Max Verstappen enjoyed a comfortable afternoon in Baku as he took yet another win in the 2022 season to extend his championship lead. Verstappen’s teammate Sergio Pérez made it another one-two for Red Bull, and the cherry on the cake for them came in form of both Ferrari cars suffering technical issues and failing to finish the race.
Mercedes’ George Russell took third place ahead of his teammate Lewis Hamilton, while AlphaTauri’s Pierre Gasly came fifth. Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel finished a strong sixth for the team ahead of Alpine’s Fernando Alonso, while the McLaren pair of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris finished eighth and ninth respectively. It was the other Alpine of Esteban Ocon who rounded out the points scoring places after his tenth-place finish.
It was not only a day to forget for Ferrari but almost all of the Ferrari-powered cars. Along with both the Ferrari drivers not finishing the race, Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen, both of whom raced with Ferrari-powered cars, also suffered technical issues that saw them retire from the race.
Ferrari’s double retirement means Red Bull have taken an 80-point lead in the Constructors’ Standings, and Mercedes have crept up to being only 38 points behind the Scuderia. To make matters worse for the Italian team, Verstappen now has a 34-point lead over Leclerc, while Sergio Pérez has pipped Leclerc for second place. George Russell’s second podium of the season sees him slowly pulling away from Carlos Sainz, while Lewis Hamilton’s strong race puts the seven-time World Champion hot on the heels of the Spaniard.
Verstappen’s win in Baku makes him the sixth different driver to win in Azerbaijan in the six races that have been held here since 2016. With his win, the Dutchman also scored his 66th podium for the team and overtake Sebastian Vettel’s record of 65 podiums with the Austrian team. The consistency that Verstappen has been showing should see him double that number if not more by the time he finishes his contract with Red Bull.
After a disappointing Saturday, Red Bull were all over the back of Leclerc right from the get-go. Pérez overtook Leclerc heading into Turn 1 on the opening lap as the Monégasque suffered a small lock-up. Verstappen tried to knick a place of Leclerc as well, but with Sainz pressuring him, the Dutchman held back and maintained position. A bit behind, Aston Martin’s Sebastian Vettel made up a place on the opening lap.
By Lap 4, Pérez had already blazed away in the front, and while Verstappen was keeping the pressure on Leclerc, it was Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz who was falling behind.
Hamilton, meanwhile, was in sixth position, trying to go past Pierre Gasly, while his teammate George Russell was behind Sainz.
Lap 9 saw the first retirement of the race as Carlos Sainz went straight off at Turn 4 and had to retire due to a technical failure on his car. With Sainz retiring on the track, the virtual safety car was deployed, which saw a host of cars dive into the pits for an early change; amongst them was Leclerc, who rejoined the race in P3, while Mercedes called both their drivers in for an early stop. The double-stack at Mercedes meant Hamilton, who was the second car, was caught in the traffic and lost a place to Sebastian Vettel, who himself got an early pit-stop done and came out in P10.
Vettel, on the fresher tyre, was flying on the track, with his Aston Martin showing great straight-line speed. He was chasing down the Alpine of Esteban Ocon and soon breezed past the Frenchman, but the four-time German World Champion missed his braking point as his rear-wheels locked up and lost two places as a result. With him falling back, Hamilton tried to have a go at Ocon, but the Alpine car had strong race pace and Hamilton couldn’t make the move stick. He did finally manage to get past Ocon on Lap 18, chasing Gasly up next.
Up ahead, Verstappen came into the pits on Lap 19 for his first stop, which saw Leclerc retake the lead of the race, while Pérez was in P2. Leclerc, who was leading the race, saw his engine blow out on Lap 21, with smoke coming out of the Ferrari’s gearbox. With Leclerc out of the race, this was Verstappen’s race to lose, with the Dutchman setting fastest lap after fastest lap.
Vettel, meanwhile, made up for his earlier error and got past Ocon on Lap 25, showing strong race pace. Behind him, it was another Ferrari-powered car of Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu, who was asked by his team to retire the car due to an engine issue. To make matters worse, another Ferrari powered car, the Haas of Kevin Magnussen, also retired on Lap 33 due to an engine overheating issue.
Up ahead, Verstappen was untouchable, and even though Pérez set a couple of fastest laps, there was no touching the Dutchman, who cruised to victory, finishing more than 20 seconds ahead of his teammate in P2.
Leclerc’s retirement now has put his championship hopes in serious doubt; this is his second DNF this season. If Ferrari can’t fix their reliability issues soon, there won’t be a championship battle.
Heading into Canada in a week’s time, for the first time since 2019, Ferrari have a lot of work to do, and it remains to be seen whether they will bounce back or will this be the end of their championship hopes.