Valtteri Bottas won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday to retake the Formula One world championship lead from team mate Lewis Hamilton after a stunning fourth successive one-two finish for Mercedes.
The Finn, who started on pole position, crossed the line 1.524 seconds ahead of Hamilton to make up for the agony of 2018 when he was denied victory in Baku by a late puncture.
The pair are now separated by just one point with 17 races remaining, with Mercedes 70 points ahead of Ferrari in the constructors’ standings.
“It was actually a tough race,” said Bottas, who went side-by-side with Hamilton on the opening lap and showed plenty of grit and determination in fending off the Briton to hold position.
“Lewis was putting pressure all the time, I could not do any mistakes,” added the 29-year-old who came under renewed threat from Hamilton in the dying laps.
Sebastian Vettel in his Ferrari was a distant third as the Italian pre-season favourites again failed to convert their promise into a result.
The win around the streets of capital Baku was the fifth of Bottas’ career and he became the first driver this season to win from pole.
Like Hamilton, he now has two wins and two second places from the first four races but is ahead thanks to the extra point he scored for setting the fastest lap on his way to victory in the Australian season opener.
“I was too friendly at turn one and basically gave it to him,” said Hamilton.
Mercedes are the first two-car team in Formula One’s 70-year history to open a season with four straight one-twos.
Max Verstappen was fourth for Red Bull ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
The Monegasque, the pole-position favourite who started eighth after crashing in qualifying, led the race at one point after staying out longer than rivals on softer tyres.
While he ultimately had to settle for fifth, Leclerc took the extra point for fastest lap after making a second stop for fresh tyres with a comfortable buffer to those behind and no risk of losing position.
Sergio Perez was sixth for Racing Point ahead of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris.
Lance Stroll gave Racing Point a double points finish with ninth place, while Alfa Romeo’s Kimi Raikkonen took 10th after starting from the pitlane.
The main surprise of the day was the lack of upsets, with no safety car on track for the first time and no major crashes on unforgiving streets that have given the race a reputation for unpredictability.
The most notable incident involved Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat, with the Australian running straight onto the runoff while trying overtake the Russian.
He then reversed his Renault into the Toro Rosso, which had also failed to make the corner. Both drivers retired shortly after, with the incident being investigated by stewards.
Pierre Gasly’s Red Bull lost power in the late stages of the race, parking down an escape road but prompting the deployment of the virtual safety car as marshals moved it.
Robert Kubica, who started from the pitlane after a qualifying crash, was hit with a drive-through penalty for leaving the garage too early.
Ricciardo handed three-place grid penalty for Spain
Ricciardo will have a three-place grid drop at next month’s Spanish Formula One Grand Prix as punishment for what the Australian described as a moment of panic.
Unaware that the Russian had also failed to negotiate turn three and had stopped right behind, Ricciardo put the undamaged Renault into reverse and crunched straight into the side of his rival’s car.
Both drivers subsequently retired and stewards blamed Ricciardo, handing him the grid drop as well as two penalty points — his first in the 12 month period.
The Australian apologised to Kvyat, a former Red Bull team mate, and accepted full responsibility.
“I obviously don’t feel good about what just happened,” he said.
“As soon as I went down the escape road I guess it was just a sense of urgency and a bit of panic, if you will. Just trying to minimise damage and lose as little time as possible.
“I found reverse and started going and to be honest I had no idea he was there. I guess the urgency stopped me from looking,” he added. “I just thought he would have cut back and stayed on track.
“Kind of crappy on my part and I certainly feel bad for the team and for Dani… I feel pretty small at the moment.”
Ricciardo has had a difficult time since he left Red Bull at the end of last season as a race winner and joined the French manufacturer.
A winner in Baku in 2017, the Australian has scored points in only one of four races this season as has team mate Nico Hulkenberg.
“It was looking quite good for us, we had started to pick up the pace and closing on Dani, I saw a gap so I thought I’d have a go,” he said.
Kvyat accepted the apology in good spirit.
“These things happen, it’s racing like I always said when I make a mistake,” said the Russian, who has been in a few high-profile collisions in his time.
“I was a bit disappointed right in the moment but now what can you do about it? There was potential for maybe a point or two today.”