Bottas leads Mercedes one-two and other talking points from Azerbaijan GP

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Valtteri Bottas held off Lewis Hamilton to win in Azerbaijan and take the lead of the Formula One world championship.

Bottas started from pole position and kept Hamilton at bay as the Mercedes duo went wheel-to-wheel through the opening three bends.

Hamilton attempted a late charge for victory, but Bottas had enough in his pocket to take the chequered flag and move one point clear of the Brit in the title standings.

Sebastian Vettel finished third, with Max Verstappen crossed the line in fourth. Charles Leclerc started eighth after he crashed out of qualifying and the Ferrari junior, on a different strategy to the front runners, finished fifth.

Here’s our main talking points from the race.

BRILLIANT BOTTAS

The Flying Finn produced a solid display to record his second victory of the season and retake the championship lead.

It was a deserved win for Bottas and redemption for last season after he was forced to retire in Baku when leading towards the end of the race.

Starting from pole, the 29-year-old was consistent, made no mistakes and pushed hard when Hamilton was within DRS range late in the race.

If Bottas can continue the fight in Barcelona in two weeks time, it’ll be game on in the title battle.

It may be a tall order to compete consistently across the season but his latest result shows he might finally be considered a championship contender.

There is a harder edge to him this year and he looks equipped to respond to Hamilton’s challenge at every opportunity.

PLENTY OF TIME FOR HAMILTON TO SHINE

Hamilton pushed his Mercedes team-mate hard throughout the race, with only 1.5 seconds separating them in the end – and Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari a further 11 seconds behind in third.

The Briton was expected to romp to a third victory of the season but a combination of Bottas’s searing pace and a virtual safety car with ten laps remaining saw him settle for second.

As much as second may disappoint the five-time world champion, it’s still a stunning start to the campaign for him, with two wins and two second-place finishes.

And with 17 races remaining in the season, the pendulum is no doubt going to swing in different ways, with the 34-year-old always proving he can come out on top when the pressure is on.

POOR STRATEGY CALL FOR LECLERC?

The deserved Driver of the Day.

Fastest all weekend, Leclerc was forced to start from eighth after crashing in Q2. He had tricky start on Sunday and dropped two places before weaving his way back up.

He even held the lead for a brief stint while Bottas, Hamilton and Vettel pitted, and looked high on confidence and pace.

But if there is one criticism, it’s that his team should have pitted him at lap 30 instead of 35. It was simply too long to leave a driver out without fresh tyres. He lost eight seconds in those five laps. When he was called in to the pits, he was third, and subsequently returned back out in sixth.

Races are won on strategy and not on engine power. When he came out of the pits in sixth, he failed to make an impact and finished behind Max Verstappen in fifth.

Another poor strategy call for the Prancing Horse?

MCLAREN REVIVAL 

A stunning result for McLaren.

Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris capitalised on the McLaren’s pace around the Baku street circuit to finish seventh and eighth respectively – the best team result for the Woking-based outfit since Baku last year.

Sainz and Norris looked consistent throughout the race and the car showed strong pace and balance to remain ahead of Force India and Haas.

The duo showed once again that they have the potential to threaten the other midfield teams, especially in the European races.

Their 10 points scooped from two top-10 finishes in Azerbaijan means McLaren are now fourth in the constructors’ championship – one point ahead of Racing Point.

MORE MISERY FOR RICCIARDO

The Australian was the first driver to retire from the race, reversing into Daniil Kvyat in the run-off area on lap 34.

He attempted to overtake Kvyat on the turn and they both went off the track, with Ricciardo committing an error which forced his retirement for the third time in four races.

It’s a poor start to the season for the 29-year-old, a driver who was expected to secure strong finishes on a consistent basis for his new team. None of which we have seen yet.

Ricciardo may have been a class act in the pacey Red Bull, but now it’s beginning to look like his decision to join Renault was a bad career move for such a talented driver.

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Valtteri Bottas takes pole for Azerbaijan GP ahead of Lewis Hamilton

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Valtteri Bottas beat Lewis Hamilton to top spot by just six hundredths of a second in a thrilling qualifying session for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The Mercedes duo took advantage of Charles Leclerc’s dramatic crash to lock out the front row in Baku with Sebastian Vettel only third on an evening to forget for Ferrari.

Leclerc had been the favourite to secure the front slot on the grid after dominating the weekend so far.

But after the 21-year-old put his Ferrari in the barriers, Bottas claimed the spoils with his final throw of the dice to beat Hamilton.

The Finn took his second pole in as many races with the sun setting in Azerbaijan’s capital following two crashes which delayed the running by almost an hour.

First, Robert Kubica hit the barriers at the narrow castle section, and then Leclerc did the same.

The young Monegasque clipped the kerb at the left-handed entry to turn eight, and went head-on into the wall on the opposing side of the track.

“I am stupid, I am stupid,” he said furiously over the radio before hitting his car with both hands as he emerged from the cockpit.

John Elkann, the Ferrari chairman, is in Azerbaijan this weekend, and he shook his head in response to his new driver’s crash.

“No excuses,” tweeted Leclerc, who is set to start from ninth providing there are no hiccups putting his heavily-damaged car back together.

“I’ve been useless.

“I will push to have a better tomorrow. Sorry to all the people supporting us and even more to the whole team that deserved so much better.”

Leclerc has impressed in his formative Ferrari career, but this accident will dent his hopes of convincing the team to install him as their number one instead of Vettel.

The German will also be frustrated after finishing a third of a second down on Bottas. Kubica had earlier compounded the air of misery at Williams after he became the first victim to fall foul of this tight track.

“I am sorry,” the Pole said on the radio.

Deputy team principal Claire Williams looked pensive, perhaps wondering if this weekend could get any worse.

British rookie George Russell, who finished 19th of the 20 drivers – to continue his record of out-qualifying Kubica at every round – is already using the only spare car available to Williams here after he hit a loose drain cover in practice yesterday and wrote off his chassis.

The British team’s mechanics now face an almighty repair job to ensure Kubica will be able to take part in Sunday’s race.

Lando Norris finished ahead of his team-mate Carlos Sainz, by putting his McLaren in a career-best seventh on the grid.

Sainz finished 11th. Red Bull’s Max Verstappen will line up in fourth.

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Azerbaijan GP opening practice called off after loose drain cover damages George Russell's Williams

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George Russell has an unfortunate accident at Baku.

Formula One‘s first practice session in Azerbaijan was cancelled after British driver George Russell dramatically collided with a loose drain cover.

Russell, competing in just his fourth grands prix, ran over the manhole cover at high speed, and sustained significant damage to his Williams.

Russell, 21, immediately pulled over to the side of the temporary track which runs through Baku.

He was unharmed but the session, just 10 minutes old, was hastily red-flagged.

A marshal attempted to stamp the drain cover down before the running was cancelled.

To add insult to injury, the recovery crane carrying Russell’s Williams back to the pits then farcically collided with a temporary pedestrian bridge running over the circuit.

The damaged crane began leaking hydraulic oil over Russell’s car leaving the mechanics at Williams with a hefty repair job.

“It’s a calamity of errors,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner told Sky Sports. “I’ve never seen that before.”

Russell has been suffering with a respiratory infection this week and was pulled from his media duties on Thursday.

“I got the biggest smack through my body and the whole engine turned off,” he told Sky Sports as he described the alarming incident.

“It’s ruined the floor and I’m a bit worried for the chassis now. We were on the normal racing line and it’s completely ruined our session. It’s not what we need at this stage.”

Claire Williams, deputy team principal for the struggling British constructor, told Sky Sports: “It’s clearly not what we want and it’s not what you expect from a Formula One track. These drain covers are supposed to be bolted down.”

With the session cancelled, officials made their way around the 3.7-mile track ensuring all the drain covers were sufficiently tightened.

But the alarming incident will naturally raise safety concerns ahead of Sunday’s race here. The second practice session is due to get begin at 5pm local time.

Provided by Press Association Sport

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