BAKU • Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton celebrated one of the luckiest wins of his career yesterday, after a crash-strewn and chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix that catapulted him into the lead of the Formula One world championship.
The victory, wholly unexpected as he did not have the pace of the Ferrari all weekend, came after team-mate Valtteri Bottas suffered a puncture with three laps left while leading.
It ended a six-race drought for the four-time world champion dating back to last October and was the first victory of the season for reigning champions Mercedes.
In a race where the safety car again played a major part, with a series of crashes and smashes, Kimi Raikkonen finished second for Ferrari while Mexican Sergio Perez was third for Force India.
Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who had led the championship before Baku and looked to be on course for a 50th career win and third out of four this season, started on pole position but finished fourth.
Hamilton now has 70 points to Vettel's 66. Red Bull's Australian Daniel Ricciardo, last year's winner in Baku and also in China two weekends ago, smashed into the back of team-mate Max Verstappen in a lap-40 collision that ended the race for both of them.
1 Lewis Hamilton (Gbr) Mercedes 1hr 43min 44.291sec
2 Kimi Raikkonen (Fin) Ferrari +2.460
3 Sergio Perez (Mex) Force India +4.024
4 Sebastian Vettel (Ger) Ferrari +5.329
5 Carlos Sainz (Esp) Renault +7.515
6 Charles Leclerc (Mon) Sauber +9.158
7 Fernando Alonso (Esp) McLaren +10.931
8 Lance Stroll (Can) Williams +12.546
9 Stoffel Vandoorne (Bel) McLaren +14.152
10 Brendon Hartley (Nzl) Toro Rosso +18.030
14 Valtteri Bottas (Fin) Mercedes 48 laps
Max Verstappen (Ned) Red Bull 39 laps
Daniel Ricciardo (Aus) Red Bull 39 laps
OVERALL STANDINGS - DRIVERS
1 Hamilton 70pts
2 Vettel 66
3 Raikkonen 48
4 Bottas 40
5 Ricciardo 37
1 Ferrari 114
2 Mercedes 110
3 Red Bull 55
4 McLaren 36
5 Renault 35
"It was quite an emotional race. Valtteri did an exceptional job and deserved to win, Sebastian also did a great job so it feels a bit odd to be up here," said Hamilton on the podium after his 63rd career victory and first in Azerbaijan.
"Definitely an untidy race for me."
The Briton struggled for grip in both practice and qualifying. He had started on the front row for the first time since he took pole in the Australian season-opener but never looked like winning until Lady Luck removed both Vettel and Bottas from the equation.
"It was such a crazy race, such an exciting race... to come out with a win, I feel incredibly grateful," said Hamilton, who went to commiserate with Bottas after parking his car at the finish.
He and Mercedes, however, know a stern test awaits.
The opening four rounds suggest that Ferrari have a solid platform across tracks and conditions where Hamilton's ride is proving more difficult to manage.
Only 13 cars finished yesterday's race.
Spaniard Carlos Sainz was fifth for Renault with Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc sixth for Sauber, his first points in Formula One. New Zealander Brendon Hartley was also celebrating his first point after taking 10th spot for Toro Rosso.
McLaren, who had their worst qualifying of the season on Saturday, ended up with a double points finish - Fernando Alonso seventh and Stoffel Vandoorne ninth.
Canadian teenager Lance Stroll, third in Baku last year, finished eighth to give struggling former champions Williams their first points of the year.
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN