Reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton admitted his good fortune after a freak sequence of crashes, mistakes and punctures handed him a first race win of the season at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Hamilton’s Mercedes team-mate Valtteri Bottas had seemed certain to take the victory in Baku until three laps from the finish, when he ran over debris and suffered a puncture.
The Briton’s title rival Sebastian Vettel looked the likely winner earlier in the race, but his hopes unravelled following a spectacular crash between the Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen.
“It was a real struggle today so to come out with the win I’m extremely grateful,” said Hamilton, who now leads Vettel by four points at the top of the drivers’ championship.
“I was really, really fortunate. Valtteri did an exceptional job today and really deserved to have the win. It feels a bit odd to be up here but I’ve got to take it.”
Ricciardo and Verstappen escaped with a reprimand from stewards for their lap 40 crash – the culmination of a simmering battle between the pair – but Red Bull boss Christian Horner gave both a dressing down.
“They both recognise that they screwed up today and will be apologising to the team and to all members of the team,” said Horner.
“We allow them to race and allow them to go wheel to wheel. We spoke to them in team meetings about giving each other space. This was culmination of two guys talking things into their own hands, which shouldn’t have happened.”
The crash came when Ricciardo tried to pass Verstappen at the first corner and careered into the back of him. “It doesn’t matter who is to blame, it just shouldn’t have happened,” said the Dutchman.
Hamilton’s challenge suffered a setback on lap 20 when he locked wheels when pursuing Vettel. The Stevenage driver had to pit for new tyres and dropped to third place.
Bottas took up the chase and received the lucky break he needed when the Red Bull crash caused a safety car period, allowing him to pit more quickly and replace Vettel as leader.
Vettel’s attempt to respond backfired when he ran wide. Hamilton and his Ferrari colleague Kimi Raikkonen, who finished second, darted through. Sergio Perez of Force India followed and later completed the podium.