After inheriting an unexpected win at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday, Lewis Hamilton has warned his team that he cannot rely on similar good fortune in his title defence against Sebastian Vettel.
Hamilton won in Baku after a dramatic finale prompted by a late safety car. His team-mate Valtteri Bottas led on the restart, with Vettel in second and the British driver in third. Vettel was too hot into turn one, locked up and ultimately finished fourth. Hamilton moved up to second and then took the lead two laps from the end when Bottas was eliminated after a puncture.
The result was a remarkable turnaround which was also reflected in the championship, with Vettel’s nine‑point lead becoming a four‑point deficit to Hamilton. But the defending world champion was off the pace and he stressed that Mercedes have work to do in order to take the fight to Ferrari.
So far Hamilton has only truly enjoyed an advantage over Vettel in Melbourne. In China a safety car intervention and an accident for Vettel fell to the British driver’s advantage as did events in Baku and Hamilton cautioned that Mercedes need more than luck this season.
“Being in the lead of the championship is great,” he said. “But if we were to continue on the trajectory we are on, it would need tricky races like this. There have been two weird races that have kept us in the mix but you can’t rely on those for the next 17. We need ultimate performance and confidence in the car. I have the pace within me and the car has the pace within it that we are not unlocking.”
Bottas was disconsolate after the race and Hamilton revealed that he was delayed in arriving at the podium because he had gone to console his team-mate. “He had put on a great race, drove exceptionally well,” Hamilton said. “I know how difficult it is when you think you are going to win and it gets taken away from you. So out of respect I thought I would try and lift him up a little bit.”
Hamilton was subdued in his celebrations and acknowledged that he would rather be winning on merit. “There are days when I have lost a grand prix and it has been gifted to someone one else,” he said. “Some drivers that are here or ones that have left, they gloat, it doesn’t matter whether they have earned it or not, they have their fingers up in the air but I am wired differently. I like to win because I have outsmarted, outwitted and outclassed every driver out there.”
Vettel, who started from pole, explained that he did not regret the move that cost him places because he was confident in the car. “The most important thing is we have a good car, a car we can work with in qualifying. If we put it in the front, we can fight for wins,” the German said.
“I am not worried at all because it is quite different to last year when in qualifying we were not competitive enough for most of the year and then later in the year we were not competitive enough to make things happen. The car is there and we need to make sure it stays there.”