Verstappen And Perez Enjoy An 80-Point Lead After Ferrari’s DNF Disaster at Baku
Somewhere in the background, Toto Wolff must be smiling to himself.
After a promising start to the 2022 season, Ferrari has yet again let down fans and its drivers Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz — this time giving up an Azerbaijan GP win to Red Bull after two consecutive car retirements.
The race started off in regular Baku fashion, with tight points margins flaring up excitement for four consecutive Grand Prix in a row. Sergio Perez, who gave Verstappen and Leclerc a run for their money back in Monaco, now side-eyed Leclerc after qualifying, with both racers placing 2nd and 1st, respectively. Perez seemed quite intent on repeating Leclerc’s Monaco misery with a quick, decisive overtake on turn 1, forcing Leclerc’s brakes to lock up.
What a start! 🚀 Checo and Max are P1 and P3 after four laps 💪 pic.twitter.com/bcGv0bBYxv— Oracle Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) June 12, 2022
Squeezed tight between both Red Bull cars, Leclerc fought off P3 Verstappen during the race’s early laps. With solid race pace to boast of, Perez continued his excellent work, widening his lead to over 2 seconds. Meanwhile, Vettel and Albon both executed overtakes to P8 and P14.
While Ferrari was by no means dominating, the race seemed to be going fairly smoothly — until disaster struck on Lap 9. Sainz, who maintained a comfortable P4 ahead of Russel, gave up his race after the Ferrari F1-75 suffered from a hydraulics system failure at Turn 4. Leclerc used the Virtual Safety Car (VSC) to switch to hards, with his crew’s sluggish pit lane performance resulting in a 10-second deficit behind Verstappen in P3.
Russell and Gasly pitted as well, from P4 and P8 respectively. Red Bull — who were probably smirking with their 1-2 lead — held on to their tyres. With 40 laps left to go, the VSC departed with Verstappen 12 seconds ahead of Leclerc, and two seconds behind his pole position teammate, who he finally overtook by Lap 14, courtesy DRS.
Despite the major downturn in Ferrari’s fortunes, Leclerc simultaneously picked up the pace and set a series of fastest-laps in succession, giving the fans a glimmer of hope, as he cut down his deficit by four seconds. This became even more apparent after two Red Bull pit stops, which placed Leclerc in the lead, 13.5 seconds ahead of Verstappen.
“Problem, problem, engine”
With smoke billowing out of Leclerc’s engine casing, the driver’s woes with reliability issues came to light yet again. Hanging his head in disappointment, the driver was forced to stomp back into the pits, this time carrying with him the weight of two shattered leads in three consecutive races.
“I am more than frustrated, obviously,” said Leclerc after his DNF. “The first stint in the beginning, we weren’t particularly strong, but towards the end of the stint on the medium I was catching back Checo [Perez] and then obviously there was the VSC [Virtual Safety Car], and we decided to take that opportunity to pit, and I think it was the right choice.
“We were in the lead of the race, I was managing the tyres well, we just had to manage the tyres and the race till the end, which I think was… we were definitely in the best position possible to do that. Another DNF – it hurts… We really need to look into that for it to not happen again.”
Sainz also shared his frustrations with the media team. “The hydraulics went, and that was it,” said Sainz. “Even more frustrated to see Charles not finishing the race and having another issue. For sure it’s a tough day for Ferrari, a tough day for all of us but we are a team, we will go through different moments in the year, and this one is probably one of the most difficult and frustrating, but we will try and make sure we recover.”
It truly was a dark day for the Italian team, who bore insult to injury with two more Ferrari-powered DNFs — HAAS’ Kevin Magnussen and Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu, who retired at Lap 33 and Lap 24.
Curiously, as the race proceeded, Red Bull managed to keep a calm mind despite facing reliability risks of their own. According to the official report, “Verstappen was told to control his pace up front given the Ferrari retirements, reliability now the concern for Red Bull. He was also told not to use DRS.”
Eventually, Verstappen grabbed hold of his 5th win of the season. He was followed 20 seconds later by Perez, and then Russell for third place, who finished 26 seconds ahead of Lewis Hamilton.
“I think today we had incredible pace in the car, we could really look after the tyres and we could chip away at it, pass for the lead,” said winner Max Verstappen of Red Bull.
“But obviously also maybe a tiny bit lucky with the retirements, but nevertheless I think our car was really quick today so I could have closed that gap, so then you have a race on your hands, but overall, really happy with the balance of the car today.”
The race ended with Red Bull climbing a massive 80 points ahead of Ferrari. All you Ferrari fans out there, you have our condolences.
Formula 1 returns on June 17th, with the AWS Grand Prix du Canada, at the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve in Montréal.
(Featured Image Credits: Formula 1, FIA)