Lewis Hamilton takes title lead and other takeaways from Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Lewis Hamilton ended his Formula One winning drought in spectacular fashion after his Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas suffered a 220mph tyre blow-out in the closing stages of a dramatic Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Sebastian Vettel had appeared on course to secure a commanding and well-deserved victory only for the race to turn on its head when Red Bull team-mates Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo collided.

That crash allowed Bottas to take the lead by virtue of pitting under the safety car, but his chances of victory were sensationally scuppered when he ran over debris and suffered a high-speed puncture with only three laps remaining.

Hamilton has now taken control of the championship by four points, with Vettel finishing only fourth after he ran off the road at turn one in his attempt to retake the lead from Bottas.

Here’s our main takeaways from Baku.

Lewis low on confidence (not anymore)

The Brit capitalised on some serious luck to take his first win since the US Grand Prix last October. The Stevenage native is not a four-time world champion for nothing, and of course, like any job or sport, there is bound to be bad days along the way. He looked to be off the pace early in the race but with Sebastian Vettel locking up and Valtteri Bottas suffering a puncture, the 33-year-old stormed ahead to snatch a remarkable victory and now leads the title race by four points. It is impossible for anyone to perform at a consistently high level across the entire season, and with the Ferraris gaining solid ground, this season is set up to be a thriller as Hamilton and Vettel go in search of that illustrious fifth world title. Advantage may be in the reigning champion’s favour now, but expect Vettel to fight back in Barcelona.

More frustration for Vettel

It looked like it would be a facile victory for the German, but two safety cars resulted in Valtteri Bottas taking the lead and Vettel’s frustration growing. But the German attempted to re-take the lead with three laps remaining and locked up, resulting in Hamilton and Kimi Raikkonen taking his place. The 29-year-old could only manage fourth – and now trails Hamilton in the title race. Despite the disappointment, Vettel looks heads and shoulder above Hamilton based on his driving ability and searing confidence so far this season. Off the track, the key difference is he looks happier than his rival, and is enjoying driving a faster Ferrari car that looks a serious threat to Mercedes’ dominance in the constructors’ championship. A minor blip again, but the German will romp back stronger in Spain.

Verstappen v Ricciardo

The Red Bull duel was bubbling throughout the race from the initial contact caused by Verstappen to the left side of Ricciardo’s car on lap 12, to the Australian overtaking his teammate on lap 35. But four laps later after both cars pitted, the Dutchman emerged ahead on his ultra softs. Ricciardo attempted to get past Verstappen but the youngster defended reasonably well, resulting in the 28-year-old slamming into the back of his teammate. The Perth native may have committed too soon and it was utter bad luck, but Verstappen is a dangerous driver to be on the track with and needs to pull his head on if he is to ever fulfill his potential as a future world champion.

Stunning Sergio

Bottas may have been unlucky in suffering a puncture late in the race, but Perez drove his Force India car like a peach around the sweeping track in Baku. He looked composed all day as he held off the challenges of Vettel and Sainz to take his first podium since Azerbaijan in 2016. After finishing fourth in the constructors championship last season, this year has proven to be a tougher affair for Force India but a first podium in two years makes it all the sweeter as they attempt to get back to their consistent form of old.

Classy Leclerc

The Monaco native produced a stunning drive on Sunday to seal sixth place in a largely uncompetitive Sauber car. The former GP2 champion passed Fernando Alonso and Carlos Sainz en route to taking his team’s first points of the season. Remarkably, he raced more laps in the top ten in Baku than his teammate Marcus Ericsson did for the entire 2017 season.

Ocon lacking form of 2017

The Frenchman has yet to scale the heights of last season when he sealed 18 top-10 finishes. With 10th, 11th and 12th place finishes in his first three races respectively, the Force India driver would have surely come into Sunday’s race full of confidence having qualified seventh. But a crash on the first lap now sees Ocon fall further behind his teammate Perez who looked sublime all afternoon. In a 21-race season, Ocon has plenty of time to turn around his form but, in truth, many expected Ocon to step up a gear in his second season. The Evreux native has been highly impressive in terms of consistency and genuine speed, but needs to show his class of last season if he is to be considered for a potential Mercedes seat in the future.

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Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic Baku battle to lead title race

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Defending world champion Lewis Hamilton claimed his first win of 2018 on Sunday and took over as leader of the title race when he triumphed in a dramatic, crash and incident-strewn Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The 33-year-old Briton managed to steer his Mercedes through a chaotic race and capitalize on his team-mate Valtteri Bottas’ misfortune when a late puncture scuppered the Finn’s chances.

Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel had looked set to turn pole position into a victory until a second Safety Car intervention left him lunging to pass Bottas and locking-up.

The German finished fourth behind the triumphant Hamilton, Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari and Mexican Sergio Perez of Force India.

The race was heavily punctuated by accidents which included one in which the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen collided while fighting for fourth place in the closing stages.

Hamilton leads the world championship on 70 points, four clear of Vettel.

Carlos Sainz finished fifth for Renault and Charles Leclerc sixth for Sauber, his first points finish.

Fernando Alonso finished seventh for McLaren ahead of Canadian Lance Stroll of Williams, Stoffel Vandoorne in the second McLaren and New Zealand’s Brendon Hartley of Toro Rosso.

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Lewis Hamilton tells Bernie Ecclestone to judge him at the end of the season

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Lewis Hamilton issued a one-line response to Bernie Ecclestone’s claim that he has lost his edge by telling Formula One’s former supremo to judge him at the end of the season.

Hamilton will line up behind Sebastian Vettel for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after the Ferrari driver edged out his rival to secure a hat-trick of consecutive pole positions.

Hamilton’s return to the front row, his first appearance there since he took pole at the season-opening rubber in Australia, went some way to halting a below-par run for the defending champion which had seen him out-qualified by Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas at the last two races.

The British driver, 33, must beat Vettel on Sunday to prevent his losing streak from stretching to seven rounds, and in excess of 200 days.

Hamilton’s misfiring start to the new campaign led F1’s chairman emeritus Ecclestone, here in Baku this weekend, to proclaim that the four-time world champion is disillusioned.

“He doesn’t seem to be the Lewis that he was before,” said Ecclestone on Friday.

“When you talk to him, and see the way he acts, he’s not the racer he was. Maybe he is just getting a little bit tired of travelling and is fed up.”

Ecclestone’s remarks appeared to touch a nerve. Hamilton, who is yet to sign an extension to a Mercedes contract which expires at the end of the year, recorded a video on Instagram in the hours before qualifying to relay his mood.

The post was accompanied with the message: “In all honesty, I shy away from cameras and have never been super comfortable in front of a camera, but I woke up this morning wanting to grow and change that and try to communicate better with you.

“So much gets lost in translation and I refuse to believe that it’s just how it is.”

After finishing 0.179 seconds shy of Vettel, Hamilton, with the peak of his Mercedes cap as low on his forehead as his mood, then passed up the option to respond at length to Ecclestone.

In nine words, he simply said: “We will see [if Ecclestone is right] at the end of the year.” It was down to Vettel, sitting to Hamilton’s left, to surmise how his rival may be feeling.

“There are a lot of people that have an opinion every time I am in the car,” Vettel said. “Sometimes they are right and sometimes they are not.

“The most important thing is you know who you are, and then you can listen less and less to what is going on, not be distracted, and simply enjoy your racing.”

Vettel’s final words appeared to bring a nod of approval from his championship rival.

Hamilton is only nine points behind Vettel with 18 races still to go, but the Ferrari, in the German’s hands at least, is proving to be this year’s dominant force.

“They are the number one team to beat at the moment,” Hamilton said. “We knew they would be quick here. It is hard to overtake but we will give it everything we have got.”

Bottas will start behind Hamilton with the Red Bull duo of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen fourth and fifth.

McLaren’s Fernando Alonso and Stoffel Vandoorne qualified a lowly 13th and 16th on yet another dismal weekend for the British team.

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