Verstappen wins in Azerbaijan after Leclerc engine failure | Sports news

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) – Max Verstappen struck again as rival Charles Leclerc faltered in the race for the Formula One title.

Verstappen extended his F1 championship lead by winning the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday – his fifth win of the season – following another early retirement from Leclerc.

Leclerc started from pole, immediately lost the lead at the first corner to Sergio Pérez, Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate, then used a clever strategy to put his Ferrari back in front. Leclerc regained the lead when he pitted under ‘virtual safety car’ speed restrictions while the two Red Bull cars stayed outside.

Leclerc appeared ready to fight for victory but the Monaco driver’s car started smoking on lap 20 of 51 and he had to pit.

His engine had failed – Leclerc’s second retirement in three races.

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“It hurts. We really have to look at it so it doesn’t happen again. I can’t really find the right words to describe it, of course it’s very disappointing,” Leclerc said.

Verstappen had overtaken Pérez just before Leclerc retired and the reigning F1 champion drove to his fifth win in seven races. Red Bull have won five straight races and although Leclerc has two wins this year, his last win was in Australia in early April and his last podium was in Miami in early May.

“This is racing. It happened to me, it happened to many people in the past. Unfortunately, it’s happening to Charles,” Verstappen said when asked if he understood his rival’s difficulties.

“If I were in the same situation, I would be disappointed too. I think that’s quite normal. But it’s how you come out of it, you’re always looking at how you can improve things. We did that at the beginning of the season too. And you learn from it. You don’t like it, you’re angry, but we turn it around.”

Verstappen clinched the win a year after he was on his way to victory in Baku, only to be thrown into the wall by a blown tire while leading with three laps to go. There were further reliability concerns on Sunday when Verstappen told his team the car felt strange under braking but he was able to make it to the finish.

“You can never make up for what you lost last year, but I think today we had incredible pace in the car, we could really take care of the tires and take them away and go to the front,” said Verstappen. “But then of course”, maybe a little bit of luck with (Leclerc’s) retirement. I still think that our car was really fast today and could have closed this gap.”

Red Bull went 1-2 in the race, Pérez was second while Mercedes finished third and fourth with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

Pérez, who won in Azerbaijan last year, said Red Bull made the “right decision” not to let him fight for the win against Verstappen and said he was struggling with worn tyres.

Ferrari had a terrible day as both Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz Jr failed to finish, as did the Ferrari-powered cars of Zhou Guanyu and Kevin Magnussen.

It was the first time since the 2020 Italian Grand Prix that the Ferrari team had to withdraw both cars.

The dip in Ferrari reliability comes as Red Bull appears to have solved its own problems. Verstappen and Pérez both came to a halt in the opening race of the season in Bahrain, Red Bull’s first race since initiating engine production for 2022.

Verstappen leads the table by 21 points over Pérez, while Leclerc has dropped to third place and is 34 points behind Verstappen.

Seven-time champion Hamilton has complained of back pain due to the Mercedes’ tendency to jump at high speed and he held his lower back as he carefully climbed out of the car after finishing fourth on Sunday.

“Let’s definitely change something,” he said to team boss Toto Wolff.

Pierre Gasly was fifth for AlphaTauri and Sebastian Vettel sixth for Alfa Romeo.

Alpine’s Fernando Alonso edged out the two McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris to finish seventh and Alonso’s teammate Esteban Ocon was tenth.

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