Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Leclerc urges Ferrari to fix issues as Verstappen capitalizes in Baku

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An injured Charles Leclerc has urged Ferrari to address its reliability issues to prevent this season’s Formula One battle from becoming a one-horse race.

Max Verstappen extended his championship lead by taking an unchallenged win at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after Leclerc and teammate Carlos Sainz failed to finish for Ferrari in Baku on a desperate afternoon.

Leclerc tried to avenge Ferrari’s flatfoot strategy in Monaco two weeks ago, which cost him victory at his home game.

But on lap 20 of 51, Leclerc’s engine died and he pulled away from the lead. An engine failure at the Circuit de Catalunya in Barcelona last month means the Monegasque has now failed to finish in two of his last three appearances.

Leclerc led Verstappen by up to 47 points after the third round in Australia – the scene of his last triumph – on April 10.

But ahead of next weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix at Montreal’s Circuit Gilles Villeneuve – the ninth race of 22 this season – Leclerc sits 34 points adrift of the Dutchman in the championship standings.

Sunday’s race could indeed prove crucial in Verstappen’s quest to win back-to-back crowns.

Sergio Perez finished second to complete a Red Bull double and is now Verstappen’s closest challenger after overtaking Leclerc in the standings.

The Mexican, who picked up a bonus point for fastest lap, is 21 points behind his Red Bull team-mate.

George Russell took his third podium finish for Mercedes in third, while teammate Lewis Hamilton, who was complaining of severe back pain in his choppy Silver Arrows, finished fourth.

“It hurts,” said Leclerc, 24. “We really need to look at this so it doesn’t happen again.

“I can’t really find the right words to describe what happened. It’s just very, very disappointing.

“We were fast and didn’t have any major problems in the first part of the season. But now we seem to have more problems, even if we haven’t made any massive changes to the car. It is difficult to understand.”

Leclerc put in a mighty lap in qualifying to put his Ferrari in front of the field, only to lose to Perez on the short escape into the first corner.

Perez dropped two seconds in front of Leclerc, while Verstappen occupied the Monegasque mirrors.

Start the ninth lap with the first of two Ferrari shots as Sainz shut down his scarlet machine after hydraulic failure.

The virtual safety car came out and Leclerc came in to change tires. Perez and Verstappen decided against stopping for fresh rubber before the Red Bull drivers swapped positions on lap 15.

Verstappen took the lead into the opening corner with little resistance from Perez.

“No fights”, the order from the Red Bull pit wall was a clear sign that Verstappen is number one in the team.

Leclerc held a 12-second lead over Verstappen after the world champion stopped for new boots on lap 20, but moments later Leclerc’s race was over and with it possibly his championship dreams.

In a cloud of white smoke, Leclerc hobbled back to the pits. The pained expression on the face of team principal Mattia Binotto – the man tasked with ending Ferrari’s 15-year championship drought – spoke volumes.

Ferrari’s pit wall soon became a ghost town as Verstappen drove to the flag and claimed the fifth win of his championship defense.

“I would always say s*** happens,” Verstappen said in an unsympathetic reaction to Leclerc’s car failure.

“This is racing. It has happened to me, it has happened to many people in the past and unfortunately it is happening to Charles now.

“If I were in the same situation, I would be disappointed too. It’s normal, but it’s about how you get out of it.

“You learn from it, you don’t like it and you’re angry, but you turn it around. You must prevent these problems from occurring.”

Russell was able to take advantage of Ferrari’s double retirement to move up two places from fifth on the grid for the young Brit on another quiet day.

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