Lewis Hamilton on top but Mercedes face uphill battle to match Ferrari | Giles Richards

How Mercedes fare in Barcelona will be telling – they must work the tyres at the correct temperature to unlock performance

Luck is not enough for Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton was absolutely honest after his unlikely victory in Baku. He knew he had inherited a win that with three laps to go was looking like a third place and a further deficit to Sebastian Vettel in the world championship. He came out of it on top and rightly did not opt to celebrate as he might have were it a harder won victory. He is four points ahead of Vettel but made it clear that relying on good fortune would not be enough in what is shaping up to be a highly contested season. The reality, Hamilton knows, is that with the exception of Melbourne, Mercedes have been unable to match Ferrari. The issue of unlocking performance from the car by working the tyres at the correct temperature is key and as things stand Ferrari do not face the same problem. How Mercedes fare at the next round in Barcelona, in a European climate similar to that we are likely to see at many summer meetings, will be telling. If they struggle at the Circuit de Catalunya it may be that far from last year’s diva, this year they have created a monster.

Red Bull’s dilemma

The stewards found both Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen at fault for the accident that caused the crucial safety car in Azerbaijan. The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, in public at least, said he held both drivers responsible and that both would be required to go to the factory in Milton Keynes and apologise to the workforce. Red Bull’s motorsport adviser Helmut Marko also blamed them both. “We let the drivers race and then they are doing that. Unbelievable. Both were wrong,” he said. Verstappen’s ill-advised moves against Hamilton and Vettel already this season have put him under more scrutiny than most but it is hard to ignore that moving as he did in Baku is always increasing the likelihood of contact. Red Bull do let their drivers race and until that moment it had been hugely entertaining. They insist they will continue to do so. It has proved costly but absolutely gripping for the sport. Let’s hope they stick to it.

Leclerc delivers

Azerbaijan is becoming a race of some import for the Monégasque rookie Charles Leclerc. Last year in Baku on his way to the F2 title, he won here just three days after the death of his father. An emotional weekend in which he wanted to deliver in his father’s honour. He repeated the feat this weekend. His sixth place in the Sauber was a magnificent drive and absolute confirmation of the exceptional promise he has previously displayed. The 20-year-old’s opening race weekends have been patchy at best as he comes to terms with an F1 car and his team do the same with a design that is completely new, conceptually brave and still in the process of being understood. However, on Sunday Leclerc looked absolutely in the groove, controlled, fluent and unafraid to attack. He described his first F1 points-scoring result as feeling like a win and with a few more performances like this Ferrari may consider promoting him to the Scuderia sooner rather than later.

Vettel too hot

Vettel was insistent that he “had to try” his attempt to pass Bottas on the restart and from a psychological perspective, it is likely a claim as much to reassure himself as anyone else. But the move, which ultimately cost him an almost certain second place and potentially a win, could have been given greater consideration. There were three laps to go at that point, time still to close on Bottas and plan the overtake. Moreover, out of the pressure cooker of the restart he would likely have been able to take a calmer approach to it. Certainly Hamilton was harrying him on the restart but he could have gone defensive. Instead he committed to the attempt, did so clumsily and failed to pull it off. There were shades of the costly start in Singapore here, the bigger picture lost in a moment. Last season those moments were ultimately crucial in the championship; he cannot afford to repeat them.

Pérez makes history

Sergio Pérez’s third place was the culmination of a quite superb race. He had been hit by the Williams of Sergey Sirotkin on lap one, which pushed him into Kimi Räikkönen, breaking his front wing and requiring an immediate pit stop. He then took a five-second penalty at his second stop for a safety car line infringement. Yet he came back with remarkable resolve. Finally finding himself behind Vettel when the German flat-spotted his tyre on the final restart, Pérez spotted his chance and went for it, taking fourth. But he then had to hold the place – a huge task as Vettel came back at him. He did so brilliantly. “I had to give it everything in the last two laps,” he said. “My pace was unbelievable and I think they were the best two laps of my life.” His eighth podium is a new Mexican record, one more than Pedro Rodríguez scored with second place at the 1971 Dutch GP.


Giles Richards

The GuardianTramp

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