“Consistency. Consistency is the key to winning a championship,” insisted Lewis Hamilton during the press conference leading up to the race. “Up until now Sebastian Vettel with Ferrari has had the consistency to be able to win the championship. For sure, we have to improve on our consistency if we want to have a shot of winning both titles this year. The exciting thing about this year is that we are competing against another team. This brings a different vibe and a different energy from all the people within a team. I experience this when I go around to the different departments in the factory. Everyone knows that if they put in a little bit of extra time or work that this is going to make the difference between winning or losing to the Ferraris. In the past we have been battling ourselves within Mercedes. It did not really matter so much putting in extra effort, as we had a buffer of half a second at times. Now the guys are excited to get to utilize the greatness within themselves.”
Holding up to his end of things, Hamilton went out and put in yet another flying lap in the No. 44 Mercedes AMG F1 W08 EQ Silver Arrow and lit up all things timing and scoring to pocket the 66th pole position of his brilliant career (in doing so, the Briton is now number two on the all-time F1 pole list, just two behind the great Michael Schumacher).
“My pole lap in Montreal was pretty special, but I think this one here tops that,” offered Hamilton. “My first run in Q3 was actually really good, but I was a bit greedy into the last corner, locked up and cost myself time. After the red flag, there was a lot of pressure on that final lap. All weekend we've struggled to switch the car on over a single lap, but it was an all or nothing moment so I just gave it everything I had. Valtteri was on a great lap as well, so when I came across the line and saw that I had pole, it was such a good feeling. Even if that time had only been enough for P2 it was a lap to be proud of. We were struggling yesterday but we made a lot of changes overnight. A big thank you to the team who stayed late last night to get the car to where it is today - they did a fantastic job.”
Slotted-in at P1 and on the right side of the starting grid, Hamilton, with Mercedes teammate Bottas at his left flank in P2, waited for the starting lights to dissolve before making a frenzied 280 meter rush to the apex of turn one. And when they did at precisely 6:03 P.M. local time, it was Hamilton enjoying the best leap out of the hole to lead the 20-car field out onto the 20-corner (12 lefts and eight rights) Baku City Circuit. Immediately behind the No. 44 Silver Arrow ran Bottas. One turn later, Bottas and Scuderia Ferrari’s Kimi Raikkonen collided together, the two Finish drivers livid with one another as Bottas was forced into pit lane with a damaged front wing. His race would be far from over. Up front, Hamilton would lead first of 51 laps by two seconds over Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel.
The first pit stops of the race came on lap 13 when Lewis Hamilton dove into pit lane, virtually every other car and driver following his lead. Almost immediately thereafter, the safety car was brought out due an errant car stranded out on the circuit. A few laps later, the race was back on, but not before Bottas had managed to unlap himself and climb back into the race. Then came lap 20 and the start of what would be a flurry of incidents. Vettel came into contact with Hamilton behind the safety car and was furious with his rival. Moreover, Sergio Perez was trying to make a move on Vettel when they got started, and Massa was tangled up in it as well. Perez couldn’t get Vettel and he had to back off, and then his teammate, Esteban Ocon, cut him off and came into contact with him. That resulted in significant damage to Perez’s front wing and a puncture for Ocon. They called in both Force India cars, and Perez had to retire from the race.