Bottas 2.0 wins again at Baku Grand Prix

2019-05-01 06:00

SINCE joining the Mercedes team at the start of the 2017 season, Valtteri Bottas has had impressive races. But there was recognition by all other drivers that if you show him a front wheel he’d, embarrassingly, give way.

But the Bottas that has been unleashed at the start of the 2019 season is far removed from the driver of the last two seasons.

Finns are notoriously measured in how much they say and at the start of Sunday’s Baku Grand Prix Bottas let his peerless driving do all the talking.

The manner in which he held his car inches from teammate Hamilton made it clear that he wasn’t going to budge nor was he going to simply give up the lead of the race if he could help it.

His statement was clear – you’re going to have to go through me.

That tenacity kept him in the lead of the race off the start line and he backed it up with a faultless drive to secure the fifth win of his F1 career.

Mercedes, quite literally, could not have started the season in a more perfect manner than scoring a one-two victory in all four of the races so far in 2019. Operationally, there are no teams on the grid that can touch the might of Mercedes. They arrived on Friday genuinely unsure of their pace.

It appeared that Ferrari easily had the measure of the circuit and a pace advantage that seemed insurmountable. But if nothing else Mercedes must be respected and lauded for the stunning work they do behind the scenes.

If it’s organisational brilliance at Mercedes then at Ferrari it is the calamitous opposite. The dubious decision to put both cars out on the medium compound tyre for the second session of qualifying was the beginning of Ferrari’s unraveling this weekend.

Not only was the track temperature not conducive to the medium tyre but also strategically it made little sense for Sunday’s race; more on that later.

It resulted in both drivers hitting the turn 8 wall with Charles Leclerc coming off worst with a wrecked front suspension. Sebastian Vettel was able to carry on but only managed third on the grid after failing to cash in on the slipstream benefit. Ferrari had gone from a near guaranteed front-row locked out to third and eighth on grid.

But still they had a chance; At least until it came time to make their strategy call. Leclerc made decent headway on the more durable medium tyre in the opening stint of the race and looked set for good result, perhaps even a podium.

But Ferrari has become rather infamous for mad strategic calls and it was no different in Baku. They left Leclerc out on track despite the fact that he was losing more than a second per lap to the chasing pack of Bottas, Hamilton, Vettel and Max Verstappen.

Eventually Bottas and Hamilton made their pit stops, closed down Leclerc and passed him on track. Leclerc eventually finished fifth with a strategy only Ferrari would be able to explain. A late pit stop for fresh tyres earned the Ferrari driver the consolation of an extra point for fastest lap.

Ahead Bottas had the race firmly in control despite a late VSC (Virtual Safety Car) deployed for the stricken Red Bull of Pierre Gasly. Elsewhere the other biggest incident of the race was a misjudgment on the brakes from Renault’s Daniel Ricciardo who took out himself and Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat. To add to his blushes Ricciardo strangely reversed into the side of Kvyat when trying to rejoin the track and has been given a three-place grid penalty for the next race in Spain.

While Bottas and Hamilton secured yet another one-two victory for Mercedes Vettel trundled home third in the Ferrari.

Though the German driver was only a handful of second adrift of the Silver Arrows, it will be scant comfort on a weekend where Ferrari brought several updates to their car. Verstappen finished a solid fourth for Red Bull ahead of Leclerc in fifth.

Twice a podium finisher in Baku, Sergio Perez was sixth for Racing Point, ahead of the McLaren duo of Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris.

Lance Stroll made it a double points finish for Racing Point in ninth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen in 10th, who started the race from the pitlane in his Alfa Romeo.

At the start of the season, Bottas noted that, during the off season, he’d spent a lot of time hiking in the Finnish woods and eating porridge.

Whatever he discovered in those woods and whatever is in that porridge it has transformed Bottas into an uncompromising and unapologetic racing machine. Long may it continue.

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