World champion Max Verstappen led a Red Bull 1-2 in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix in a potentially key moment of the title race after Charles Leclerc and Ferrari endured another dose of raceday misery.
Sergio Perez had jumped pole sitter Leclerc to the first turn before Verstappen took control as first the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and then Leclerc retired with engine problems.
George Russell took third with teammate Lewis Hamilton fourth for Mercedes who suffered badly from bouncing on the streets of Baku this weekend.
Verstappen’s fifth win of the season tightened his grip on the drivers’ standings with Perez now moving into second, 21 points behind, while the luckless Leclerc slipped to 34 points adrift.
“Was that a good drive or was that a good drive?” a pleased Verstappen asked over the team radio, mindful that he had ended his Baku jinx having never made the podium on any of his previous visits.
He hailed his car’s “incredible pace”, adding “we were a tiny bit lucky because of the retirement but nevertheless our car was really quick today, so I could have closed that gap, then you have a race on your hands”.
It was a memorable day for Red Bull who are now 80 points clear of Ferrari in the constructors’ championship ahead of round nine of the season in Montreal next week.
As for Ferrari their habit of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory through a combination of questionable strategy or unreliability issues is beginning to look potentially fatal for their title ambitions.
Leclerc for the fourth time was unable to convert pole into a win, and he had his head in his hands in frustration.
“Better days will come” if the team just sticks together, Sainz suggested.
That’s what Mercedes have been saying all season as they keep trying to unlock the full potential of their car which suffers more than most of the grid on the so-called ‘porpoising’ effect.
Hamilton had said before the race his back may not withstand being jolted around for the full 51 laps and he had difficulty: the Briton needed support to lift himself out of the cockpit after making it across the line.
Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff apologised to the seven-time world champion, saying: “This is a bit of a box to drive. And sorry for the back problems.”
“Well done guys,” Hamilton responded. “And well done on the strategy. Thank you on continuing to push.”