F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix: Bottas holds on in another Mercedes 1-2
Another controlled drive from pole from Valtteri Bottas saw him firmly establish himself as a Championship contender as Mercedes controlled another 1-2 in Baku to extend their dominance in the Constructors Championship. Ferrari had to settle for third and fifth as their split strategy didn’t pay off in a surprisingly clean race around the streets of Baku.
Race to the First Corner
Bottas won the race to the first corner, holding off an aggressive charge from his teammate Lewis Hamilton who once again seemed to react quicker to the lights. Sebastian Vettel managed to hold on to third, whilst his teammate Charles Leclerc, starting eighth on medium tyres, struggled off the line.
‘This victory feels really good. When you’re starting from pole, you hope for a straightforward race – the less drama, the better it is. I didn’t have the greatest start; after the wheelspin in China I was maybe just a little too cautious. Lewis had a better start so we went side-by-side into Turn 1 and 2; it was good, respectful racing between the two of us and I’m glad I could pull up in front of him. Lewis was very quick today and was able to put on some pressure at the end of the race, so I had to make sure to not make any mistakes. I’ve already said it on the radio after the race: ‘What a team!’ The level at which everyone is performing at the moment is very impressive, both here at the track and back at the factory, and I’m really proud of everyone. We need to make sure we keep delivering at this level,’ said the Finn after his second win of 2019.
Yet the regression didn’t last for long, with the young Monegasque started to work his way up the field thanks to his sheer speed and harder tyre compound. Ahead of him Daniil Kvyat soon found his tyres shot and pitted, whilst the McLaren of Lando Norris could do little to defend as DRS played its part. Sergio Perez, having taken fourth from Verstappen off the line, had fought off the Dutchman for a number of laps, but ultimately dropped behind the Red Bull and the Ferrari in successive laps. By lap nine Leclerc was already looking at the back of Verstappen for fourth, as the softer compound tyres seemed to be breaking up quicker than most teams expected.
Mercedes Open Huge Gap
However none of this seemed to be an issue to the Mercedes, who opened up an eight second gap to Vettel by lap 11, as the former champion just couldn’t keep up with his championship rivals. He pitted at the end of the lap, with Leclerc already hovering in his slipstream. This brought Bottas in a lap later to cover, with Lewis Hamilton following suit on lap 14 to leave Leclerc with a clear track ahead.
Yet all eyes were on the end of the race. Despite chipping into Leclerc’s lead, the Mercedes were looking to preserve the tyres for the closing laps, where the Monegasque was expected to be charging back up the pack with the preferred soft tyres. Ferrari tried to capitalise, pushing Vettel into the back of Hamilton to try and gain a place. However, in what seems to be the story of the Germans race days this season, he was unable to get close enough to make a difference. Meanwhile Verstappen was sneaking up, crucially placing himself in Leclerc’s pit window.
Mercedes Assert Authority
It took until lap 31 before the Mercedes could make their move, with both drivers having DRS, Bottas managed an easy pass to retake the lead. It took another lap for Hamilton to pass through, not helped by yellow flags in sector one where Daniel Ricciardo compromised former teammate Kvyat race with a poor overtake on turn three, forcing both off before the Renault reversed straight into the Toro Rosso. However, it was the Aussie who ended up being the races’ first retirement, with the Russian following a few laps later.
Finally Leclerc was brought in on lap 34, however he found himself out in sixth just behind Pierre Gasly, who also hadn’t stopped. Taking a whole lap to pass the slower Red Bull was a huge dent to his podium hopes. However the junior Red Bull driver turned that dent into a hammer blow not long after, retiring in an awkward part of a runoff area to bring in the Virtual Safety Car just as Leclerc was hitting top speed on the straight. The loss of speed and laps all but ended the Ferrari’s charge for fourth, being over 30 seconds behind when the VSC was lifted.
Bottas Holds On, Bonus Point For Leclerc
There was late drama with two laps to go as Hamilton managed to sneak into the DRS zone and threaten the Finn, however a mistake from the Brit coupled with Bottas grabbing DRS from backmarkers allowed him to hold onto his second victory of the season, whilst Leclerc settled for a bonus point for fastest lap with a late pit stop allowing him the consolation after a frustrating day.
‘This is a great result for the team. I think this team is stronger than it’s ever been and it’s all down to teamwork. Both Valtteri and myself are pushing the boundaries of the car and are delivering, as are the team in the pitstops, the engineers, and everyone back at the factory. I don’t think we have ever performed at this level before and I’m really grateful for all the hard work from everyone. Baku is not my strongest race, it’s always been difficult for me. I came close to the win today, but not close enough. I didn’t get the job done in Qualifying and then I was a bit too cautious at the start. I also had an issue with the VSC and that made it tough to catch him up. But those are all ifs and buts; Valtteri drove a great race and deserved the win. It was great that the team let us race though. I’ll work hard to bounce back and pick up the performance for Spain,’ concluded Hamilton.