F1: Max Verstappen builds title lead with Azerbaijan Grand Prix victory amid fresh Ferrari disaster

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 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

Red Bull bagged a one-two victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix as Max Verstappen won his fifth Formula One race of the season -amid Charles Leclerc and Ferrari suffering a fresh disaster.

Under the blistering Baku sun, Sergio Perez dived down the inside line at the start to force Leclerc into a lock-up and take first place. The Ferrari driver held second under pressure from Max Verstappen as the Red Bull’s advantage down the straights became immediately apparent.

Verstappen was unable to make a move stick and Ferrari rolled the dice after losing Carlos Sainz to a hydraulics issue on the tenth lap.

With such a long way still to go, the Scuderia pulled Leclerc in for Hard tyres under the Virtual Safety Car with the ambition of lasting until the end and jumping the Red Bulls courtesy of his quicker pit stop.

The Ferrari moving out of the way at least allowed Verstappen to close up on Perez and he swooped into the lead with ease on the 15th lap. Red Bull told the Mexican not to fight for the lead yet he had virtually no choice anyway in the face of his quicker teammate.

Perez then Verstappen pitted to allow Leclerc back into the lead, with a 13-second advantage when the defending world champion came out on Hards with 32 laps to go.

And yet it proved immaterial when white smoke suddenly poured out of the rear of the Monegasque’s car as he began a run down the long main straight.

His second mechanical fault retirement in three races, either side of a tactical disaster in Monaco, unforced errors continue to hold back Leclerc’s title charge. The nature of these breakdowns make future grid penalties inevitable, and he may soon be too far adrift of the confident-looking Red Bull to hold out any hope of a maiden F1 title.

“It hurts, we really need to look into that for it to not happen again,” he told Sky Sports as the race continued.

“I can’t really find the right words to say, it’s very disappointing. We really need to look into it. We’ve been fast and we didn’t have reliability problems earlier in the season, now we seem to have them and we didn’t change massive things - if anything we made it better. It’s difficult to understand, we have to analyse it. I don’t have the full picture, personally it hurts.”

The issues for Ferrari were shown to be more than skin-deep after Guanyu Zhou and Kevin Magnussen, in the Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo and Haas cars, also retired from the race with mechanical issues.

The Dane’s DNF brought out a second virtual safety car and Lewis Hamilton pitted for fresh Hards to help build a rather decent showing from Mercedes, jumping Pierre Gasly for fourth place late on as George Russell came home third.

But the chief result of Ferrari’s woes was the ease with which Verstappen took the chequered flag ahead of Perez.

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