BAKU, Azerbaijan -- A while ago it seemed like Mercedes and dominant F1 races were a thing of the past, but its 1-2 in Baku was its fourth in a row this year. Ferrari came into the weekend confident of more, but things unraveled slightly in qualifying.
Still, the fact that it seemed quick in race trim and the unpredictable nature of the Baku circuit meant all bets were off, right? Right? Wrong.
Here's why it unfolded like it did.
Battling Bottas: There is a sign sitting over one of the entrances to the Baku paddock which says "home of the street fighters." This wasn't a classic race, but Valtteri Bottas channeled some of that spirit for his second win of the year. Lewis Hamilton got a good start off the line and appeared to have the advantageous inside line going into Turn 1, but Bottas held firm on the outside of the corner and then kept Hamilton at bay again at Turn 2. A bad start cost the Finn in China and he wasn't willing to let recent history repeat itself.
"Honestly, I couldn't have done a better job at start today, I think I was a bit on the cautious side, I just didn't want to get the wheelspin started, so I was smooth on power. Lewis had a good start, which is why he was on inside, pretty much side by side through T1. I was carrying the speed on the outside. Nice and fair and pleased to keep first place."
As it turned out it was the key moment in the race -- Hamilton would not get as close as that again and Bottas would comfortably lead, with Mercedes never really put under threat by Ferrari other than during a flurry of activity during the pit-stop window. Although Ferrari's challenge faded, Bottas needed to keep his composure at the end as Hamilton kept pursuing him until the flag.
"Lewis was putting pressure on all the time, so I couldn't make any mistakes, but honestly, everything was under control, so I'm happy to see the checkered flag and get this first place."
I'm still not 100 percent sold on Bottas 2.0. I think he was very good in Australia and here, but on both those occasions Hamilton seemed content to settle for second place after losing an early fight -- Bottas then looked ordinary in comparison at the other two races of the year so far. One thing I do not doubt is that Bottas has the talent to make this a genuine fight for the title. Each pole position and victory Bottas secures is going to bolster his confidence, which we all know he was lacking in 2018.
The key now will be whether he can start chipping away at Hamilton's armory in a way Nico Rosberg did in 2016. Let's hope he finds a way to do that for the good of this year's championship.
Where was Ferrari? Ferrari just didn't have the pace when it mattered. It's odd, as this seemed like Ferrari's weekend right up until the moment Charles Leclerc misjudged his braking point and ploughed into the Turn 8 barriers during qualifying on Saturday. That shifted the momentum and helped Mercedes to a front-row lockout, which in turn acted as a springboard to a dominant Sunday performance.
For a brief spell, it seemed like Leclerc could have a race for the ages -- he started on the medium tires rather than the softs, which everyone else battling at the front had. Had a safety car period occurred while Bottas was still more than nine seconds behind, the Ferrari driver could have had a free pit stop and emerged in the lead on a fresh set of hard tires to run to the end. However, as each lap passed without a safety car, Bottas closed in and Leclerc's long first stint eventually fizzled out.
Leclerc and Ferrari gained some consolation in the point offered to fastest lap by pitting him for fresh tires late on, but even the most pessimistic Ferrari team member would have hoped for a lot more from this weekend. It's the fourth race out of 21, so this season is still very much in its infancy, but given how good Mercedes has been in recent years, it's not ridiculous to suggest Ferrari's championship hopes are fading incredibly fast.
History makers: No team has ever claimed four consecutive 1-2 finishes to start an F1 season. Mercedes has accumulated some very impressive records in this recent era and at the moment looks like comfortable favorite to match Ferrari's tally of six consecutive constructors' championships. Hamilton's two most recent title victories prompted debate about whether he is the greatest of all time -- that might be a hard one to settle -- but when Mercedes keep churning out weekends like these it only strengthens the argument that the current Mercedes team is the finest the sport has ever seen.
Baku reality: After ridiculously dramatic races in 2017 and 2018, as well as a string of bizarre and wild incidents over the past two days, Sunday's grand prix was a massive damp squib, more like its debut race in 2016. While the drivers love this circuit a lot, much of the drama of previous years has relied on an early or well-timed deployment of the safety car.
Everyone seemed to be on their best behaviour, however, with no major incidents until the closing stages of the grand prix. That meant the race fizzled into the worst thing a modern F1 race can be -- a one-stopper, low on any potential variations of strategy which might offer a quicker route to the checkered flag. The race was so bad that fellow journalists in the media center were jokingly calling for a safety car to be deployed late in the race when a cluster of balloons somehow made their way on to a part of the track.
Danny Ric's miserable race: Daniel Ricciardo won't want to dwell on this race too much. He leaves Baku knowing he will serve a three-place grid penalty at the Spanish Grand Prix for a moment of madness, when he provided the race its most dramatic moment while fighting former teammate Daniil Kvyat for position.
The Renault driver has struggled with his car's brakes all weekend and carried way too much speed into the move he attempted on the inside. As Ricciardo ran wide, Kvyat went with him, unable to turn in -- cue many jokes about Ricciardo licking a stamp and sending it, only to find the post office was closed.
Rather farcically, Ricciardo then reversed straight into Kvyat's car, which eventually prompted both of them to retire. TV replays later showed Ricciardo sitting in the cockpit with his head in his hands. The Australian's move to Renault has been far from plain sailing, and this was perhaps the lowest point he's had so far in the post-Red Bull era. Making matters worse must have been the fact Renault wasn't really competitive all weekend and never looked like a candidate for a top-ten finish.
Déjà vu for McLaren: McLaren's last double-points finish was here in Azerbaijan last year. Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris completed another encouraging weekend for the team, coming home in seventh and eighth. McLaren still has a lot of work to do to be anywhere near to where its name belongs on the grid, but it's hard not to feel a bit of optimism around the team's revival at the moment. That's not to downplay the scale of the job at hand, but the 12 months between these two races must have felt much longer than that.
Williams' worst weekend ever? What a horrid weekend for Williams. After accumulating a hefty repair bill over the previous two days, with George Russell's run-in with a loose drain cover on Friday and Robert Kubica's crash in qualifying on Saturday, it was hard to imagine how things could get much worse. But somehow the team found a way to make it so, with Kubica -- who had to start from the pit lane after that crash -- sent out to the end of the pit lane nine minutes before they were supposed to have his car there. The resulting drive-through penalty didn't change the fact both its cars finished at the back of the field but serves as a fitting footnote of a horrid chapter of Williams' storied F1 history.