Just when you thought that the 2018 FIA Formula 1 World Championship was due a "dull" race to calm things down, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix threw up yet another insane finish that saw Lewis Hamilton and Mercedes AMG F1 fortuitously win their first race of the season. After a hard start of the race, Kimi Raikkonen finished second and in third Sergio Perez claimed his first podium finish of the year.
Overnight improvements and an impressive final Q3 effort from Hamilton put him just 0.179s shy of Vettel's pole time meaning the reigning champion will start Sunday's race from the front-row.
Hamilton's Finnish team mate Valtteri Bottas was third with Australian Daniel Ricciardo, victor of a chaotic race in Baku previous year and in China two weekends ago, qualifying fourth for Red Bull on an overcast and gusty evening. Vettel finished fourth, while Carlos Sainz in the Renault was promoted to fifth after the Red Bulls were out of contention. On lap 30, Vettel pitted and rejoined behind Bottas and ahead of Hamilton in P2.
The two Red Bulls driven by Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo fought all race for fourth place. Ricciardo opted to pit first but a slow out-lap meant Verstappen got back ahead.
"The good point is that our auto was really good this afternoon so it should be in a good place tomorrow", added the four times world champion after his 53rd career pole. Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen were racing too close for comfort throughout the race and in the end the crash was nearly inevitable.
It forced the Finn out of the race and handed the lead to Hamilton with just three laps remaining.
Now the F1 season moves on to its first European race of the season with the Spanish Grand Prix on the 11-13 May weekend.
Verstappen's auto was lifted briefly into the air and both battered Red Bulls skated down the escape road into retirement.
Finally on lap 48 of the 51 laps, the Safety Car came in. It is always going to be an issue and this time it is just unlucky.
Hamilton's early pit stop gave him good warm tyres for the closing stages, even though those final laps were interrupted by the safety auto again.
Bottas had been left in the lead when first Hamilton, then Vettel, stopped for fresh tires. Vettel determined to overtake Bottas for the win, overcooked his move and ran deep.
The ensuing safety vehicle was a lengthy affair, mainly because Romain Grosjean inexplicably lost the rear of his Haas warming his tyres on the straight from Turns 13 to 14 and slammed into the wall from sixth position. He was late to the podium celebrations because he went to speak with Bottas, who "deserved" the win. Lance Stroll ("Williams") - +12,5469. CharlesLeclerc was a career-best sixth for Sauber.
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