BAKU • Valtteri Bottas yesterday won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a dominant run from pole position as Mercedes secured a remarkable fourth successive one-two finish this season, with Lewis Hamilton in second.
Sebastian Vettel was third for Ferrari while Red Bull's Max Verstappen finished fourth, and Charles Leclerc, who had started from eighth after crashing in qualifying, made a valiant effort on an alternate strategy to come though to take fifth for the Scuderia.
The win was redemption for Bottas after he was denied victory at this race last year. He was leading with three laps to go when a puncture ended his race.
Baku has produced huge drama in recent years and did so again in qualifying. But, this time, the race proved to be closely fought but an uneventful battle at the front.
Having held his lead off the start, Bottas once again put in a consummate drive to secure victory. He also became the first driver this season to win from pole.
Hamilton stayed with him throughout, as did Vettel, but neither could challenge for the lead.
Mercedes have achieved one-two finishes in all four races this season.
It was enough for the Finn to regain the championship lead from the Briton. Bottas has 87 points, Hamilton 86 and Vettel has 52.
With his fifth career victory - he also took the opening round in Australia - and two second places in Bahrain and China, this has been his strongest career start to a season. The victory has also issued stern notice to Hamilton that he will face a real fight from his teammate, who clearly intends to take a shot at the title.
1 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 1hr 31min 52.942sec
2 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes +1.524sec
3 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +11.739sec
4 Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull +17.493sec
5 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Ferrari +1min 9.107sec
6 Sergio Perez (Mex) Racing Point +1min 16.416sec
7 Carlos Sainz (Spa) McLaren +1min 23.826sec
8 Lando Norris (Gbr) McLaren +1min 40.268sec
9 Lance Stroll (Can) Racing Point +1min 43.816sec
10 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Alfa Romeo +1lap
OVERALL - DRIVERS
1 Bottas 87pts 2 Hamilton 86 3 Vettel 52 4 Verstappen 51 5 Leclerc 47.
1 Mercedes 173 2 Ferrari 99 3 Red Bull 64 4 McLaren 18 5 Racing Point 17
The five-time world champion said post-race: "Congratulations to Valtteri. He made no mistake. I was too friendly at turn one and basically gave it to him.
"For me, it was all lost in qualifying... This is the best start to a season we have ever had."
Bottas was equally eager to praise the team's efforts, claiming "it is amazing what we are achieving" and he was "so proud to be part of that". He added: "It was a tough race, but maybe not that much happening at the front.
"Lewis was putting pressure all the time, I could not make any mistakes. I was happy to see the chequered flag."
Having expected to be chasing Ferrari, to conclude the opening four races with two wins is an opening Bottas would not have imagined. He has ensured that he has been at the very front of the mix in every race and has taken advantage of every opportunity.
Vettel said: "There's plenty of work for us to do but, at this point I think we need to maximise what we can. We had some pace, but we had to keep an eye on Max behind."
Mercedes, too, cannot have expected to have taken all four wins thus far and 70 points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors' standings.
But, as the first two-car team in Formula One's 70-year history to open a term with four straight one-twos, this already looks like their championship and constructors' title to lose.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS