For a number of races, Max Verstappen, the defending Formula One champion, has been doing everything in his power to take control of the driver standings. And now, the Dutchman has finally asserted his authority on the leaderboard with victory in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a race that title challenger Charles Leclerc was forced out of.
Leclerc, who has been on pole in six of the eight Grand Prix races so far this season, has reason to complain to his team Ferrari, as this is now the second time he’s been forced to retire from the action due to a problematic engine issue. The driver, who hails from Monaco and was on course to mount a serious challenge to Verstappen’s F1 crown, has now slipped thirty-five points off the pace.
It could be a case of bad luck striking Ferrari, but after getting off to an excellent start to the new campaign, things are going from bad to worse on the reliability front, and it’s now seeing them fall out of the race for the top prize entirely. It’s not just Leclerc suffering disappointment, as teammate Carlos Sainz was also forced to retire from the race due to an early hydraulic failure. So it was yet another setback for Ferrari in their quest to dislodge the likes of Reb Bull and Ferrari at the top of the sport.
It was Red Bull, rather than just solely Verstappen, who capitalised on Ferrari's capitulation in Baku, as Sergio Perez crossed the line after his teammate to hand the team an excellent 1-2 finish. Mercedes also profited from the two Ferrari's exiting the race early, with George Russell securing a podium finish in third and Lewis Hamilton doing well to claim fourth. However, the Brit had to make it past both Yuki Tsunoda Pierre Gasly in the Alpha’s to earn his result, with his hard work and grit paying off.
The updated driver standings now show that Verstappen is well and truly in the driving seat and on course to successfully defend the title he won in a controversial fashion last season. Ferrari's rapid decline is there for all to see, too, with Leclerc now down in third and starting to drift away from the competition. He's in touching distance for Russell, who continues to rack results up in his Mercedes. Perez has moved into second after the Baku Red Bull 1-2, and now it's a 1-2 for him and Verstappen where the F1 crown is concerned.
Next up for Formula One is a trip to Montreal, Canada, for the first time since 2019. Lewis Hamilton won the last time F1 rolled into town, with Sebastian Vettel second and Leclerc third. It’s make or break for Ferrari and Mercedes heading into this one. Leclerc has to get back to winning ways. And time is very much running out for Hamilton if he wants to mount a serious challenge.