Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku Street Circuit, 2022

Verstappen confident he would have caught Leclerc if he hadn’t retired

2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Azerbaijan Grand Prix winner Max Verstappen says he could have caught leader Charles Leclerc even if the Ferrari driver had not suffered a power unit failure.

Leclerc was in the lead of the race with a 12-second advantage after pitting under Virtual Safety Car before his Ferrari started smoking from the rear on lap 20 and he pulled off the circuit into retirement.

Verstappen inherited the lead and remained unchallenged over the remaining 31 laps, claiming a comfortable victory to extend his championship lead. Verstappen says he feels Red Bull had enough pace in hand to have caught Leclerc had the Ferrari’s power unit not failed.

“Today we had incredible pace in the car,” said Verstappen. “We could really look after the tyres and we could chip away at it and pass for the lead.

“Of course maybe a tiny bit lucky with the retirement, but I think nevertheless our car was really quick today, so I could have closed that gap and then you have a race on your hands. But overall, really happy with how the balance of the car was today.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku Street Circuit, 2022
Gallery: 2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix in pictures
After starting on the medium tyres, Verstappen pitted twice for hard tyres and managed to keep a consistent pace, even being encouraged at one stage by race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase to reduce his pace.

Asked what elements had contributed to Red Bull’s pace in Baku, Verstappen said “Just the tyre behaviour together with just general grip of course of the car.

“That’s what you need around here – that you can look after your tyres,” he added. “So, at the end, to have the one-two as a team as well, a really good day for us.”

Verstappen now holds a 21-point advantage at the top of the drivers’ championship over team mate Sergio Perez and 34 points over Leclerc following the Ferrari drivers’ second retirement from the lead of a race in three races. Asked how confident he was about Red Bull’s performance heading into next weekend’s Canadian Grand Prix, Verstappen said he could not be sure the team would retain their race pace advantage.

“I think every weekend is a bit different,” said Verstappen. “You really have to be precise, you really have to be on it with little things for the race management as well. So it can swing around every race weekend.”

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2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix

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Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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21 comments on “Verstappen confident he would have caught Leclerc if he hadn’t retired”

  1. We won’t know, strategy would have been different, at least it would have been entertaining.

    1. @peartree Max was on another planet today. Really disappointed by Sergio, he seemed to regress to his 2021-self.

      1. I guess the challenge of beating Max is always in the races. His high pace consistency is currently only matched by Leclerc (and in the past by Hamilton).

        1. I’ve seen this from Sergio, he isn’t that great when he leads a race. Him pushing his tyres works better when he has a reference point I feel. Today as well I think he overpushed on his first stint and then had no pace from his first stop onwards.

          1. I think you’re right, LEC was closing the gap to PER in the last few laps before he pitted.

          2. Yes, it certainly looked like he worked them too hard early on and that was what did his strategy in here @wsrgo.

          3. @wsrgo@bascb was correct i think he pushed his tyres to hard in the beginning also I think Max had his car setup more to the race while Sergio more to Quallify

      2. @wsrgo
        In normal circumstances Max have had the pace to catch and pass Leclerc. Though Leclerc saved a new set of medium tyres that he was probably going to use at the end of the race and with the last virtual safety that could have made it the battle between both of them interesting.

      3. Compared to PER, yes. Compared to LEC, I’d say it’s 50-50. It depends what was the strategy for LEC. Before LEC retired, VER was barely closing the gap (~0.15sec per lap) to LEC although he had 10 laps fresher tyres.

        1. Because he would wanted to save the tyres for later.

        2. Exactly in there lies the strength of Max (and also Lewis and Charles are able to). Knowing when to push the tyres and when not. Sometimes it would seem they are not matching pace being achieved by someone else on the track while in reality they’re just saving for a fight later on

  2. Max race pace is borderline legendary. But his quali has been poor if we look at last years standard where he would literally go full send.

  3. I don’t think what Max said would have happened. For once, I think Ferrari got the strategy right. Baku is one of the tracks with highest loss of time for a green flag pit stop. Wear was also high as evidenced by 1) Leclerc’s rapid times on his new hards, 2) Max’s rapid lap 19 after his stop. Given that wear was high, eventually everyone would have done a 2 stopper and hence Ferrari doing a cheap 1st stop was smart.

    2 stopper definitely seemed better than a 1 stopper (see Gasly who eventually lost 4th place to the 2 stopping Hamilton).

    Had Leclerc continued, he and Max would have both taken the benefit of the lap 35 VSC to do a cheap 2nd stop effectively neutralising any tyre age discrepancy. Even if the lap 35 VSC hadn’t happened, both would have most likely have to do a 2nd stop which means Max would have had to overtake Charles on track.

    It would have been close but given Max’s struggles in overtaking Charles in the early part of the race, I would say that he probably would have struggled later on in the race to overtake Charles. Charles lost at least 18 points, may be even 25 today

    1. @Sumedh:
      But he said he was sure he could close the gap. He didn’t say he was sure he was going to overtake him?
      I think considering his pace he has a point. Sadly the double DNF deprived us for a 1-2 and 3-4 battle

      1. Fair, he did say close the gap and ‘race on our hands’.

        In my biased Ferrari fan opinion :), track position would have been critical once the 2 of them were close. Charles could have prevailed.

        1. @Sumedh
          I agree Leclerc could have a good chance of taking the win then.. we never got to see how Ferrari was on degradation of the tires though, which has been a factor in other races. Still, I would have liked the fight to actually happen :(

          1. Yes, me too, we’ve already lost 2 interesting fights due to these DNFs.

      2. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
        12th June 2022, 16:32

        “We could really look after the tyres and we could chip away at it and pass for the lead.”

        Until you do it you don’t really know as others have pointed out. Our Murray, “Catching is one thing, …”

        1. @andyfromsandy: the ‘pass for the lead’ comment was a reference to passing Perez.. regarding Leclerc he said the ‘race on our hands’ thing. Both seem fair comments to me

    2. Sumedh,
      Leclerc also saved a new set of medium tyres that he was going probably to use at the end of the race. He would have been in a tyre situation advantage against Max.

      1. Medium tyres were not great for this race, Charles wouldn’t have had much advantage if he would have gone for that tyre. Just look at Riccardo’s pit on Mediums vs old hards for Norris. He almost got passed by his teammate even though Norris was on much older tyres and came from more than 6 sec behind (after the lucky VSC pit for Daniel).

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