Race: Bottas banishes 2018 memories with Baku win

Mark Scott
New clutch, oil-burning and rear mirror rules agreed for 2020.

New clutch, oil-burning and rear mirror rules agreed for 2020.

Valtteri Bottas banished the memories of the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix with victory in the 2019 edition, a win that sees him retake the World Championship lead.

Bottas saw a well-deserved victory cruelly taken away from him last year after suffering a late puncture in Baku, but Lady Luck was smiling this time as the Finn held off a challenge from Lewis Hamilton at the start and end of the race.

The Finn’s second victory of the season puts him back ahead of his team-mate in the World Championship standings by a single point, while Mercedes further extend their lead in the Constructors’ with a fourth consecutive 1-2 finish.

Sebastian Vettel claimed a second consecutive podium finish, coming home ahead of Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc,  whose race strategy once again came into question after a very long first stint. The Monaco driver did clinch the extra point for the fastest lap.

Sergio Perez, somewhat of a Baku specialist, finished best of the rest in P5, with Carlos Sainz, Lando Norris, Lance Stroll and Kimi Raikkonen hoovering up the rest of the points on offer.

Pierre Gasly and Romain Grosjean retired with mechanical faults, while a freak accident involving Daniel Ricciardo reversing into Daniil Kvyat also prematurely ended their respective races.

The drama already started to unfold in the build-up to lights out, with Robert Kubica and Raikkonen both joining Pierre Gasly in the pit lane.

Williams opted to move Kubica there after carrying out set-up changes not permitted under parc ferme conditions; Raikkonen was punished for his Alfa Romeo car violating front wing regulations – and, after further front wing changes, was confirmed to be also starting from the pit lane.

Hamilton got a lightning start off the line and almost squeezed Bottas out on the exit of Turn 1. The duo kept it clean and Bottas was able to hold off his team-mate…just.

Perez got the jump on Verstappen for P4 while the Dutchman’s former team-mate, Ricciardo fell out from the top 10 in what was an unusually quiet start to the race in Baku.

As Bottas opened up a 2.3 second gap at the front by lap six, Verstappen reclaimed P4 from Perez with a dash down the inside of the Racing Point car at Turn 1.

Shortly after that pass, Verstappen reported problems with engine braking and was soon gobbled up by Leclerc, who was making good progress with new medium tyres after starting from down in P8.

Lap 12 saw the first of the main protagonists in Vettel make a pit stop and he re-emerged with fresh mediums strapped on. It prompted an instant response from Mercedes with race leader Bottas diving in on the next lap.

Hamilton was the next in, allowing Leclerc to take over control at the front of the pack and push as hard as possible before making his pit stop later into the race.

Just as Leclerc was getting his head down, Kubica was slapped with a drive-through penalty because his car was driven to the exit of the pit lane too early for the start of the race. It really is one thing after another for Williams.

It was not taking Mercedes long to go after Leclerc with Bottas and Hamilton swapping fastest laps for fun shortly after making their pit stops. Leclerc had a 9.1 second gap on Lap 20 with still some way to go before he came in for some fresh soft tyres.

At the midway point of the race, Hamilton, then in P3, reported he was struggling with his medium tyres and Vettel began to close in.

Meanwhile, Verstappen was showing good pace in P5 and was told he had got himself back within Leclerc’s pit window, adding to the intrigue for what was to come in the latter stages.

With 20 laps to go, Bottas and Hamilton were right on Leclerc’s tail but the Ferrari driver stayed out and was promptly passed by Bottas who had the benefit of DRS.

Just as Bottas made the move to retake the race lead, squabbling duo Ricciardo and Kvyat both found themselves down the escape road as the Aussie locked up heavily going down to Turn 3.

Trying to get back on track, Ricciardo reversed into Kvyat and that prompted both to retire with damage.

Back at the front, Hamilton also passed Leclerc to retake P2 and still Leclerc stayed out.  “We don’t think the softs will last,” Leclerc was told on team radio.

Seconds later, Vettel was given an easy passage through to take P3 again. With 16 laps remaining, the call finally came for Leclerc to box.

He re-emerged in P6, just behind Gasly, exactly what Ferrari did not need as Leclerc lost more precious time. Thankfully for Leclerc, he got back ahead of the Frenchman on the following lap after pitting.

Gasly’s day would be over soon after that, reporting a loss in power and coming to a stop down of the escape roads. It triggered a brief VSC period where fellow Frenchman Grosjean also retired because of brake problems.

The track cleared again with 10 laps to go and Bottas was able to reach the checkered flag in Baku without any major incidents this time to bag his second victory of the season.

There was also just enough time for Leclerc to clinch another point for the fastest lap in Baku. But it was another case of what could have been for him and Ferrari.

Race classification

1 Valtteri Bottas Mercedes 1:44.757 1 stop
2 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 1.524s 1
3 Sebastian Vettel Ferrari 11.739s 1
4 Max Verstappen Red Bull 17.493s 1
5 Charles Leclerc  Ferrari 68.738s 2
6 Sergio Perez  Racing Point 75.932s 1
7 Carlos Sainz  McLaren 83.020s 1
8 Lando Norris  McLaren 98.454s 2
9 Lance Stroll  Racing Point 101.645s 1
10 Kimi Raikkonen  Alfa Romeo Racing 1 LAP 1
11 Alex Albon Toro Rosso 1 LAP 1
12 Antonio Giovinazzi 5 Alfa Romeo Racing 1 LAP 1
13 Kevin Magnussen  Haas 1 LAP 2
14 Nico Hulkenberg  Renault 1 LAP 2
15 George Russell Williams 2 LAPS 2
16 Robert Kubica Williams 2 LAPS 3
R Daniel Ricciardo Renault
R Romain Grosjean Haas
R Pierre Gasly Red Bull
R Daniil Kvyat Toro Rosso

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