Verstappen tightens grip on championship lead as Ferrari endure Baku nightmare

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Max Verstappen strengthened his grip on the Formula One world championship as Charles Leclerc and Ferrari endured a nightmare Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Leclerc had claimed his fourth successive pole position at the street circuit in Baku but was passed into the first corner by Monaco winner Sergio Perez.

Perez struggled to press home his advantage, though, and eventually ceded the lead to Verstappen on lap 15.

Leclerc had dived into the pits under the virtual safety car after his Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz retired due to a hydraulics issue and appeared to be well-placed to challenge Verstappen, only for an engine failure on lap 20 to hand victory to his Red Bull rival, who led a one-two ahead of Perez and Mercedes' George Russell.

Ferrari's dismal day began as Perez reacted quicker than Leclerc at the start to quickly render his pole immaterial and by lap nine they were down a car as Sainz was forced to end his race.

The Scuderia responded by gambling on pitting Leclerc for fresh tyres without the usual time loss and that decision appeared to be paying dividends, a potential battle with Verstappen looming after the Dutchman passed Perez on lap 15, the Mexican having emerged from a slow stop just in front of Russell.

Any prospect of that fight was removed when blue smoke puffed out of the back of Leclerc's Ferrari on lap 20, hugely damaging his title prospects.

Further blows to Ferrari came as the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu and Kevin Magnussen's Haas, both powered by their engines, suffered retirements.

Red Bull, by contrast, cruised home to a fifth successive win and a second one-two in three races. Russell took his third podium ahead of team-mate Lewis Hamilton, with Pierre Gasly of AlphaTauri rounding off the top five.

Sorry Scuderia

It was a second retirement in three races for Leclerc, who became the first driver to take four successive poles and not win any of those races since Juan Pablo Montoya in 2001.

Leclerc is now 34 points behind Verstappen in the drivers' championship and also finds himself behind Perez, who claimed the bonus point for the fastest lap, by 13 points.

Sainz's retirement was his third of the year and, with two of their customers also enduring issues, Ferrari have no shortage of headaches.

Verstappen atones for 2021

Verstappen was on course for victory in Baku last season until a rear tyre failure handed it to Perez.

Despite some concern over the rear wing, which ended AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda's hopes of a points finish, and his brakes, there was no such heartbreak for the Dutchman this time around.

The win gave him his 66th podium finish, breaking the record of Sebastian Vettel, who finished sixth for Aston Martin, for the most by a Red Bull driver.

IN THE POINTS

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +20.823s
3. George Russell (Mercedes) +45.995ss
4. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +71.679s
5. Pierre Gasly (AlphaTauri) +77.299s
6. Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) +84.099s
7. Fernando Alonso (Alpine) +88.596s
8. Daniel Ricciardo (McLaren) +92.207s
9. Lando Norris (McLaren) +92.556s
10. Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +108.184s

CHAMPIONSHIP STANDINGS

Drivers

1. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 150
2. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 129
3. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 116
4. George Russell (Mercedes) 99
5. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) 83

Constructors

1. Red Bull 279
2. Ferrari 199
3. Mercedes 161
4. McLaren 65
5. Alpine 47

What's next?

Ferrari will not have too much time to get on top of their issues, as F1 heads to Montreal for the Canadian Grand Prix next week.

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