Chaos was the name of game on Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with a slew of incidents late in the race dramatically shaking up the finishing order.
In the end, Mercedes AMG Petronas’ Lewis Hamilton survived the chaos and overcame early-race tire problems to take his first victory of the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship season. Scuderia Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen finished second, a comeback drive for him after contact with Sahara Force India’s Esteban Ocon on Lap 1. The contact knocked Ocon out of the race, and forced Raikkonen to pit for a new front wing.
However, Sergio Perez gave Force India a reason to smile by claiming his first podium since 2016.
Behind them, Valtteri Bottas, who emerged in the lead after clever tire strategy and a timely Safety Car, suffered a terrible turn of misfortune when he ran over a piece of debris on Lap 47, resulting in a cut right-rear tire.
Prior to that, Sebastian Vettel tried a daring overtake on Bottas entering Turn 1 on a Lap 46 restart, but the Ferrari driver badly overshot Turn 1 after locking up his front tires. Bottas, Hamilton, and Raikkonen all got by at the time, with Perez passing him a short time later. Vettel eventually emerged in fourth after Bottas’ problems.
Red Bull Racing looked to be in for a strong result, with Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen holding fourth and fifth for much of the race, and engaged in a spirited battle for the position at that.
Ricciardo tried to pass Verstappen multiple times, with the young Dutchman holding firm every time, the two even touching wheels slightly at one point, before Ricciardo made his way around Verstappen on the outside entering Turn 1 on Lap 35.
However, everything went wrong on Lap 40. Ricciardo, who dropped back behind Verstappen after pit stops, tried to slipstream by Verstappen on the front straightaway, but his teammate swerved to block, and Ricciardo was left with nowhere to go but straight into the back the sister RB14.
Both crashed in the Turn 1 runoff area, ending their days on the spot and adding more tension to their already tense rivalry.
The Red Bull incident set the stage for the chaotic finish. Vettel had led from the start, while Hamilton ran second until he pitted early after his tires lost grip on Lap 22. Vettel pitted from the lead on Lap 30, but Mercedes left Bottas out in hopes that he could go long enough to put on ultra soft tires to end the race, or even catch a Safety Car and keep the lead.
Indeed, the Red Bull contact created a such a Safety Car, and Bottas pitted for ultra softs and was able to keep the lead, with Ferrari also pitting Vettel as Mercedes did the same with Hamilton.
The Safety Car was extended after a bizarre incident in which Haas F1 Team’s Romain Grosjean crashed under the yellow period while weaving his Haas VF-18 to keep temperatures in the tires.
Racing resumed on Lap 46, which saw Vettel make his aforementioned dive inside of Bottas for the lead, but to no avail.
One Lap later, Bottas suffered his puncture, allowing Hamilton through into the lead for good.
Behind the top four finishers of Hamilton, Raikkonen, Perez, and Vettel, Carlos Sainz Jr. finished fifth for Renault Sport F1 Team, followed by Alfa Romeo Sauber’s Charles Leclerc, who put in a fantastic effort to finish sixth and score the first points of his F1 career.
McLaren F1 Team’s Fernando Alonso came back from Lap 1 contact with Williams Martini Racing’s Sergey Sirotkin to finish seventh, while Lance Stroll finished eighth to give Williams their first points of 2018.
Alonso’s teammate Stoffel Vandoorne finished ninth, with Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley finishing tenth to score his first F1 point.
The victory puts Hamilton into the lead of the championship on 70 points, with Vettel four points behind in second. Raikkonen sits third on 48, eight points ahead of Bottas.
Results are below. The next Formula 1 race of the 2018 season is the Spanish Grand Prix on May 13.