Bottas beats Hamilton to Azerbaijan GP win

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Valttery Bottas (2nd R), Lewis Hamilton (2nd L) and Sebastian Vettel (1st R) pose for photos during the awarding ceremony for the Formula 1 2019 Azerbaijan Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, on April 28, 2019. (Xinhua/Tofiq Babayev)

Valtteri Bottas beat teammate Lewis Hamilton to victory in Sunday's Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix to continue Mercedes' perfect start to the 2019 season, as Ferrari conceded yet more ground in its stuttering campaign.

Bottas and Hamilton had qualified on the front row of the grid, and their formation finish represents the first time a team has scored four consecutive 1-2 finishes at the beginning of a Formula 1 season.

Meanwhile, Ferrari will be rueing another race weekend in which they seemed to have the quickest car through the weekend practice sessions, only to see them staring into the Mercedes' exhaust pipes on race day. Sebastian Vettel finished third but never looked like threatening the Silver Arrows, while teammate Charles Leclerc salvaged fifth after crashing in Saturday's qualifying session.

At the start, it looked as if Hamilton had done enough to outdrag poleman Bottas as they headed into the first turn, but the Finn held firm and settled into the lead after a few corners' robust defending. Hamilton and Vettel remained second and third, and the main interest in the opening laps was how quickly Leclerc could make up the ground lost after his qualifying mishap.

The Monegasque had made his way up from eighth on the grid into fifth behind the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by lap 7, and as the only frontrunner on the medium compound tyres, he might have felt a surge of optimism when most of his soft-shod rivals peeled off into the pits, leaving him in the race lead by lap 14.

Leclerc's hopes of a good result hinged on his ability to go as long as possible on his medium tyres before a quick charge to the finish on the grippier soft compound rubber when - theoretically at least - his rivals would be struggling on their race-worn medium tyres.

The Monegasque held the lead until Bottas passed him on lap 31, with Hamilton following suit next time round. Losing time on his older rubber, Leclerc radioed his team asking to come in for his new set, but Ferrari told him to stay out, citing concerns over whether the soft tyre would last the rest of the race.

When Leclerc did eventually come in, on lap 34, he had lost eight seconds to Bottas over the preceding two laps, leaving him in a lonely fifth place behind Verstappen after emerging from his pitstop. The Monegasque did at least manage to pick up an extra point for fastest lap, after taking advantage of his track position to make an extra pit stop for new tyres in the closing laps without losing a place.

Elsewhere, the retirement of Verstappen's teammate Pierre Gasly promoted the Racing Point of Sergio Perez into sixth place. After a disappointing race last time out in China, it was a better weekend for McLaren, whose drivers Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris finished seventh and eighth. Perez's teammate Lance Stroll crossed the line ninth, and the top ten was rounded out by the ever-reliable Kimi Raikkonen, whose Alfa Romeo had been obliged to start from the pitlane after its front wing had failed a scrutineering test on Saturday.

At the front, Hamilton may have had a sniff of victory in the closing stages when he closed to within one second of Bottas, but a slight mistake on the penultimate tour put paid to his chances of a last lap do-or-die move for the race win.

For Bottas, who had not been unduly troubled after the opening few corners, the win represented a measure of redemption, after the Finn had lost a certain victory in Baku last year with a puncture two laps from the end.

"It was a tough race, even if there was not that much happening at the front," Bottas said afterwards. "Lewis was pressuring all the time so I could not make any mistakes, but honestly, everything was under control and I'm happy to see the chequered flag and take this win."

As he had been after qualifying yesterday, Hamilton was magnanimous in defeat, and paid tribute to his team's hard work. "Congratulations to Valtteri, he drove a fantastic race. He made no mistakes and truly deserved the win. This is the best start to a season we've ever had. Everyone back at the factory has been working non-stop, and it's a testament to the strength in depth within this team. I'm really proud to be a part of it."

By contrast, there were long faces at Ferrari after a weekend that had initially promised so much, and the mood at Maranello will not have been helped by Vettel's admission that he was struggling to get to grips with his car in the opening stages of the race.

"The first stint was really poor," the German lamented. "I really struggled to get the tyres to work, and it was really uncomfortable, inconsistent, and I couldn't get a feel for or have confidence in the car. Still plenty of work for us to do; we're not quite where we want to be, but at this point I think we just need to maximise what we can."

The result sees Bottas retake the drivers' championship lead from Hamilton, with 87 points to the Briton's 86. Vettel sits third, already some way adrift of the Mercedes duo with 52, while Verstappen is fourth on 51 points. In the constructors' standings, Mercedes already has a considerable lead over Ferrari in second, with 173 points to the Prancing Horse's 99.

The next round of the 2019 Formula 1 season is the Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on May 12. 

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