Lewis Hamilton was gifted victory in the Azerbaijan F1 Grand Prix after Valtteri Bottas’ late tyre blowout. (AP / Pool: Srdjan Ski)
Lewis Hamilton stood on top of the Formula One podium for the first time this season in Azerbaijan on Sunday and it made him feel uncomfortable.
The Mercedes driver knew he had lucked in, with team mate Valtteri Bottas heading for victory until track debris caused a high-speed puncture that ended the Finn’s race with three laps to go.
“I was standing on the podium believing that Valtteri should have been standing there because I felt that he had earned it,” said the Briton, who delayed the ceremonies by going to commiserate with Bottas.
Formula One tweet: “It felt awkward standing on top of the podium.” #AzerbaijanGP #F1
Hamilton had not won for six races, his last being in the United States in October, and Sunday’s surprise success lifted the four-times world champion into the overall lead for the first time this year.
He now heads Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel, who finished fourth, by four points after four races.
“I know how difficult it is when you have days like that, when you think you are going to win and then it gets taken away from you, because I’ve had that before,” Hamilton said of Bottas’s torment.
He could have celebrated wildly anyway, as other drivers have done when he missed out, but he said that was not his style.
Hamilton had been off the pace throughout practice and, despite qualifying on the front row of the grid, had not looked like occupying anything higher than the lowest rung of the podium.
“I’m wired differently. I like to win because I’ve outsmarted and outwitted and outclassed every driver out there and today … the performance didn’t feel like it was on par with what I’m capable of doing,” he said.
Valtteri Bottas tweet: Sometimes the sport you love can be tough. But, I’ve learned to turn negative experiences into strength #VB77 #F1Baku @MercedesAMGF1
“If my normal level is eagle, birdie, then today was partly par — some pars and then a couple of bogeys. That kind of day when we play golf, and normally when I play golf it’s a triple-bogey,” he said.
Bottas, on the other hand, did nothing wrong.
“I’m absolutely heartbroken. It hurts a lot,” he said.
“It is difficult to say anything. Everyone saw what happened. It’s just unfortunate, unlucky. I’ll maybe have 10 pints of beer and be fine.”
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff, who said he just wanted to give the Finn a hug, described what had happened to his driver as “very brutal”.
“It was Valtteri’s race to win today,” said the Austrian. “Apart from Valtteri, everyone made mistakes today.”
Red Bull chief orders Ricciardo, Verstappen to apologise
Daniel Ricciardo and his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen had some explaining to do after the Azerbaijan GP. (AP: Luca Bruno)
Furious Red Bull boss Christian Horner has demanded that Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo apologise in person to the team’s 800 staff following their crash in Baku.
Verstappen and Ricciardo had been at each other’s throats for much of the race on the streets of Baku, and their high-speed collision with 11 laps remaining appeared almost inevitable.
On the longest and fastest straight on the Formula One calendar, Ricciardo lined up his overtake in the battle for fourth.
But as Verstappen moved to his left to cover off his team-mate, Ricciardo was left with little room for manoeuvre and thudded into the back of him. In an instant, both cars were wiped out of the race.
Adrian Newey, Red Bull’s technical boss, removed his headset in disgust and stormed straight from the pit wall to the garage. Horner sat motionless, aghast at what he had just witnessed.
“The most important thing is that they both recognise that what happened today is unacceptable,” Horner said.
“We’ve let them race hard against each other, but unfortunately today has resulted in the worst possible scenario, where you’ve had both drivers make contact and retire from the grand prix.
“It is enormously disappointing. They are both in the doghouse.
“What’s annoying is that we’ve given away an awfully large amount of points today, so both drivers will be apologising to all the members of staff, who work so hard to put these cars together, before the next race in Barcelona.”
Stewards hauled both men before them in the hours after the race and determined they were equally at fault, hitting them with a reprimand.
Formula One tweet: The @redbullracing boys dissect their collision in Baku… #AzerbaijanGP #F1
Niki Lauda, the non-executive chairman for Mercedes and three-time world champion, however, laid the blame firmly at Verstappen’s door.
It is Verstappen’s third collision in as many races following run-ins with Lewis Hamilton, Sebastian Vettel and now Ricciardo.
“It is 70 per cent Verstappen, and 30 per cent Ricciardo,” Lauda said. “If you move on him all the time where can the poor guy go?”
Lauda added: “I would go home and cry. It is a disaster. I would bring them both into the office, and tell them how much less they will get paid for the damage they have done.”
The incident comes as Ricciardo is publicly considering a move to Ferrari or Mercedes for next season.
The stewards ruled that Verstappen had moved twice to defend his position — when only one move is allowed — and said Ricciardo admitted he left it “too late” to overtake.
“This is the last thing we wanted. We want to be able to race and I’m thankful that the team let us race,” Ricciardo said.
“Everyone is pretty heartbroken.”
Verstappen said he didn’t want the team to stop him fighting Ricciardo on the track in the future.
“We will learn from this and have to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” Verstappen said.
Reuters / AP