Red Bull’s control of the F1 season has only grown at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, with both Ferraris forced to retire and Max Verstappen extending his championship lead.
Both Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz suffered mechanical issues, as two of four Ferrari-powered cars struggling on the street circuit.
Leclerc, who was on pole for the fourth consecutive race and once again failed to win – becoming the first man to do that since Juan Pablo Montoya – saw his engine blow up on lap 21.
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He had already been passed for the lead by Sergio Perez in the opening corner but was hoping an early stop during a virtual safety car – caused by teammate Sainz’s stoppage – could allow him to catch the Red Bulls.
Verstappen passed Perez on pace on lap 15 and never looked back, building a 21-point lead on his teammate in the championship race, and a 34-point lead on Leclerc.
Daniel Ricciardo’s luck finally turned, with a well-timed virtual safety car caused by Kevin Magnussen meaning his strategy to begin on hard tyres and go long worked a treat.
Gaining a cheap stop, Ricciardo (who started 12th) came out ahead of his teammate Lando Norris, and finished eighth.
Verstappen, Perez and Mercedes’ George Russell made up the podium with Lewis Hamilton fourth, ahead of Pierre Gasly, Sebastian Vettel and Fernando Alonso.
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Sergio Perez took the lead from pole-sitter Charles Leclerc into the opening corner after a solid start which allowed him to hold his inside line. A lock-up for Leclerc also hurt him.
Perez already had a 1.9 second gap back to Leclerc after two completed laps, in a huge start for the reigning race-winner.
Williams’ Nicholas Latifi was awarded a 10-second stop-and-go penalty for a grid infringement, after a team member touched his car when it wasn’t allowed.
Daniel Ricciardo, who started 12th and was the highest starter on the hard tyres with all ahead of him on the mediums, was threatening teammate Lando Norris due to DRS on the main straight as soon as it was activated.
Max Verstappen, running third, got into DRS range of Charles Leclerc on lap 5 but the Ferrari – slower in a straight line – continued to hold off the Red Bull.
McLaren asked Ricciardo to back off and stop challenging Norris, so they could build a lead on Esteban Ocon running 13th behind them.
“If this is his best pace, I’ve got more,” Ricciardo told the team.
In yet another disaster for Ferrari’s out-of-form Carlos Sainz he was forced to stop at turn 4 on lap 9 due to hydraulics issues and his race was over. The virtual safety car was deployed.
Leclerc pitted for hard tyres during the VSC, as did George Russell (fourth) and Lewis Hamilton, but the veteran ended up behind Aston Martin’s Seb Vettel through the stops because he was held up in the pits.
The concern for those who stopped was that it was too early, given the hotter than expected weather, to run a clean one-stop race. Ricciardo was running seventh, behind yet-to-pit Norris and Fernando Alonso, but ahead of Pierre Gasly and others.
Vettel tried to overtake Esteban Ocon for ninth, and had clearly done it, but locked up into a corner and ran into the escape road.
Verstappen took the lead of the race from Perez at the start of lap 15 thanks to the DRS, with Perez told “no fighting”, but Leclerc was quickly closing in the knowledge if he got close, he could pass them late in the race via a two-stop strategy.
Verstappen immediately pulled out a three-second lead within the space of a lap, proving he had the pace to warrant taking the lead from his teammate. Perez pitted on lap 17 for hards, making a slow stop, dropping into a battle with Russell for third.
With all cars struggling to past the fast-in-a-straight-line Alpines, Hamilton had to go deep into a corner to get past Ocon for ninth, but got the move done on lap 19. Verstappen then pitted for hards, dropping into second well behind Leclerc.
Ricciardo nearly passed Norris into turn one with the DRS but clearly stopped just before actually passing him, with commentator Paul Di Resta calling it “team orders”.
McLaren explained Norris was being allowed to stay in front to try and overcut Alonso, before Norris finally pitted and failed to do it, leaving Ricciardo fourth but quickly passed by Gasly as he feared.
Leclerc’s engine blew up entering the main straight on lap 21 forcing him to retire.
“Problem Problem. Engine. It’s gone. No no, it’s done,” he said.
Alfa Romeo’s Zhou Guanyu became the third retirement on lap 23 due to a technical issue.
Ricciardo was passed by Hamilton for fifth on lap 26 as the Aussie tried to go long on his opening stint on the hards, hoping for a safety car later in the race.
Hamilton hopped onto team radio to declare his back was “killing him” due to the Mercedes’ porpoising and bumping along the track down the main straight.
A fourth Ferrari-powered car was forced to retire on lap 33 with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen coming to a halt.
The virtual safety car was deployed and it saw Verstappen and Perez pit from the front.
But most importantly for the yet-to-stop Ricciardo, he was able to gain around 10 seconds on his rivals by stopping cheaply for medium tyres.
He came out in ninth place, ahead of his teammate Norris and with a tyre advantage on Alonso, Vettel, Hamilton, Tsunoda (who didn’t stop under the VSC) and Gasly ahead of him. Ricciardo was quickly running a second faster than those ahead of him.
Hamilton passed Tsunoda for fifth on lap 36, with the AlphaTauri’s DRS mechanism revealed to be broken – seemingly split in half.
He given a black and orange flag forcing him to pit for mechanical problems but instead of retiring him, AlphaTauri pitted him and simply put a bunch of duct tape on his back wing, in absolutely bizarre scenes.
Either way Ricciardo was up into eighth, though his medium tyres weren’t really working for him as he dropped back from Alonso in seventh.
Hamilton finally got past Gasly for fourth on lap 44, making it a Red Bull 1-2 and Mercedes 3-4.
On lap 45, Norris was told he would be allowed to pass Ricciardo if his teammate could not pass a slowing Alonso for seventh.
But then on lap 50 Norris was told not to pass his teammate to “return the favour” for earlier in the race.
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