Wednesday 23 January 2019

Hamilton hits the front after stealing victory in chaotic Baku street fight

Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates with his team after winning the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix in Baku. Photo: AP
Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton celebrates with his team after winning the Azerbaijan Formula One Grand Prix in Baku. Photo: AP

Philip Duncan

Lewis Hamilton admitted he was lucky to win an eventful Azerbaijan Grand Prix as he ended his six-race victory drought in spectacular fashion.

Hamilton departs Baku in charge of this season's championship for the first time after taking advantage of Valtteri Bottas's dramatic 220mph tyre blow-out, a jaw-dropping crash involving Red Bull team-mates Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, and Sebastian Vettel's overtaking gamble that backfired.

Vettel had appeared on course to secure a commanding, and well-deserved, victory which would have marked his third from the opening four rounds, only for the race to turn on its head when Ricciardo sensationally ran into the back of Verstappen with 11 laps to go.

Their collisio - which provoked Red Bull team principal Christian Horner to demand that both of his millionaire drivers next week apologise to the team's 800 staff at their Milton Keynes factory - paved the way for Bottas to lead by virtue of pitting for new tyres under the safety car.

Vettel was demoted to second and, in attempting a gung-ho move to retake the lead, fell off the track and ended down in fourth.

Bottas' chances of victory were then dramatically scuppered when he ran over a piece of debris and suffered a high-speed puncture just three laps from the end.

Suddenly Hamilton, who for most of this chaotic street fight in Baku appeared certain to lose further ground in the title race, now leads his Ferrari rival by four points.

"I was really, really fortunate," an almost sheepish Hamilton said. "It was definitely a very untidy race from me, but I've got to take it because I didn't give up and I kept pushing.

"I struggled with the tyres and I've definitely got to go away from here and work even harder to make sure that there is not a repeat performance."

Hamilton ran off the road twice following uncharacteristic mistakes and spent parts of the race seemingly at odds with his team as he struggled to keep up with Vettel.

The Englishman's victory - which was his first since October's United States Grand Prix, and certainly among the luckiest of his 63 career wins - went some way to making up for his defeat at the opening round in Australia, and ignited his title chances.

Hamilton should have won in Melbourne but a timing glitch by his Mercedes team saw him lose out to Vettel.

"It doesn't feel like justice or relief," Hamilton added. "But it was a reminder to me that in my whole life I have been through those experiences where you climb a hill and you feel like you are slipping down. I don't feel completely unworthy of the win, but if my normal level is eagle, birdie, then today I was shooting pars and bogeys."

Vettel's team-mate Kimi Raikkonen finished second, with Force India's Sergio Perez completing the podium places.

Irish Independent

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