Bottas unstoppable in Baku: Mercedes ace extends F1 series lead
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Lewis Hamilton said he afforded Valtteri Bottas an easy ride by sacrificing his own hopes of victory on the opening lap of this morning's Azerbaijan Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Hamilton and Bottas came within centimetres of a collision as they drove wheel-to-wheel through the opening three bends in Baku.
But thanks to the skill of both men, damage was avoided. Bottas prevailed, and it was where the race, which failed to live up to expectations, was ultimately won.
The Mercedes drivers were allowed to fight to the chequered flag, but Hamilton did not have enough in the tank to stop Bottas from winning for a second time this season. The Finn now leads the five-time world champion by one point in the standings. Mercedes, meanwhile became the first team to start the season with four one-two finishes. So much for a Ferrari revival.
On a poor weekend for the Scuderia, Sebastian Vettel never troubled the silver cars. The German finished a distant third, falling 35 points behind Bottas in the process.
Charles Leclerc crossed the line in fifth - his race compromised following a costly crash in qualifying.
The Ferrari junior started eighth and, out of sync with the front-runners on a different strategy, led for 20 laps. But his challenge faded when he stopped for tyres. He can take some comfort from claiming the fastest lap, and with it, a bonus point, but he is 40 points off the championship summit.
Hamilton is bidding for a sixth world crown this season and despite a resurgence of sorts by Bottas - indeed, the Finn failed to win once last year despite driving the sport’s fastest car - it seems improbable that the British driver will be beaten by his team-mate over the course of 21 rounds.
"Selfishly, I could have pushed a lot harder," said Hamilton. "Ultimately I lost out but that is the sacrifice you sometimes have to make in order for the team to win.
"If there was a Ferrari there it would have been a lot different, but that is how it will continue for the rest of the year.
"Valtteri and I have a lot of respect for each other. You can see that. We discuss the start before the race, we agree as gentlemen, and we stick to it.
"Valtteri was very fair in giving space and after that he was faultless. He truly deserved the win."
Mercedes are obviously keen to avoid a repeat of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s fractious relationship - but such a scenario appears a long way off.
Hamilton’s conduct on the first lap was perhaps proof that he does not view the man in his fellow silver machine as title material. Would he have afforded Rosberg the same courtesy?
"We let them race, and they are both very experienced," said Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal. "They know to keep it clean and you saw that on lap one.
"This is a track where you mustn’t take crazy risks as you can lose both cars and they know that.
"Yes, it reminds some of the situation between Lewis and Nico as you have two drivers that have the ambition to win a championship.
"It is up to us, together with them, to be very aware of the situation. Their relationship matters in order to avoid what we went through between Lewis and Nico."
Remarkably, Ferrari are already 74 points behind Mercedes in the constructors’ standings.
Rubbing salt in the wounds, Hamilton last night called on the Scuderia to improve in order to take the fight to Mercedes.
"He is right, we need to pick it up," said Vettel, who will head to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix a week on Sunday on a losing streak now extended to beyond eight months.
"We need stronger pace. It is as simple as that. We need to be faster."
On a largely uneventful afternoon on the streets of Azerbaijan’s capital city, Daniel Ricciardo provided some amusement when he ran off the circuit with Daniil Kvyat, and then accidentally reversed into the Russian's Toro Rosso, ending both of their races.
McLaren meanwhile, continued their semi-revival with a first double-points finish of the year, Carlos Sainz taking seventh, one spot ahead of the British teenager, Lando Norris.
- Telegraph UK