BAKU, Azerbaijan -- Lewis Hamilton took his first victory of the season at a dramatic and chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix after the race was turned on its head by a late collision between the Red Bulls.
Sebastian Vettel looked set for a comfortable victory for the majority of the race, but the Safety Car changed everything. Bottas, who had yet to pit up until that point, inherited the lead as Vettel and Hamilton behind him also took on new tyres for a four-lap dash to the flag.
As the race restarted, Vettel attempted to pass Bottas for the lead into Turn 1 but went too deep and ran wide, conceding places to Hamilton and teammate Kimi Raikkonen. One lap later and race leader Bottas hit some debris on the pit straight, causing a left rear puncture that took him out of the race on the spot.
It was then Hamilton's turn to inherit the lead and he finished 2.460s ahead of Raikkonen in second as they crossed the line. Sergio Perez pulled an overtaking move on Vettel in the closing stages to take the final podium position in third for Force India.
Vettel finished fourth ahead of Carlos Sainz, Charles Leclerc, Fernando Alonso, Lance Stroll, Stoffel Vandoorne and Brendon Hartley.
How the race unfolded
The race was bookended by Safety Car appearances after a series of first lap collisions also resulted in an early caution period to clear debris. Kimi Raikkonen and Esteban Ocon collided on the first lap as the Force India failed to make space for the Ferrari on the inside of Turn 3, while Nico Hulkenberg, Sergey Sirotkin and Fernando Alonso banged wheels in a collision coming out of Turn 2. Ocon was eliminated on the spot as Raikkonen was forced to pit for a new front wing, while Sirotkin retired after being caught in the middle of an Alonso and Hulkenberg sandwich. Marcus Ericsson also had a heavy collision with Kevin Magnussen on the first lap, which saw the Sauber driver penalised ten seconds.
The race restarted on lap five with Vettel leading Hamilton and Bottas in the same order they had started on the grid. Hamilton complained that Vettel's approach to the restart was dangerous as the Ferrari driver warmed his tyres before leaving it late to get the jump on the Mercedes. No action was taken by the stewards.
A tense and ultimately disastrous fight between the Red Bulls kicked off immediately at the restart as Max Verstappen passed teammate Daniel Ricciardo for fourth. Ricciardo dropped to sixth at the time behind the Renault of Carlos Sainz before both Renaults found a way past both Red Bulls over the next three laps. Hulkenberg's race came to an end when he lost the rear of his car at Turn 5 and hit the wall, while Sainz dropped down the order with an early pit stop but eventually went on to finish fifth following retirements further ahead.
Round 2 of the battle of the Red Bulls kicked off on lap 12 as Ricciardo attempted a move around the outside of Verstappen at Turn 1. Verstappen locked up on the inside line and pushed Ricciardo towards the wall on the exit of the corner as the pair touched tyres, removing the Pirelli stickering from the sidewalls of Verstappen's right hand tyres and from Ricciardo's left-hand tyres. Ricciardo fought back in Turn 3, but Verstappen ultimately retained fourth place ahead of his teammate.
Hamilton's race took a turn for the worse on lap 22 when he locked up both front tyres on the run down to Turn 1. At the time he was closing the gap to Vettel in the lead, but the mistake forced an earlier-than-planned pit stop on lap 23.
The Red Bulls were still running close together and on lap 27 Ricciardo found a way past Verstappen on the outside of Turn 1, only for Verstappen to reclaim the position by throwing his car back up the inside at Turn 2. Once again, Verstappen emerged from the skirmish ahead of his teammate.
Back at the front, Vettel pitted from the lead on lap 30 on what was a planned one-stop strategy. The timing of the stop meant he easily covered Hamilton, who was on a fresh set of soft tyres, and only had to remain within 20 seconds of Bottas ahead to ensure he retook the lead when the second Mercedes pitted. The only problem is that it left him vulnerable to a late Safety Car...
Red Bull Round 4 occurred on lap 35 and finally went the way of Ricciardo as he managed to pass his teammate around the outside at Turn 1. This time Verstappen had no answer, but in their pit stops a few laps later, Verstappen emerged ahead of his teammate despite pitting one lap later. The Red Bulls were both on ultra-soft tyres to the flag, but in a private battle with the top three a long way down the road and Raikkonen a comfortable distance behind. After learning the disappointing outcome of the pit stops, Ricciardo was advised to attack his teammate and one lap later came up behind his teammate on the familiar run down to Turn 1.
This time, Ricciardo feigned to the outside before committing to the inside, but as he did so Verstappen veered to cover the apex under braking. Ricciardo locked up his tyres as his teammate's gearbox appeared in front of him and he clattered into the back of Verstappen, taking both cars out of the race. Neither went to the usual media briefings after getting out of their cars and a furious Christian Horner refused to comment as he returned to the team's hospitality.
A Safety Car was deployed to deal with the incident, giving Bottas the opportunity he was waiting for to pit. Up until that point Bottas had done 40 laps on his super-soft tyres, which had also completed three laps in qualifying. He took on ultra-soft tyres for the sprint to the flag and Ferrari felt no option but to pit Vettel for the same in order to stay in the running for victory. Hamilton and Raikkonen did the same, setting up a sprint race to the finish between the top four drivers.
The race looked set to restart on lap 43 of 51 but Romain Grosjean spun into the wall as he warmed his tyres. That delayed the restart to lap 47 at which point Bottas pulled a good gap over the rest to lead away. Vettel attempted a lunge from deep for the lead but locked up, running deep at Turn 1 and taking a big chunk out of the tyres. He dropped behind Hamilton and then Raikkonen at the next corner, before falling to fourth behind Force India's Sergio Perez on the following lap.
The drama was not finished there. On the next lap, Bottas drove over a piece of debris and his right-rear tyre exploded into a puncture, forcing him out of the race and promoting Hamilton into a lead he did not relinquish until the flag.