Lewis Hamilton lit the blue-touch paper on his Formula 1 title defence by snatching a dramatic victory in Sunday's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, cashing in from a dramatic final 15 laps to pick up his first win of the season.

Hamilton was running more than 20 seconds back from race-leader Valtteri Bottas with 15 laps to go, only for a collision between Red Bull teammates Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen to kick-start a dramatic sequence of events that swung the race in the Briton's favour.

Sebastian Vettel appeared to have the race under control for Ferrari, but he could only finish fourth after a late mistake as Sergio Perez took Force India's first podium since 2016, while Valtteri Bottas saw his win hopes evaporate after suffering a puncture with just three laps to go. 

STORY OF THE RACE

Vettel made an excellent start from pole position to retain his lead over Hamilton, with the second Mercedes of Valtteri Bottas staying put in third. In the second Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen made a more sluggish start, entering battle with Esteban Ocon. Ocon tried a pass around the outside of the Finn at Turn 3, only for the pair to collide, sending the Force India driver into the wall and out of the race.

Just behind, Sergey Sirotkin’s push into the top 10 proved to be short-lived as he was sandwiched between Nico Hulkenberg and Fernando Alonso, leaving the Williams driver with damage that forced him to retire and debris on the track, sparking a Safety Car. Alonso did not escape the incident unscathed, with punctures to both his right-side tyres forcing him to crawl back to the pits, eventually returning to his box on two wheels.

With the debris cleared on-track, the race resumed on Lap 6, with Vettel opting to leave it as late as possible before pulling away from Hamilton, who called the move “dangerous” as he slipped almost three seconds behind in the space of a single lap.

The bunching of the field also played into the hands of Carlos Sainz Jr. and Pierre Gasly, who gained positions to rise to P5 and P7 respectively, split by Daniel Ricciardo, who lost a place after being pushed wide by Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen.

Sainz was able to continue his climb by passing Verstappen at the end of Lap 9, with teammate Hulkenberg following his lead by taking a place off Ricciardo before quickly closing on Verstappen, who was struggling with a battery issue. Despite easing past at the end of the straight, Hulkenberg made it around just two more laps before a mistake at Turn 4 saw him hit the wall, bringing his race to an early end.

Despite gaining a place as a result of Hulkenberg’s retirement, the two Red Bulls continued to dice for position, with Verstappen refusing to give up his place without a fight. A lock-up at Turn 1 nearly caused him to push Ricciardo into the wall as they touched wheels, albeit without sustaining any damage. Both were able to pass Sainz as he hit the cliff with his Ultrasoft tyres, forcing the Spaniard to come into the pits at the end of Lap 16

The race soon settled down with Vettel pushing ahead at the front, enjoying a lead of around four seconds over Hamilton approaching the first round of pit stops. However, this more than doubled on Lap 22 when the Mercedes driver ran wide at Turn 1 and complained his tyres were “fricking done”, prompting the team to draft him into the pits for a switch to the Soft compound.

Ferrari kept Vettel out as he continued to find time on the Supersoft tyre, all while Hamilton dropped further back and towards the clutches on the oncoming Red Bulls. Verstappen soon became more occupied keeping his teammate behind, pulling some staunch defensive moves to stay ahead and cling on to fourth place despite appearing to be running slower.

At the sharp-end of the field, Vettel blinked first at the end of Lap 30, coming in for a set of fresh Soft tyres before emerging back on-track in clear air, eight seconds ahead of Hamilton with Bottas now leading the way.

With Hamilton’s hopes of victory over, Mercedes looked to put Bottas onto an alternate strategy in case of a late Safety Car with a set of Ultrasoft tyres. The Finn showed few signs of slowing down on his Supersofts, though, eking the gap to Vettel open.

The tester for Mercedes to make the switch would come courtesy of Red Bull. After finally taking P4 off Verstappen with a late braking move at Turn 1 a few laps earlier, Ricciardo came in for Ultrasofts at the end of Lap 37. Verstappen followed suit one lap later, reclaiming fourth place after a slow outlap from Ricciardo.

After being given the call to push and recover the position, Ricciardo got a tow heading down the main straight and began to close. Verstappen shut off the inside with a late move, leading Ricciardo to plough into the rear of his car. Both cars came to rest in the run-off area, with a weekend that started with promise ending in embarrassing fashion for Red Bull.

The resulting Safety Car played into Mercedes’ hands, having opted to keep Bottas out for as long as possible. The Finn came in for a fresh set of Ultrasofts, and crucially kept his lead when Vettel followed suit, with Ferrari fearing he would not be able to hold back the Mercedes driver on his Softs that had been on the car since Lap 30.

The majority of the field followed suit by pitting before getting ready for the restart, only for the green flag to be delayed when Romain Grosjean crashed out while weaving behind the Safety Car in sixth place. His car was eventually cleared to allow the race to resume with just four racing laps remaining.

Bottas made a perfect restart to pull clear of Vettel, with Hamilton and Raikkonen lurking behind the drivers' championship leader. In a vain attempt to try and reclaim the lead, Vettel made a divebomb attempt down the inside of Bottas, locking up and running wide before slipping back to fourth place in the process.

Just as Bottas looked to be closing in on victory, disaster struck for the Finn as his rear-right tyre blew at the end of the main straight, causing him to slow. Unable to get his car home, he had to resign himself to a late DNF, handing the lead to Hamilton.

Hamilton was able to sit around two seconds clear of Kimi Raikkonen all the way to the flag, snatching an unlikely victory for Mercedes to put himself into the lead of the drivers' championship by four points.

Raikkonen held on for second ahead of Sergio Perez, who took Force India's first podium for nearly two years after passing Vettel late on. Perez had been hit with a time penalty for passing before the Safety Car line earlier in the race, but having taken this at his second pit stop was able to hold on for a big result.

Carlos Sainz Jr. recorded his best finish of the season so far in fifth ahead of Sauber's Charles Leclerc, who nailed his strategy and benefitted from the drama ahead to pick up his first points in F1 with P6.

Fernando Alonso finished seventh for McLaren ahead of Lance Stroll, who scored Williams' first points of the season in eighth. Stoffel Vandoorne wound up ninth ahead of Brendon Hartley, who also took his maiden F1 score in P10.

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