Azerbaijan Grand Prix: Max Verstappen leads Red Bull 1-2 as both Ferraris retire

Max Verstappen returned to the top step of the podium on Sunday, capitalising on Ferrari reliability issues to take victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Sergio Perez completed a Red Bull 1-2 after a power unit failure forced championship rival and polesitter Charles Leclerc to retire on Lap 20.

George Russell extended his record of finishing in the top five of every race this season, capitalising on the Ferrari retirements to secure a third podium of the season, while teammate Lewis Hamilton recovered to fourth after losing time under an early VSC.

AlphaTauri's Pierre Gasly secured a season-best P5 finish with a flawless drive from the midfield, while Sebastian Vettel recorded Aston Martin's best result of the season, crossing the line in P6.

Fernando Alonso, Daniel Ricciardo, Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon rounded out the top ten at the chequered flag.

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix as it happened

As the cars filtered into their grid slots for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Red Bull race engineer Hugh Bird instructed Perez to get his elbows out and the Mexican duly delivered at the race start, forcing Leclerc to the outside into Turn 1 and snatching the lead.

Checo's early pace looked strong as he opened a two-second lead out front, but the Mexican soon started to struggle with traction, only spared by the ensuing battle between Leclerc and Verstappen in his mirrors.

The first of two Ferrari reliability issues struck on Lap 9 as a hydraulic issue saw Carlos Sainz peel to the escape road at Turn 4, triggering the first of two virtual safety cars.

Red Bull left both cars out for track position while Leclerc pitted for the C3 hard compound tires, planning to run to the end of the race. Mercedes and AlphaTauri both made the call to double-stack under the VSC with Hamilton losing a place to Vettel in the pits.

Racing resumed with Perez leading Verstappen by 2.3 seconds and Leclerc slotting into P3, 13 seconds back from the second Red Bull.

Perez's early pace had started to wane after the restart and the Mexican soon had his teammate for company at the front of the field. The move for the lead was completed into Turn 1 at the start of Lap 15 as Verstappen lunged up the inside of a compliant Perez.

With Leclerc catching fast on fresh rubber Red Bull was soon forced to react, pitting Checo for a new set of hards on Lap 17. A slow stop had the Red Bull pit crew sweating, but the Mexican managed to retain track position ahead of George Russell, who was making an assault on P3 after pitting under VSC.

Lap 19 saw race leader Verstappen come in for his mandatory stop. The Dutchman returned to the track with 13 seconds to make up on Leclerc, but that deficit would be wiped out on Lap 20 as the Monegasque driver suffered a power unit failure on the run down to Turn 1.

With both Ferraris out of the picture, Red Bull settled into a rhythm with Verstappen cruising six seconds clear at the front and George Russell running an isolated race in P3 behind Checo.

Lap 24 produced the third retirement of the race as Alfa Romeo's Zhou Guanyu was forced to pit from a promising position, marking a third retirement from the Chinese driver's last four races.

Kevin Magnussen would soon follow Zhou in retirement, pulling off to the escape road at Turn 15 on Lap 33 with smoke billowing out of his Haas. The Dane's retirement brought out a second VSC of the race, allowing both Red Bull and Mercedes cars to pit for fresh rubber.

Gasly, who was running an immense race in P4 stayed out on his old hard tires, while teammate Yuki Tsunoda carried on to take track position from Hamilton.

The seven-time world champion made light work of Tsunoda to retake P5 and set off in pursuit of Gasly, who was now nine seconds up the road. By Lap 44 he had caught up to the back of the AlphaTauri and, after waiting in the slipstream for a couple of laps, got the move for P4 done into Turn 3.

Tsunoda's excellent afternoon came unstuck in the closing stages as he was forced to pit to mend a broken rear wing while Lance Stroll, who had been running out of the points since Lap 1, was boxed to retire his Aston Martin due to high oscillations.

Verstappen had been in cruise control since the second VSC restart. The Dutchman couldn't snatch the fastest lap point off his teammate, but took the chequered flag to take his first Azerbaijan Grand Prix victory and extend his championship lead with a mature and composed drive.

The Championship View

Verstappen's Azerbaijan Grand Prix victory sees the Dutchman open up a 21-point lead at the top of the Driver Standings heading into Round 9 of the championship.

A dismal run of luck has seen Leclerc's championship dreams dented with the Monegasque driver now sitting in third place in the standings, 13 points behind the in-form Perez.

Two DNFs from the last three rounds mean that Ferrari's golden boy is now closer to fourth-placed Russell than he is to the Championship leader. The former Williams driver has displayed immense consistency this season and now leads Hamilton by 37 points.

Pierre Gasly's P5 finish moves the AlphaTauri driver into the top half of the Driver Standings, adding ten points to his tally.

Ferrari's reliability issues mean that Red Bull's Constructor Standings lead has been extended to a whopping 80 points ahead of the Canadian Grand Prix next weekend.

Mercedes has struggled for race pace this season, but the Brackley-based team are yet to suffer a DNF this season and has now closed to within 38 points of the Scuderia.

Vettel's impressive drive means that Aston Martin has leapfrogged Haas in the battle for P8 in the Constructor Standings, while Williams props up the rear of the field.

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