Hamilton departs Baku in charge of this season’s championship for the first time after taking advantage of Valtteri Bottas’s dramatic 220mph tyre blow-out, a jaw-dropping crash involving Red Bull team-mates Max Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo, and Sebastian Vettel’s overtaking gamble that backfired.
Vettel had appeared on course to secure a commanding, and well-deserved, victory which would have marked his third from the opening four rounds, but for the race to turn on its head when Ricciardo ran into the back of Verstappen with 11 laps to go.
Their collision, which provoked Red Bull team principal Christian Horner to demand that both of his millionaire drivers next week apologise to the team’s 800 staff at their Milton Keynes factory, paved the way for Bottas to lead by virtue of pitting for new tyres under the safety car.
Vettel was demoted to second and, in attempting a gung-ho move to retake the lead, fell off the track and ended down in fourth.
Bottas’s chances of victory were then sensationally scuppered when he ran over a piece of debris and suffered a high-speed puncture just three laps from the end.
Suddenly Hamilton, who for most of this chaotic street fight in Baku appeared certain to lose further ground in the title race, now leads his Ferrari rival by four points.
“I was really, really fortunate,” an almost sheepish Hamilton said. “It was definitely a very untidy race from me, but I’ve got to take it because I didn’t give up and I kept pushing.
“I struggled with the tyres and I’ve definitely got to go away from here and work even harder to make sure that there is not a repeat performance.”
Indeed Hamilton ran off the road twice following uncharacteristic mistakes and spent parts of the race seemingly at odds with his team as he struggled to keep up with Vettel.
At one stage he even called for the event to be abandoned as a truck precariously dealt with Romain Grosjean’s stricken Haas after the Frenchman crashed out under the safety car.
“I have really mixed emotions as there were a lot of faults in the race and I struggled with the car,” Hamilton added.
“I don’t feel completely unworthy of the win, but if my normal level is eagle, birdie, then today I was shooting pars and bogeys.”
Hamilton’s team-mate Bottas said ten beers would help him get over his heartbreak, while Vettel held his hands up for his costly move.
“I am the captain of my own ship,” Vettel said. “I saw the gap on the side and unfortunately it did not work out for me. S*** happens, but without a safety car it would have been a different race.”
Vettel’s team-mate Kimi Raikkonen finished second with Force India’s Sergio Perez completing the podium places in another dramatic instalment of this compelling and unpredictable season.