A slightly bemused looking Lewis Hamilton on the podium after winning the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Picture: David Mdzinarishvili / Reuters

Baku, Azerbaijan - 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 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 times champion dating back to October 2017. It was also the first victory of the 2018 season for champion 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.

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 from pole position but finished fourth, after trying to pass Bottas four laps from the flag, locking up and losing two places.

Hamilton now has 70 points to Vettel’s 66.

'Emotional' 

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo, 2017 winner in Baku and also in China two weekends ago, smashed into the back of team-mate Max Verstappen in a lap 40 collision that ended the race for both of them.

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

Hamilton 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 his car at the finish.

Valuable points

Carlos Sainz was fifth for Renault with Monegasque rookie Charles Leclerc sixth for Sauber, his first points in Formula One. McLaren, which had its worst qualifying of the season on Saturday, ended up with a double points finish - Fernando Alonso seventh and Stoffel Vandoorne ninth.

Teenager Lance Stroll, third in Baku in 2017, finished eighth to give struggling former champion Williams its first points of the year, with Brendon Hartley also celebrating his first point after taking 10th for Toro Rosso.

Only 13 cars finished the race.

RESULTS

1. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

2. Kimi Raikkonen (Ferrari)

3. Sergio Perez (Force India)

4. Sebastian Vettel (Ferrari)

5. Carlos Sainz (Renault)

6. Charles Leclerc (Sauber)

7. Fernando Alonso (McLaren)

8. Lance Stroll (Williams)

9. Stoffel Vandoorne (McLaren)

10. Brendon Hartley (Toro Rosso)

11. Marcus Ericsson (Sauber)

12. Pierre Gasly (Toro Rosso)

13. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)

14. Valterri Bottas (Mercedes)

DNF Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

DNF Daniel Ricciardo (Red Bull)

DNF Nico Hulkenberg (Renault)

DNF Esteban Ocon (Force India)

DNF Sergey Sirotkin (Williams)