F1 champ Max Verstappen wins in Azerbaijan as Charles Leclerc hit by more engine trouble

F1 Baku Verstappen
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BAKU, Azerbaijan — As Charles Leclerc’s F1 title challenge falls apart, Max Verstappen is there to take advantage.

Verstappen extended his Formula One championship lead by winning the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday after Leclerc retired from the lead with an engine failure.

Leclerc started from pole but immediately lost the lead to Sergio Perez, Verstappen’s Red Bull teammate, in the first corner. The Ferrari driver regained the lead with a smart strategy call to pit under “virtual safety car” speed restrictions while the two Red Bull cars stayed out.

Leclerc seemed poised to challenge for the win, but the Monaco driver’s car started spewing smoke on lap 20 of 51 and he had to pull into the pits. It was his second retirement in three races.

“It hurts. We really need to look into that for it to not happen again. I don’t really find the right words to describe, obviously it is very disappointing,” Leclerc said.

Verstappen had passed Perez shortly before Leclerc’s failure and the reigning F1 champion cruised to his fifth win of the season.

Verstappen took the win a year after he was headed to victory in Baku, only for a blown tire to hurl him into the wall while leading with three laps to go. There were more late reliability concerns Sunday when Verstappen told his team the car felt odd under braking, but he was able to make it to the finish.

“You can never make up what you lost last year but I think today we had incredible pace in the car, we could really look after the tires and chip away at it and pass for the lead,” Verstappen said. “But then of course, also, maybe a tiny bit lucky with (Leclerc’s) retirement. I think nevertheless our car was really quick today and could have closed that gap.”

Red Bull went 1-2 in the race with Perez finishing second, while an improving Mercedes was third and fourth with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

Perez, who won in Azerbaijan last year, said Red Bull made the “right call” not to let him fight Verstappen for the win and said he struggled with worn tires.

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 Italian Grand Prix in 2020 that the Ferrari team had to retire both cars.

The slump in Ferrari reliability comes as Red Bull seems to have solved its own issues. Verstappen and Perez both ground to a halt in the opening race of the season in Bahrain, Red Bull’s first race since bringing engine production in-house for 2022.

Verstappen leads the standings by 21 points over Perez, while Leclerc dropped to third and is 34 points behind Verstappen.

Seven-time champion Hamilton has complained of back pain from the Mercedes’ tendency to bounce at high speed, and he was holding his lower back as he gingerly climbed out of the car Sunday after finishing fourth.

“Let’s definitely make some changes,” he told team boss Toto Wolff.

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

Fernando Alonso of Alpine held off the two McLarens of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris to finish seventh, and Alonso’s teammate Esteban Ocon was 10th.

Sergio Perez wins rain-delayed race in Singapore over Leclerc; Verstappen seventh

Sergio Perez Singapore
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SINGAPORE — Max Verstappen’s Formula One title celebrations were put on hold after the Red Bull driver placed seventh at a chaotic Singapore Grand Prix, won by his teammate Sergio Perez on Sunday.

Perez’s second win of the season saw him finish 7.6 seconds ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, with Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz Jr. in third place.

Perez was investigated for a potential safety car infringement but still kept the win after a 5-second time penalty for dropping too far back after being warned.

Verstappen had won the past five races but needed to win here and finish 22 points ahead of Leclerc to be crowned champion for a second straight season. That could happen next weekend at the Japanese GP.

Verstappen made a mistake after the second safety car restart, following AlphaTauri driver Yuki Tsunoda’s crash on Lap 36. When Verstappen tried to overtake Lando Norris’ McLaren, he locked his tires and needed to pit again.

Leclerc started from pole position with Verstappen going from eighth after a team blunder in qualifying.

The race start was delayed by more than an hour to clear water off the Marina Bay Circuit track following heavy rainfall. Drivers had to finish the 61-lap race within a two-hour window; 59 laps were completed.

Tricky conditions saw the virtual safety car deployed three times and DRS was allowed with about 30 minutes remaining.

Perez made a good start and jumped past Leclerc while Verstappen dropped several places. The first safety car was on Lap 8 when Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo was cut off by Nicholas Latifi’s Williams.

Perez got away cleanly at the restart, while Verstappen climbed into seventh behind Fernando Alonso – whose 350th F1 race ended disappointingly when his engine failed on Lap 21, bringing out the first VSC.

With the track still damp, drivers decided against changing to quicker tires – apart from Mercedes’ George Russell, who struggled for grip.

Hamilton made a rare mistake on Lap 33 and thudded into the crash barrier. Soon after, the leading drivers changed tires in a flurry of stops. They did so just before the safety car was deployed again following Tsunoda’s error.

Verstappen overtook Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin right at the end for seventh place.