gunners supporter Hamilton told reporters.
“For anyone to have commitment to a team and the loyalty which he has shown through all the ups and downs, through outside individuals saying positives and negatives, but to stay true to your values and continue to strive for what you believe in I think has really been awesome.
“Whilst the team has not always been the most successful, I really hope that he feels great about his time. I’ve had the privilege of meeting him a couple of times. He asked me to go and train with the team, which I have not managed to do yet, but he was always really welcoming and it was cool to meet ‘our team’s’ boss.
“I’ve supported Arsenal since I was five. I want to wish him all the best. I think his future is as bright as he wants it to be, so I hope he takes the positivity out of all the great experiences he’s had.”
Hamilton insisted it is only a matter of time before he re-commits to Mercedes.
“I’m fully committed to Mercedes,” he said. “I have every plan to be with the team for the future so it is really about getting on with it. We were planning to do it after the last race, but we had a lot on.
“I was not really around to meet. I had one day at the factory and then I was in China and then I was in the States. We will do it in the near future for sure, but it’s not a rush thing.”
It may be no more than a coincidence, but speculation over Hamilton’s future – due to the delays in him signing and announcing his new long-term commitment to the team – has been accompanied by a dip in form for the four-time world champion.
He has not won any of the three season-opening races, but current championship leader and fellow-four-time champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari on Thursday dismissed suggestions that Hamilton’s form could help him take a fifth title.
“We’ve not had that many races so far, but I think he’s been as usual. He’s doing a very good job. Obviously, Australia was his weekend, but it ended up a bit different.
“Bahrain was ours and China, I’m not sure whose it was. I’m not looking at one guy that close or closer than others. I guess he’s doing a good job otherwise he wouldn’t be as successful as he’s been these last years.
“I hope to be number one challenger to whoever, but it’s a long year and at the moment it’s looking good, but it doesn’t mean anything, because it matters in the last three races, not the first three races.”
Lewis Hamilton on Monday admitted to concerns about Mercedes’ early-season form after seeing Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel remain unbeaten in Sunday’s Bahrain Grand Prix.
The 33-year-old defending four-time world champion said he had little idea how or why Ferrari had been able to out-perform his Mercedes team, Vettel claiming a tense win ahead of Valtteri Bottas.
It was the German’s second win in as many races this season and installed him as a clear favourite to beat Hamilton to become a five-time champion.
“I am thinking and wondering,” said Hamilton. “My thoughts are already on the world championship – I’ve lost two races in a row now and I am 17 points down after just two races.
“Obviously, the grid penalty was difficult to swallow here this weekend, but I think the team did a really good job.
“Hopefully, when we go to China for the next race, we will have a better understanding of the tyres and put up a better fight against Ferrari.
“Shanghai has been kind to me in the past so I am hoping I can bounce back.”
Vettel won Sunday’s race despite admitting he felt Mercedes had him in ‘check-mate’ when they adopted a one stop strategy.