Lewis Hamilton wins the Azerbaijan Grand Prix — but the ‘big three’ see their dominance finally broken

  • The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was arguably one of the most chaotic in years, despite it resulting in a somewhat familiar winner.
  • It now means there are just two drivers without a point in the standings, as the season heads to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks' time.

Lewis Hamilton's win at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix looked incredibly unlikely with as little as three laps to go, as Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas had victory cruelly snatched from him with a late puncture.

If it were not for the capitulation of both Red Bulls and Sebastian Vettel's big mistake after the safety car on Sunday, then a more familiar podium picture would have been the case again.

That said, Sergio Perez kept his head to take an impressive third for the Force India team and represented the first non-Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull driver on any step of the podium in 16 races.

However, even at this early stage of the season, leading constructor Ferrari has more than double the points of Red Bull, down in third, with another sizeable gap developing below.

The winners 1st Lewis Hamilton, 2nd Kimi Räikkönen and 3rd Sergio Perez on the podium during the award ceremony at Azerbaijan Formula 1 Grand Prix on Apr 29, 2018 in Baku, Azerbaijan
Robert Szaniszló | NurPhoto | Getty Images
The winners 1st Lewis Hamilton, 2nd Kimi Räikkönen and 3rd Sergio Perez on the podium during the award ceremony at Azerbaijan Formula 1 Grand Prix on Apr 29, 2018 in Baku, Azerbaijan

Further evidence of a "big three" team dominance is clear when looking at the results from 2017. Of the 20 races in total on the calendar last year, only the Williams of Lance Stroll managed to break the pattern, with a third place finish last June, also around the streets of Baku.

It may be no coincidence that Mercedes, Ferrari and Red Bull are the teams with the biggest budgets, and subsequently are the ones taking the chequered flag on a more regular basis.

Mercedes leads the way with its outlay, spending approximately $450 million a year. Contrast that with Sauber who has the smallest pot of cash, at roughly a quarter of that number.

When those budgets were translated into points for 2017, Mercedes amassed 668, a long way in front of Sauber, propping up the field with just five. Its sixth place finish for Charles Leclerc on Sunday was its best result in 50 races, already taking its total to double that of last year.

Still though, that leaves the likes of McLaren, Renault and Williams battling it out to be the best of the rest, which may not mean they end the season with a trophy, but reassessing their objectives does at least keep them competitive. All the while knowing they are still capable of causing the odd surprise.

Managing Director of Renault Sport F1 Cyril Abiteboul exclusively told CNBC: "Every single thing can count. Bad start, bad pit stop, bad strategy, the wrong engine at a certain time. That can make a difference in the very marginal battle that we have to fight and deliver in to top the midfield."

Earlier this month, the sport's new owners Liberty Media tabled its proposals for Formula One for the start of the next decade, with some of those big-spending pacesetters potentially being pulled back into the pack.

Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton wins the Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit in Baku on April 29, 2018.
SRDJAN SUKI / POOL | AFP | Getty Images
Mercedes' British driver Lewis Hamilton wins the Formula One Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the Baku City Circuit in Baku on April 29, 2018.

One major change potentially on the table is to "implement a cost cap that maintains Formula One's position as the pinnacle of motorsport with a state-of-the-art technology." While that idea might have some teams in a spin moving forward, it could provide an opportunity for those looking to narrow the gap.

On the prospect of bridging the gap to the top teams with the current structure of F1, Abiteboul isn't optimistic. "I am not confident. When I look at, that almost one second that we have between us and them, that is going to take a lot of time effort and change and also investment into our organization to make sure that we get there."

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix was arguably one of the most chaotic in years, despite it resulting in a somewhat familiar winner. It now means there are just two drivers without a point in the standings, as the season heads to Europe for the Spanish Grand Prix in two weeks' time.