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Lucky Hamilton ends win drought in Azerbaijan

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Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in action during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit in Baku on Sunday. The Briton never looked like winning until Lady Luck removed both Sebastian Vettel and Valtteri Bottas from the equation.
F1

Baku

LEWIS Hamilton celebrated one of the luckiest wins of his career on Sunday after a crash-strewn and chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix that catapulted him into the lead of the Formula One (F1) world championship.

The surprise victory, after team mate Valtteri Bottas suffered a puncture with three laps left while leading, ended a six-race drought for the four-time champion dating back to last October.

It was the first victory of the season for champions Mercedes. In a race where the safety car again played a major part, with a series of crashes and smashes, Kimi Raikkonen finished second for Ferrari while Mexican Sergio Perez was third for Force India.

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Ferrari's Sebastian Vettel, who had led the championship before Baku and looked to be on course for a 50th career win and third out of four this season, started on pole position but finished fourth.

Hamilton now has 70 points to Vettel's 66.

"It was quite an emotional race. Valtteri (Bottas of Mercedes) did an exceptional job and deserved to win, Sebastian also did a great job so it feels a bit odd to be up here," commented Hamilton on the podium. "Definitely an untidy race for me."

The Briton had started on the front row for the first time since he took pole in the Australian season-opener but never looked like winning until Lady Luck removed both Vettel and Bottas from the equation.

"It was such a crazy race, such an exciting race ... to come out with a win, I feel incredibly grateful," said Hamilton, who went to commiserate with Bottas after parking up his car at the finish.

Spaniard Carlos Sainz was fifth for Renault with Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc sixth for Sauber, his first points in F1.

New Zealander Brendon Hartley was also celebrating his first point after taking 10th for Toro Rosso.

McLaren, who had their worst qualifying of the season on Saturday, ended up with a double points finish - Fernando Alonso seventh and Stoffel Vandoorne ninth.

Canadian teenager Lance Stroll, third in Baku last year, finished eighth to give struggling former champions Williams their first points of the year. Only 13 cars finished the race.

The race was heavily punctuated by accidents which included one in which the two Red Bulls of Daniel Ricciardo and Max Verstappen collided while fighting for fourth place in the closing stages, the pair having banged wheels and battled for positions throughout the race.

They ended up among the seven retirements on a challenging day on the second-longest circuit on the calendar. In cooler conditions with a strong blustery wind, the drama unfolded from the start. As the lights went out, Vettel was away fast enough from his 53rd pole to hold off Hamilton in second, but behind them mayhem erupted.

Raikkonen, starting sixth, attempted to pass inside Esteban Ocon's Force India, but the Frenchman turned in and as the pair collided he crashed into the wall. In the surrounding chaos, Sergey Sirotkin of Williams was also contacted and he went down an escape road while Raikkonen limped back to the Ferrari pits.

The luckless Alonso suffered punctured right front and rear tyres. The multiple incidents required a safety car before the action settled and racing resumed, after five laps. Vettel pulled away to open a three-second lead ahead of Hamilton and Bottas after 10 of the scheduled 51 laps of the tight and fast Baku street track.

On lap 11, Nico Hulkenberg lost control of his Renault and clipped a wall at Turn Four as Ricciardo began a series of attacks on his Red Bull team-mate, the pair banging wheels to the consternation of their pit wall. REUTERS, AFP