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5 things we learned from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

The Brit is four points clear of Sebastian Vettel in the title race.

5 things we learned from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Lewis Hamilton is the new leader of the Formula One world championship after winning a crazy Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Hamilton took advantage of a series of incidents to claim the first victory of his title defence.

Here, Press Association Sport looks back at five things we learned from Sunday’s race in Baku.

1. Lewis rides luck, but Mercedes still playing catch-up

How did Hamilton win that one? Of Hamilton’s 63 career triumphs it is hard to recall a victory of which he has been less deserving. The British driver ran off the road twice, and even likened his performance to a golfing nightmare. “If I’m usually eagle, birdie, then today I was shooting pars and bogeys,” he said. And it was hard to disagree. Perhaps, though, the motor racing Gods owed Hamilton a win. While it is easy to reel off Hamilton’s memorable triumphs, his lucky ones have been few and far between. He was also robbed of victory at the season-opening rubber in Australia. Hamilton’s first win since October, however, came with a warning: there is still work to be done. Mercedes were a distant second to Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari in Baku, and without swift improvement, the Brit would appear a long shot to beat his rival to a fifth world crown.

2. How costly will another Vettel mistake be?

For the second race in succession, Vettel was magnanimous in defeat, but will he rue another costly mistake? Yes, Vettel should have won in Azerbaijan only for his former Red Bull team to do him few favours when Daniel Ricciardo smashed into Max Verstappen and the safety car was deployed. Bottas assumed the lead, but second would hardly have been a disaster for Vettel. Indeed had he crossed the finish line behind Bottas, or even won following the Finn’s dramatic puncture, a comfy championship cushion over Hamilton would have been retained. As it is, his rival is now four points clear. Vettel made big mistakes here in Baku, Singapore and Mexico last year, and his failed move on Bottas was his fourth big error in 17 races. Ferrari have the speed to beat Mercedes, but that could all change, and one wonders whether Vettel will regret not playing the long game on Sunday.

3. Bottas drowns sorrows after tyre blow-out

A distraught Bottas claimed 10 beers would prove his tonic after he was denied victory in the cruellest of circumstances following a late tyre blow-out. The Sugar Lounge of Baku’s Hilton Hotel was his destination of choice on Sunday night as he mulled over a painful defeat with 1997 world champion Jacques Villeneuve. Bottas was somewhat fortunate to assume the lead, but one could not help but feel sorry for him following his puncture. He should be ahead of Mercedes team-mate Hamilton in the championship race, but is now 30 points behind. His (already slim) title chances are virtually over. And all of this against the backdrop of Ricciardo declaring his interest in taking Bottas’ seat at Mercedes next year.

4. What next for mad Max?

Verstappen’s roll call of collisions in 2018; Hamilton, Vettel and now Ricciardo. The 20-year-old Dutchman has gone from being one of the most talented drivers on the grid to something of a walking disaster. Niki Lauda, the three-time world champion, claimed Verstappen was at fault for his high-speed smash with Ricciardo, and while the stewards didn’t agree (indeed, they slapped both drivers on the wrists) the collision had been inevitable from the outset. Verstappen barged his way past Ricciardo on lap six, and later banged wheels with his team-mate after sliding under braking as he defended his position. Verstappen is a wonderful talent, but he must change his ways, and quickly, to spare his reputation.

5. Brilliant Baku delivers again

Kevin Eason, the former long-serving motor racing correspondent for the Times, last night tweeted: “I think F1 should grab all the positives from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix and maybe have 10 races a year in Baku with random safety cars.” He was, of course, joking, but for the second season running, Baku provided another thriller. Its narrow streets, coupled with the longest and fastest straight on the F1 calendar, is a winning combination with Sunday’s race full of incident. The opening four rounds have whetted the appetite for what is quickly becoming an unpredictable and fascinating season. F1 boring? No chance.

F1

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