By James Broughton, June 12, 2022
Charles Leclerc put in a qualifying lap of his life to take pole position for the 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix. It was a champion’s performance. But as I always say, Sunday, race day is when the points are won or lost. Indeed, Leclerc would go on to surrender his advantage on race day due to a tardy start which allowed 2nd placed Sergio Perez into the lead in the run-up to turn one. Perez out-qualified teammate Verstappen who started the race from 4th. That didn’t stop Verstappen from wrestling his way past the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz and slotting into third. While qualifying demonstrated Ferrari and Red Bull are evenly matched, the race revealed a different story.
The Red Bulls, being easier on their tyres, had better race pace. However, Leclerc’s Ferrari had just enough of a straight-line advantage to negate Verstappen’s race pace. In effect, Leclerc was holding up Verstappen who was clearly faster. The simmering duel between Leclerc and Verstappen allowed Perez to build up a small but comfortable buffer.
The Azerbaijan street track is comparable to Monaco, only it is much faster. And just like Monaco, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix can turn into a processional race. The top three were evenly matched and pulled away from the 4th place sitter. Sainz’s race ended on lap 9 after his Ferrari failed, this brought out the virtual safety car.
Leclerc made a pit stop for hard tires not long after while the Red Bulls stayed out. Later, Red Bull instructed Perez to let Verstappen take the lead. Leclerc, now third, began to make good use of his new set of tyres and reduced the deficit to the Red Bulls ahead. Eventually, the Red Bulls made a pit stop which elevated Leclerc into the lead by lap 17.
Leclerc’s advantage ended on lap 21 as smoke billowed from the rear of his Ferrari. Leclerc limped back to the pits his race ended by sudden and unexpected engine failure. From then on the race was Red Bull’s to lose and of course, they didn’t. Verstappen all but cruised to the finish line with teammate Perez in second.
George Russell benefitted from the retirements ahead of him by slotting into third. Red Bull was so far ahead that both drivers were able to manage their pace to the end. Verstappen secured victory thus further extending his points lead over Leclerc. Ferrari started the season strongly and built up what appeared to be a formidable championship lead.
Strategy calls gone wrong and reliability issues, Ferrari appears to be handing the championship to Red Bull at a time when team Scuderia should be moving up a gear.
2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix |Results
1 Max Verstappen Red Bull
2 Sergio Perez Red Bull 20.823s
3 George Russell Mercedes 45.995s
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
11 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo Racing 1 Lap
12 Alex Albon Williams 1 Lap
13 Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri 1 Lap
14 Mick Schumacher Haas 1 Lap
15 Nicholas Latifi Williams 1 Lap
Did not finish
Lance Stroll – Aston Martin – engine
Kevin Magnussen – Haas – engine
Zhou Guanyu – Alfa Romeo – engine
Charles Leclerc – Ferrari – engine
Carlos Sainz – Ferrari – hydraulics