Ferrari’s failure on the streets of Baku paved the way for Max Verstappen to claim his fifth Formula 1 victory of the season. The world champion cemented his world championship lead at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday after Charles Leclerc was forced to relinquish pole at Ferrari due to an engine failure. Secondly, Sergio Perez perfected Red Bull’s third win this year. They were followed by the Mercedes duo of George Russell and Lewis Hamilton, because Carlos Sainz in the second Ferrari also did not reach the finish line due to an early defect.
“It hurts,” Leclerc said after the next setback in the title race. “We have to look at it to learn from it. It’s totally disappointing. It’s hard to understand.” A driving blunder at Imola, an engine failure in Barcelona and a strategy breakdown in Monaco have cost him many points recently. In the overall standings, Leclerc slipped to third and is now 34 points behind Verstappen.
The Dutchman increased his tally to 150 points, surpassing his twenty-fifth victory in his career. His teammate Perez is now 21 points behind in second place. Sebastian Vettel had his best result of the season so far with a solid sixth place finish at Aston Martin. Mick Schumacher, who finished 14th in Haas, suffered another disappointment.
For the fourth time in a row, Leclerc put his Ferrari first. However, the first place did not bring him any luck in the end. Neither in Miami, nor in Barcelona or Monaco, he can turn a starting advantage into a win. And this time the lead disappeared quickly. Buoyed by his victory in Monte Carlo and the extension of his contract until 2024, Perez edged out Leclerc before the first corner kick. Verstappen also got off to a good start, but is no longer able to beat his Ferrari rival. This is how things went in the first rounds. Verstappen appeared in a large format in Leclerc’s rear-view mirror several times, while Perez managed to fit a small cushion in front.
Sainz retires due to hydraulic damage
Then Sainz caused the first commotion. The fourth-placed Spaniard took off suddenly in his Ferrari. Diagnosis: hydraulic damage. The virtual safety car briefly slowed down in the cleaning business. Leclerc and some other drivers used this to stop. In turn, both Red Bulls fell by the wayside. Verstappen was allowed to pass Perez without a fight so as not to waste too much time on Leclerc, who was rushing with new tyres. When both Red Bull drivers came to the garage for service, Ferrari took the lead.
But the next Scuderia drama followed a little later: as in Barcelona, smoke rose from the Leclerc engine. Desperate, he sent the 24-year-old into the pits on lap 20: “The strength is gone.” Leclerc dragged himself back into the pit lane with a snail’s pace, climbed out of the car and waved to the audience with a sad expression. “I can’t find the right words to describe it,” he admitted shortly afterwards on Sky’s microphone.
Can’t please Schumacher again
The eighth round of the season was hard work for veteran Vettel. He started at nine after a strong qualifying session, and was on his way to climbing when he missed a corner during an overtaking maneuver. But Vettel kept fighting and used a daring tactic with one early stop. It paid off in the end.
The work day was once again frustrating for fellow countryman Mick Schumacher. As the last player after the playoffs, the 23-year-old was hoping to create some chaos so he could finally grab his first championship points. He drove at the end of the field without a chance and hasn’t been able to face the mounting criticism lately after a series of accidents he’s been in.