Max Verstappen extended his lead in the world championship by winning the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on a terrible day for Ferrari. The Dutchman triumphed after his Red Bull team made his success easier by shuffling Sergio Perez out of the way. The Mexican finished second but set the fastest lap, which means Verstappen leads his garage-mate by 21 points and his only possible true rival for the title, Charles Leclerc of Ferrari, by 34.
It was an afternoon of red faces at Ferrari – Carlos Sainz stopped with a hydraulic fault and Leclerc with a blown engine. Blue smoke trailed the Monegasque’s stricken machine on lap 20 of 51. The truth is that Ferrari have found speed but not yet reliability, and according to Italian sources, team principal Mattia Binotto will survive this embarrassing setback – for now, at least.
But the double retirement is a huge setback to their title aspirations. It was Leclerc’s second DNF in the last three races. Englishman George Russell pounced on Ferrari’s disappointment to finish third, having started fifth. Lewis Hamilton finished fourth in the other Mercedes after complaining of being bounced up and down during the race in his porpoising car. He said over the radio: ‘Ah, my back is killing me, man.’ Pierre Gasly, whom Hamilton passed on lap 44, came home fifth.
It was Hamilton’s best result since finishing third at the opening round in Bahrain. He has finished behind Russell in every race since then. Hamilton was 71 seconds behind Verstappen and 25 off Russell. Ferrari’s discomfort apart, the key moment came on lap 15 when Perez, who started second and took the lead from Leclerc at the first bend, was told: ‘No fighting,’ as Verstappen was poised on his tail.
It was a clear sign that Verstappen, defending his crown, is the undisputed No 1 at Red Bull. Perez, who won in Monaco a fortnight ago, complied and almost waved Verstappen through to collect his fifth win from eight races.
Here’s the final standings in the top ten in Baku:
1.Max Verstappen, Red Bull
2. Sergio Perez, Red Bull
3. George Russell, Mercedes
4. Lewis Hamilton, Mercedes
5. Pierre Gasly, AlphaTauri
6. Sebastian Vettel, Aston Martin
7. Fernando Alonso, Alpine
8. Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren
9. Lando Norris, McLaren
10. Esteban Ocon, Alpine