Azerbaijan GP: is the F1 championship battle over already?
Ferrari’s double DNF in Azerbaijan has handed a sizeable lead to Max Verstappen and Red Bull
Oh Ferrari. Those are exactly the same words we used in the aftermath of the Monaco GP two weeks ago, in which the team somehow failed to convert its front-row lockout into victory. And yet again in Azerbaijan, Ferrari proved to be its own worst enemy, only this time it was reliability to blame.
Charles Leclerc - who five races ago held a commanding 46-point lead over Max Verstappen - qualified on pole with another staggering lap; his sixth in eight races so far this season. However the Monagasque lost the lead to Sergio Perez into the first corner, and shortly after teammate Carlos Sainz pulled over with a hydraulic issue, Leclerc’s engine went up in smoke. Oh dear.
With Verstappen taking the chequered flag in Baku, it's the Dutchman who now enjoys a huge lead at the top of the standings, 34 points ahead of Leclerc. The Ferrari driver now trails Perez as well, and is only 17 points ahead of Mr Consistency (aka George Russell). Given how many ups and downs Mercedes has been through (pun very much intended), that doesn’t look great, does it?
To make matters worse, Ferrari now finds itself 80 points behind Red Bull in the fight for the constructors’ title, and team boss Mattia Binotto has hinted that the team still has no answers to the engine reliability issues that cost Leclerc an almost certain victory in Spain and a possible one in Azerbaijan.
Which begs the question: is F1’s championship battle over already? Early on it looked like Red Bull could see its season scuppered by poor reliability, but just a few races later it’s now Ferrari facing intense scrutiny over its ability to finish grands prix, never mind win them.
Red Bull has now bounced back to win five races in a row, while Verstappen has won five of the six races he’s finished since the opening race in Bahrain.
The Milton Keynes outfit hasn’t been shy of using team orders either: Perez was told ‘no fighting’ when his teammate caught and passed him on lap 15, having been informed ‘if he’s quicker, we let him through’ at the Spanish Grand Prix back in May, much to the Mexican’s dismay.
And while Perez has been in great form lately - winning in Monaco last time out - it seems unlikely that he’ll be allowed to put up any serious defence whenever he finds himself ahead of the reigning champion.
So is that it? Or is it still way too early to be calling the trends that’ll define the 2022 season? Thoughts in the comments section please, this week ceremoniously renamed as the ‘Lewis Hamilton sore back appreciation zone’. Hashtag blessed (to be out of the car).
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