The Azerbaijan Grand Prix has always been a race that is unpredictable and the 2018 race was no different. Coming into the race week, Sebastian Vettel had a 9-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the driver’s standings. However, Mercedes was ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship by one point.
So, the race in Baku was crucial in terms of results for Mercedes. However, Vettel once again was the pole sitter ahead of Hamilton and Bottas. And to make things worse, the German started the race in a solid fashion and kept the lead despite safety car incidents.
The first twist in the tale came during lap 22. Hamilton’s tires suffered massive graining and he locked up. The Brit complained on the radio, saying “Fricking, these tires are done!”Mercedes team boxed him, but as a result, the gap further increased between him and Vettel.
At the same time, Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo were fighting wheel to wheel and an incident between them was brewing. As the Briton continued to be frustrated, chief strategist James Vowles kept a cool head. He conveyed to Hamilton’s race engineer saying, “Keeping an eye on this, we can still win the race with a safety car, if both Red Bulls hit. Just keep going, keep his head down.”
Well, the Silver Arrows team nailed their call as both Red Bulls crashed into each other during lap 40. That was the turning point of the race for Lewis Hamilton and Co.
How did Lewis Hamilton come out on top out of nowhere?
As both Red Bulls crashed, it was time for Mercedes to react. And they immediately boxed both Bottas and Hamilton to soft tires. The situation also favored the Finn as Vettel pitted during lap 31 and Bottas was yet to pit. So, the Mercedes driver took the lead from Vettel with Hamilton 3rd.
Further, Romain Grosjean’s Haas crashed into the barriers when the safety car was out, further extending the safety car’s time on the track.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 29, 2018
Trackside engineer director Andrew Shovlin immediately knew that there was a chance of a red flag and a potential standing start. “It’s not of the question he’ll red flag it and go for a grid start,” he said.
However, it did not turn out that way. As the race re-started with five laps to go, Bottas got off to a stunning start, but was under pressure from Vettel. Nonetheless, while trying to overtake the Finn, Vettel locked up and lost position to Hamilton as well.
An unlikely Mercedes 1-2 was on the cards until Bottas’ tire punctured. As a result, he was forced to retire while Hamilton comfortably took the lead and won the race. And of course, we could hear Lewis’ engineer Bono’s famous words, “Get in there Lewis, well done mate. I think lady luck was on our side today. I feel bad luck for Valtteri. So yeah, heart goes out to him.”
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) April 29, 2018
Valtteri Bottas was hard done by the result, but Hamilton and Mercedes’ persistence paid off. The 2018 Azerbaijan GP proved to be a pivotal moment in the race for the title as the Brit came out on top in the end.