Lewis Hamilton said he afforded Valtteri Bottas an easy ride by sacrificing his own hopes of victory on the opening lap of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Hamilton and Bottas came within centimetres of a collision as they drove wheel-to-wheel through the opening three bends in Baku, but – thanks to the skill of both men – damage was avoided.
Bottas prevailed and it was where the race, which failed to live up to expectations, was ultimately won.
The Mercedes drivers were allowed to fight to the chequered flag, but Hamilton did not have enough in the tank to stop Bottas from winning for a second time this season.
The Finn now leads the five-time world champion by one point in the standings.
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Mercedes, meanwhile became the first team to start the season with four one-two finishes.
Hamilton is bidding for a sixth world crown this season, and despite a resurgence of sorts by Bottas – indeed, the Finn failed to win once last year in the sport’s fastest car – it seems improbable that the British driver will be beaten by his teammate over the course of 21 rounds.
“Selfishly, I could have pushed a lot harder,” said Hamilton.
“Ultimately I lost out in that, but that is the sacrifice you sometimes have to make in order for the team to win.
“If there was a Ferrari there it would have been a lot different, but that is how it will continue for the rest of the year.
“Valtteri and I have a lot of respect for each other. You can see that. We discuss the start before the race, we agree as gentlemen, and we stick to it.
“Valtteri was very fair in giving space, and after that he was faultless. He truly deserved the win.”
Mercedes are obviously keen to avoid a repeat of Hamilton and Nico Rosberg’s fractious relationship, but such a scenario appears a long way off.
Hamilton’s conduct on the first lap was perhaps proof that he does not view the man in his fellow silver machine as title material.
Would he have afforded Rosberg the same courtesy?
“We let them race, and they are both very experienced,” said Toto Wolff, the Mercedes team principal.“They know to keep it clean and you saw that on lap one.
“This is a track where you mustn’t take crazy risks as you can lose both cars and they know that.
“Yes, it reminds some of the situation between Lewis and Nico as you have two drivers that have the ambition to win a championship.
“It is up to us, together with them, to be very aware of the situation. Their relationship matters in order to avoid what we went through between Lewis and Nico.”News Now - Sport News