Lewis Hamilton admitted the Safety Car that cost him five places in the early stages of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix was “difficult to swallow” but he said he nonetheless enjoyed his recovery from 10th to sixth at the flag.
Hamilton was running fifth at the Baku City Circuit when he pitted and took on fresh tyres, only for the Safety Car to appear shortly afterwards when Nyck de Vries picked up terminal damage and stopped on track.
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That allowed a host of cars to make 'cheap' pit stops and saw Hamilton drop to 10th, from where he mounted a fightback to take sixth at the chequered flag – narrowly missing out on fifth after getting within DRS range of Ferrari's Carlos Sainz.
Reflecting on his race, Hamilton said: “It started off pretty decent, then I had quite a bit of deg [degradation] on my medium tyre, then I had to pit, then the Safety Car really kicked me in the teeth. I lost five places and that was difficult to swallow for a second.
Hamilton rued the timing of the Safety Car
“I knew there was nothing I could do about it, so all I could do was just focus on what I could control. I got my head down, was just racing hard from the restart, and had a great battle with a bunch of cars, which was really positive for me to feel in the car.
“I was chasing the Ferrari [Sainz] down at the end, just not quite enough to get by him. If I hadn’t had that Safety Car stuff maybe we’d have had a better battle until the end.”
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Hamilton’s team mate, George Russell, came home eighth after an incident-filled race that involved run-ins with Aston Martin rival Lance Stroll on track and in the pit lane, though he did bag an extra bonus point for the fastest lap.
“I think it was all right,” said Russell, looking back on his day at the wheel. “But following and overtaking seemed pretty challenging [here] this year for everybody, and I think after those first few laps and the restart, the Safety Car restart, it was all behind and line astern from where we were.
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Race Highlights: 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix
“[I’m] a little bit disappointed because I had a really good start, made a few positions, [made a] really good move around the Safety Car, and then I went deep into Turn 1, almost crashed into Fernando [Alonso], and lost a position to Lance, [so it was a] scrappy lap.
“Then I lost a position to Lewis and ultimately ended up P8, when potentially P5 was on the cards. So, that’s the way the game works. We need to be quicker and try and come back stronger in Miami.”
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