BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Luck shone on Lewis Hamilton as he returned to the top of the Formula One drivers’ championship Sunday with victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
With Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari clearly faster than Hamilton and his Mercedes, it took a crash, a mistimed lunge and a puncture to elevate Hamilton to the top spot in Baku.
Vettel led for much of the race, but was stuck in second behind Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas when a crash between the two Red Bulls brought out the safety car.
On the restart, Vettel lunged for the lead but could not keep his car on the racing line at the exit of the next corner and instead lost places. Soon afterward, Bottas’ right-rear tire picked up a puncture, ending his race and elevating Hamilton to first.
“Very mixed emotions from today,” Hamilton said. He was late to the podium celebrations because he went to speak with Bottas, who “deserved” the win. “I wouldn’t have got by him in those laps if he hadn’t had that tire blowout,” Hamilton added.
Despite taking the standings lead for the first time this season, Hamilton said the win didn’t mark a turning point in the fight with Vettel and Ferrari.
“I think Ferrari still have the upper hand,” he said. “This year, they’ve really outperformed us most of the time. We’ve been able to just hold onto them in the race, but our qualifying pace isn’t up to theirs.”
Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen claimed second place after having dropped to 14th following an early collision, but said he wasn’t satisfied with his drive and he had struggled to get the best out of the Ferrari.
Sergio Perez overtook Vettel after his mistake on the restart, and held off the four-time world champion to claim third place. It was his and Force India’s first podium since 2016.
“It was a roller coaster of a race,” Perez said. “The last two laps, they were the best two laps of my life.”
Vettel said he was “very upset,” adding that “I had a chance to win and I tried. It just didn’t work.”