Baku, Azerbaijan – With Charles Leclerc’s championship chances dwindling, Max Verstappen is on hand to take advantage.
Max Verstappen extended his lead in the drivers’ championship by winning the Formula 1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan, with Red Bull Racing finishing second, while Leclerc and Ferrari did not finish the race due to an engine problem. .
Leclerc started from the lead on Sunday but immediately lost the race lead to Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Perez in the first corner. The Ferrari driver regained the lead with the help of a good stopping strategy as the cars were subject to a speed limit, while Red Bulls remained on the right track.
Monegasque seemed to have reached his cruising speed towards victory when his car started spitting smoke, on lap 20 of the scheduled 51 Grand Prix. He had to get back to the pit, where he was forced to retire for the second time in three races.
“It hurts. We really have to check that it doesn’t happen again. I can’t find the exact words to describe how I feel, but it’s quite frustrating,” said Leclerc.
Verstappen had passed Perez a few laps before Leclerc’s troubles, and the defending champions scored his fifth victory of the season, more than 20 seconds ahead of his teammate.
The victory comes a year after Verstappen appeared to be heading for victory in Baku, before one of his tires exploded and pushed him into the wall by three laps. He again ran into some trouble at the end of the course, when he warned his team that the car was reacting strangely to braking, but he managed to make it to the finish line.
“We can never get that race back from last year, but today we had a lot of speed. Verstappen explained that we were able to manage the tires really well to catch up and gradually overtake to take the lead. We were also a bit lucky with (Leclerc) retirement. I still think That our car was very fast today and that we would have closed the gap.”
George Russell, in a Mercedes, completed the podium, ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton.
Perez, who won that race last year, said Red Bull made the right decision by asking him not to fight Verstappen, saying he struggled to manage his worn tyres.
Ferrari had a bad day, with Carlos Sainz Jr. also unable to cross the finish line, as well as Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas, both Ferrari-powered cars.
This is the first time since the 2020 Italian Grand Prix that both Ferraris have had to retire.
Ferrari’s lethargy comes at a time when Red Bull seems to have solved all of its problems. Verstappen and Perez also had engine problems that forced them to retire in Bahrain, their first grand prix of the season and first race with Red Bull engines.
Verstappen is now 21 points clear at the top of the standings, ahead of Perez, while Leclerc slipped to third, 34 points behind the Dutchman.
Seven-times champion Hamilton complained of back pain caused by Mercedes’ tendency to porpoise at high speeds. He also had trouble getting out of the car after the race to protect his lower back.
“We will definitely be making changes,” said team principal Toto Wolff after the race.
Quebec’s Lance Stroll was unable to take Aston Martin to the finish line, but teammate Sebastian Vettel finished sixth behind Alvatore Pierre Gasly.
Fernando Alonso (Albin) had two McLarens, Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris, to finish seventh. His teammate, Esteban Ocon, completed the top ten.
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