The expectation going into the weekend at Baku was of Ferrari dominance with the Italian team showing strength in slow and tight corners thus far this season. The Azerbaijan street circuit is basically made of slow and tight corners. With qualifying showing Mercedes’ true speed, and Ferrari having a completely disappointing qualifying showing, the expectations were tossed on ear. The race offered little passing, but somehow managed to be a bit on the exciting side regardless.
With Mercedes racer Valtteri Bottas netting pole position, it was up to him to keep teammate Lewis Hamilton at bay going into the first corner. The pair of Mercedes drivers took the start quite well, going wheel to wheel for the first three or four corners in a hold-your-breath start that ultimately went to the favor of Bottas.
With Ferrari starting the race from third and tenth following Charles Leclerc’s crash in qualifying, the team knew it needed to run an alternate strategy to make anything happen at all. Leclerc started the race on medium compound tires and had stormed up to fourth in the first ten laps.
Leclerc then ran his starting tires quite late into the race in order to pull off a one-stop strategy with softs at the very end. The team didn’t really pull it off smashingly, but Leclerc did end up leading for a while as everyone else pitted. He didn’t have enough time saved to jump over any of the leaders, but did manage to move up past a few spots.
With a few laps to go and several seconds in hand over sixth place, Ferrari did pit Leclerc for a second set of fresh soft tires to give him an unhampered run at the fastest lap of the race, which nets a point in the championship this season. While the points spread from Ferrari to Mercedes is quite large now, that point might make all the difference as the season runs down to its conclusion.
The Mercedes pair finished about four seconds ahead of Sebastian Vettel. It’s hard to call four seconds an absolute domination, but the Ferrari really never had anything for either of the Mercedes drivers.
In the middle section of the race, things faded to a dull roar, and drivers just set about running laps. In the closing stages however, Lewis Hamilton closed to within a second of Bottas, and attempted a few DRS-assisted passes. Ultimately, it was Bottas who won the race by simply not putting a wheel wrong. It was a good showing for the Finn.
The race didn’t hold much drama, either, aside from a coming together of Daniel Ricciardo and Daniil Kvyat—in which Ricciardo actually reversed into Kvyat while they were both in the escape road at turn 3—that saw both of them retire, and a pair of failures for the Honda-powered Red Bull of Pierre Gasly and the Haas of Romain Grosjean.
Kimi Raikkonen quietly had a good race to finish tenth as he started from the pit lane in his Alfa Romeo.
Meanwhile both McLarens are up into the points this race with Carlos Sainz finishing 7th and Lando Norris following in 8th.
It was a normal race in that it was extraordinary for Mercedes to be so quick. Both drivers have shown an ability to absolutely run from start to finish without so much as a hint of wheelspin. Incredibly well done for Bottas and Hamilton. It’s looking like this will be a common refrain for the 2019 F1 season.