F1 Azerbaijan GP: Verstappen victorious as Ferrari’s challenge goes up in smoke

Rhonan Colquhoun reviews the eighth race of the 2022 Formula One season, with Red Bull taking maximum points from the Baku City Circuit, while closest Constructors’ Championship challengers Ferrari had a race day to forget. 

Photo Credit – Sam Bloxham/LAT Images

Max Verstappen claimed a comfortable fifth win of the season heading home ahead of Red Bull team-mate Sergio Pérez with another 1-2 finish as Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc retired from the lead of the race. 

Polesitter Leclerc initially lost the lead at lights out to Pérez, who then proceeded to ease away from the Monegasque. 

Running in fourth place, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz pulled off the track with brake failure that introduced a brief Virtual Safety Car. Under this VSC, many drivers decided to pit, including Leclerc. 

With Leclerc on a differing strategy, Verstappen hunted down his Red Bull team-mate and the Dutchman took the lead of the race on Lap 15. Leclerc soon retook the lead, once the Red Bull drivers finally pitted, only for smoke to pour out of the Ferrari a lap later. 

Leclerc’s retirement left Verstappen and Pérez unchallenged for the rest of the race. Verstappen was able to clinch the win, while Pérez, 21 seconds behind, picked up an extra point for the Fastest Lap. 

Verstappen, who recorded his 25th career win – which draws him level with former World Champions Jim Clark and Niki Lauda – continues to lead the championship, with his advantage now extending to 21 points. 

Mercedes’ George Russell benefitted from the retirement of both Ferrari drivers and drove a fine race to finish on the podium, ensuring his streak of top five finishes this season continues.

Lewis Hamilton caught and overtook AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly in the last laps of the race to finish in fourth after a battling – and bruising – race. The seven-time World Champion has struggled severely all weekend with ‘porpoising’ badly affecting his W13. The Brit was named the Fans’ Drivers of the Day for his efforts. 

Gasly, who tried to stick it out on track and stay ahead of Hamilton, finished in fifth and, therefore, claimed his best result of the season. More crucially for the Frenchman, this was his first top ten finish since Australia and he now leaps up four places in the championship standings to occupy 10th place on 16 points.

Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel finished in sixth but he likely felt he could have been higher up if not for a botched overtake earlier in the race on Alpine’s Esteban Ocon. A lock-up into Turn 4 as he nipped ahead of Ocon meant that the German had to take to the run-off, though a quick turn around meant he was able to rejoin.

Alpine’s Fernando Alonso claimed seventh ahead of the battling McLaren drivers of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris. Both drivers had been evenly matched all race while on differing strategies, they played the ‘team game’ ensuring that the Woking-based team bagged decent points.

Ocon claimed 10th, ensuring that both Alpine drivers finished inside the points. Valtteri Bottas, the 2019 race winner, finished in 11th for Alfa Romeo. It was an off-weekend for the Finn who struggled to find the right balance throughout the Practice sessions.

AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda was running strongly in the points until a part of his DRS flap broke, forcing the Japanese driver to pit for repairs which ultimately ruined his race. 

There was even more cause for concern for Ferrari as their two customer teams, Alfa Romeo and Haas, both suffered a retirement with one of their cars as Gyanyu Zhou and Kevin Magnussen later joined Leclerc and Sainz on the sidelines. 

With Verstappen 21 points clear at the top, it’s now Pérez, not Leclerc, who is his closest challenger as the Mexican leaps into second following the race in Baku. In fact, it’s the first time since the 2011 Belgian GP that Red Bull have both of their drivers in the top two positions of the Championship standings. 

Leclerc now occupies third, 34 points behind Verstappen, while Russell continues to stay ahead of Sainz as the British driver nears 100 points. 

Collecting the maximum points on offer, Red Bull increased their lead in the championship. The Milton Keynes-based team currently sit on 279 points, while Ferrari fall even further back on 199 points.

Next up in the F1 calendar is the Canadian GP, which will take place on the 19th of June.

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