Verstappen Wins Azerbaijan Grand Prix After Leclerc Engine Failure

(BAKU, Azerbaijan) — As Charles Leclerc’s Formula One title challenge falls apart, Max Verstappen is there to take advantage.

Verstappen won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, extending his lead in Formula One after Leclerc was forced to retire with engine failure.

Leclerc started from pole but immediately lost the lead to Sergio Pérez, Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate, in the first corner. The Ferrari driver regained the lead with a smart strategy call to pit under “virtual safety car” speed restrictions while the two Red Bull cars stayed out.

Leclerc seemed poised to challenge for the win, but the Monaco driver’s car started spewing smoke on lap 20 of 51 and he had to pull into the pits. This was Leclerc’s second retirement after three races.

“It hurts. It is important to investigate this issue so that it does not occur again. I don’t really find the right words to describe, obviously it is very disappointing,” Leclerc said.

Verstappen had passed Pérez shortly before Leclerc’s failure and the reigning F1 champion cruised to his fifth win of the season.

Verstappen claimed the victory a year later than he had expected to win in Baku. But, Verstappen was hit by a blow tire and crashed into the wall. Verstappen led with just three laps remaining. Verstappen had more concerns about late reliability Sunday, telling his team that the car felt strange when braking. But he managed to finish the race.

“You can never make up what you lost last year but I think today we had incredible pace in the car, we could really look after the tires and chip away at it and pass for the lead,” Verstappen said. “But then of course, also, maybe a tiny bit lucky with (Leclerc’s) retirement. I think nevertheless our car was really quick today and could have closed that gap.”

Red Bull went 1-2 in the race with Pérez finishing second, while Mercedes was third and fourth with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

Pérez, who won in Azerbaijan last year, said Red Bull made the “right call” not to let him fight Verstappen for the win and said he struggled with worn tires.

Ferrari was unable to make it as Leclerc, Carlos Sainz Jr. and Carlos Sainz Jr. both failed to finish. Kevin Magnussen’s Ferrari-powered car also did not finish.

This was the first occasion since 2020’s Italian Grand Prix that both Ferrari cars had been retired by the Ferrari team.

Red Bull appears to have solved its problems, despite the slump in Ferrari reliability. Verstappen and Pérez both ground to a halt in the opening race of the season in Bahrain, Red Bull’s first race since bringing engine production in-house for 2022.

Verstappen leads the standings by 21 points over Pérez, while Leclerc dropped to third and is 34 points behind Verstappen.

Seven-time champion Hamilton has complained of back pain from the Mercedes’ tendency to bounce at high speed, and he was holding his lower back as he gingerly climbed out of the car Sunday after finishing fourth.

“Let’s definitely make some changes,” he told team boss Toto Wolff.

Pierre Gasly was fifth at AlphaTauri. Sebastian Vettel was sixth for Alfa Romeo.

Fernando Alonso of Alpine held off the two McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris to finish seventh, and Alonso’s teammate Esteban Ocon was 10th.

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