Max Verstappen claims Azerbaijan GP after double disaster for Ferrari

Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz both fail to finish in Baku

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Charles Leclerc's Formula One title challenge took a massive blow at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday when he was forced to retire in his Ferrari - and watch world champion Max Verstappen ease to victory.

Sergio Perez took second to complete a commanding one-two finish for Red Bull after both Leclerc and Carlos Sainz failed to make it to the chequered flag with mechanical gremlins on a desperate day for Ferrari in Baku.

Leclerc started from pole but despite losing the lead to Perez on the first corner, he regained the initiative and seemed in a perfect position for victory until the Monaco driver's car started spewing smoke on lap 20 of 51 and he had to pull into the pits for his second retirement in three races.

Verstappen passed Perez shortly before Leclerc's failure and the reigning champion cruised to his fifth win of the season.

“Was that a good race or what?” Verstappen asked on his radio.

Red Bull boss Christian Horner replied that Verstappen had won with “a very mature drive.”

Verstappen’s title advantage over Leclerc has increased from nine points to 34 following what could prove a pivotal race in this season’s championship battle.

Perez is now the closest challenger after leapfrogging Leclerc in the standings. The Mexican, who took a bonus point for the fastest lap, is 21 points adrift of his Red Bull teammate.

George Russell finished behind the Red Bulls to claim his third podium in Mercedes colours, while teammate Lewis Hamilton, who complained of back pain during the race, was fourth.

Hamilton, the seven-time world champion, ended the day a staggering 71 seconds behind his former rival.

Mercedes are still battling with porpoising and the bouncing problems led to Hamilton's troubles.

“Argh, my back is killing me, man,” he yelled with 22 laps still to run.

Nevertheless, it marked Hamilton’s best result since the opening race in Bahrain, albeit another afternoon where he trailed Russell.

Charles Leclerc in action before he was forced to retire. Getty

Verstappen was understandably delighted after the win, saying: “We had incredible pace in the car and we looked after the tyres and chipped away with it.

“We are a tiny bit lucky with the retirement [of Leclerc] but overall I am pleased with how the balance of the car was. Our car was really quick today, so I could have closed that gap, then you have a race on your hands.

"To have a one-two as a team as well, it was a really good day for us."

Sainz, speaking to Sky Sports on the engine issue that forced his early retirement, said: "The hydraulics went in lap eight or nine and that is it. It's a shame because I had taken care of my tyres and I was about to start pushing. As soon as I did that this happened - the hydraulics went.

"So far, the season is not going my way.

"I don't know if my car has had this problem before - I don't think so.

"We know we need to improve, we have been pretty good with reliability from my side, but we have just been incredibly unlucky with one thing or another.

"From my point of view, I can't seem to do two consecutive races without something happening. It's a shame but we are a team and we are going to stay united because I am sure better days will come."

Ferrari team principal Mattia Binotto added: "Certainly it is a concern. Reliability is always a key factor in the battle - as well as the performance.

"We're not fully reliable but the team will stay focused, try to address the issues and to be stronger in the future.

"We need to understand what happened today. Not all issues are the same. It will take time to analyse. We don't know the issue yet."

Third-placed Russell said: “You have got to be there at the end to pick up the pieces.

“The cars are going through a torrid time with the bouncing and I am pleased to bring it home in third."

Updated: June 12, 2022, 1:38 PM
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