Verstappen picks up the pieces in Baku as reliability paradigm shifts for Ferrari

2022 Azerbaijan Grand Prix review

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In the 110 days since the first day of pre-season testing in Barcelona, the start of Ferrari’s 2022 championship campaign could be split into two halves of almost entirely contrasting fortunes.

The first 55 days saw r four seconds by the time Perez pitted for hards at the end of lap 16.Ferrari establish themselves as the most formidable force on the grid. The F1-75 was not just fast, but reliable. They racked up more miles than any team in pre-season testing, won two of the first three races – while Red Bull recorded a retirement rate of 50% – to sit almost 50 points clear at the top of the constructors’ standings. Charles Leclerc 38 points ahead of Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings.

But 55 days later as the chequered flag flew in Baku, the smoke pluming out of the rear of Leclerc’s abandoned car in the pit lane said a lot about the state of Ferrari’s championship hoped. Now another team has faster and more reliable package: Red Bull.

Hours earlier, it had again looked so promising for Leclerc and Ferrari heading into a grand prix Sunday. Leclerc had secured his fourth consecutive pole position by almost three tenths of a second from Sergio Perez, and a fraction more from the championship leader Verstappen. Looking to convert his pole to victory for the first time since the Australian Grand Prix, Leclerc admitted he just wanted to “finish the job” in Azerbaijan.

Race start, Baku Street Circuit, 2022
Leclerc lost his advantage from pole position immediately
However, Perez and Red Bull had other ideas. After being psyched up for battle on the formation lap by his engineer Hugh Bird telling him “elbows out into turn one – it’s all to play for,” Perez found he need not have to bully his way into the lead when the lights went out after all.

Perez’s sprint off the line was good enough to draw him side-by-side with the Ferrari on the run to the braking zone, giving him the position of strength as they entered the left-hander. Leclerc’s lock-up only made it inevitable that he would lose the lead and he quickly had to focus less on Perez ahead and more on Verstappen filling his mirrors behind on the run to turn two.

All cars in the top 10 grid slots had started on the medium tyre compound and all largely held their positions on the opening lap, only Perez and Sebastian Vettel improving one place apiece. But with track temperatures within touching distance of 50C, there was no time for Perez to bask in the thrill of taking the lead, Bird instructing him to immediately begin managing his tyres.

After qualifying, Verstappen had expressed confidence in Red Bull’s potential race pace and he demonstrated it by pulling away from fourth-placed Carlos Sainz Jnr at a rate of half a second per lap, while applying pressure to second-placed Leclerc ahead. Sainz could only remark how “Red Bull look quick” as he watched Verstappen slowly become smaller ahead of him.

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But then, approaching turn four on the ninth lap, Sainz suddenly had more pressing concerns.

Both Ferraris were out by half-distance
“Oh! Something…” he radioed as his Ferrari juddered awkwardly under braking. “Brake-by-wire failure,” he elaborated. “Something failed.” Ferrari later confirmed his hydraulics were the source of the problem.

For the third time in eight races, Sainz was out – his Ferrari having failed him for the first time this season. Race director Niels Wittich deployed the Virtual Safety Car at the exact moment leader Perez was passing the broken white line marking pit entry, meaning that by the time Bird told him to “pit, pit,” Perez could only reply “yeah, I missed it.”

After the race, Perez blamed a “miscommunication” for not getting into the pits in time. “I’m not the one deciding when to pit. Unfortunately, we have certain communications in place that we know when to pit and when the window’s open, but a few things went wrong today,” he explained.

Ironically, the two-second deficit Leclerc had lost to the leader allowed him to react to Ferrari’s call to box, permitting him to switch to hard tyres and rejoin behind the Red Bulls in third. Behind, everyone from George Russell in fourth to Yuki Tsunoda in eighth followed suit, with Vettel jumping ahead of Lewis Hamilton in the process.

When the Virtual Safety Car was lifted on lap 10, Leclerc had a 13-second gap to Verstappen who was two second adrift of his team mate. Immediately, Leclerc was faster than the pair ahead. After a couple of laps of green flag running, he was lapping over a second a lap faster than the leader.

“I’m starting to lose the rears,” Perez warned as Verstappen begin to eat into his lead a couple of tenths per lap until eventually getting within DRS range of his team mate at the end of lap 14 as Perez’s lap times were now falling severely.

“No fighting,” came Red Bull’s clear instruction to Perez, before Verstappen pulled to the inside of his team mate at the start of lap 15 and through into the lead, Perez putting up no resistance but also losing hardly any time in doing so.

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“It was the right call not to fight,” Perez later explained after the race, “because I didn’t have any pace at the time and Max deserved to be ahead at that point. We hit a lot of deg on that medium tyre after the Virtual Safety Car.”

(L to R): Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku Street Circuit, 2022
Red Bull did not want a repeat of 2018 on their hands
Freed into clear air, Verstappen pulled over two seconds over Perez on the first lap alone, his advantage growing to over four seconds by the time Perez pitted for hards at the end of lap 16. Perez resumed 18 seconds behind Leclerc, who himself was now 8.6 seconds away from the race leader and catching.

Verstappen made his first stop at the end of the following lap, allowing Leclerc into the lead of the grand prix for the first time. Ferrari’s quick reactions under Virtual Safety Car had been rewarded by a lead of 13.6 seconds over Verstappen, but with over 30 laps still remaining on the hard tyres if they wanted to take them to the end of the race.

However, Leclerc’s tyres – much like the rest of his car – would only enjoy two more tours of the circuit before his mirrors would be filled by the unmistakable haze of an expiring power unit as he rounded the turn 18-19 kink at the end of lap 20.

“Problem! Problem! Engine,” Leclerc cried into the radio, a familiar sinking feeling engulfing him. “No, no. It’s done.”

For the second time in three races, Leclerc spluttered into the pit lane, a comfortable lead having suddenly evaporated in a blink of an eye and his fourth consecutive pole position having delivered frustration, not elation on Sunday yet again. “Sorry about that,” his engineer Xavier Marcos Padros meekly offered over that radio, as much out of social obligation than anything.

“Any DNF is hard,” Leclerc told the media pen as the sounds of the power units that hadn’t failed continued to echo around the paddock. “Obviously now is not the third in a row but, to be honest, Monaco felt like a DNF. So it’s the third disappointment in a row and it’s not easy.”

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Red Bull’s frantic number-crunching over how best to take the fight to Leclerc had suddenly ceased. Now their cars held the leading positions, Russell’s third-placed Mercedes offering minimal threat behind, and the team’s thoughts turned to preserving their one-two.

Kevin Magnussen, Haas, Baku Street Circuit, 2022
Four out of five Ferrari-powered cars retired
Out front, Verstappen was instructed to “lift off, easy on the brakes and easy on traction”. But despite being told to target a 1’48.0, the leader was running consistently in the mid 1’47s.

“Max, that last lap was a 47.5,” Gianpiero Lambiase reminded his driver. “That’s close to 48.0,” Verstappen insisted.

“You know full well what it’s like to lose a race around here,” Lambiase warned in response. “Keep your head down. Target 48.0”.

“I’ll try to be closer,” Verstappen conceded.

Within a handful of laps, Kevin Magnussen’s Haas pulled off into retirement on the approach to the tricky turn 15 left hander, causing the Virtual Safety Car to be deployed at the perfect time for those who had pitted under the first VSC to split their stints by taking a second set of new tyres to see them to the end of the race. Had Leclerc still been in the race, it would have been ideally timed for him.

As it was Verstappen, Perez and Russell came in from the top three places, as did Hamilton from fifth and the McLaren of Daniel Ricciardo from sixth. He had started the race on the hard tyres and not yet pitted, so this VSC fell perfectly for him.

The top three remained in order, while Hamilton dropped behind Yuki Tsunoda. The two AlphaTauris, both on one-stop strategies, lay between him and his team mate Russell. Hamilton’s fears of a punishing and painful race in his super-stiff Mercedes had materialised, he was having trouble keeping the W13 out of the wall in the high-speed kinks before the pit lane, and later described the afternoon as the most painful race he’d had in Formula 1.

Pushing through the pain barrier, Hamilton slipped passed Tsunoda once the Virtual Safety Car was lifted to claim fifth place. He then took only seven laps to whittle down the 10 seconds to Gasly ahead, eventually catching within DRS range of the AlphaTauri.

He was helped in no small part by Nicholas Latifi, who for the second race in a row made a nuisance of himself by failing to yield to a car behind in good time. The Williams driver waited until the end of the main straight to let his pursuers by and, unlike in Monaco, earned a five-second time penalty for his troubles.

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“Okay Pierre,” Gasly’s engineer Pierre Hamelin cautioned, “we need to make sure we keep it on-track with Hamilton. We need to secure these points – it’s still a very good position for us.”

Despite huge discomfort, Hamilton got past Gasly
Despite the warning, Gasly was not going to move over for the Mercedes. As Hamilton tucked into his slipstream with DRS, Gasly went defensive to the middle of the track to resist his attack. It was effective, but Hamilton’s superior traction from his fresher tyres allowed him to pull to the inside along the second DRS straight and complete the move into turn three.

Third and fourth places in the race were now secured, but first and second place had been since the moment Leclerc’s Ferrari started smoking some 30 laps prior. At a track that so often produces wild, chaotic races, this time it had not been the circuit itself that had bitten, but the Ferraris had self-sabotaged their own races and handed a fifth win in a row for Red Bull.

Verstappen’s 25th career victory had arguably been one of his least challenging but it was still a relief for Red Bull team principal Christian Horner to see how strong the team’s like-for-like race pace compared to Ferrari’s before Leclerc pulled off the circuit.

“It’s a shame in many respects that the race didn’t pan out, because I do think we had a good race car today and I think we would have beaten Charles strategically in the route that we picked as well,” Horner explained.

“The important thing was, on their misfortune, that we capitalised on that and we banked the points. Obviously the championships look healthy at the moment, but we can see how quickly that can change.”

Perez had looked just as quick as his team mate throughout the weekend, but could not keep up with Verstappen’s race pace on Sunday – evidenced by how Verstappen caught and passed him.

“Certainly Max was quite a lot stronger in that phase of the race,” said Perez, gaining second in the championship on the day. “Then it was mainly about bringing home after the Ferrari issue.

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“So a few bits to understand today to try to improve them for Montreal and improve our race pace, because certainly Max deserved the win today.”

Red Bull, Baku Street Circuit, 2022
Red Bull now have commanding positions in both championships
Russell enjoyed one of the more anonymous drives in recent memory, happily benefiting from the Ferraris dropping out to run in a very lonely third for the majority of the race and take an unexpected yet welcome podium.

“I think P5 was the maximum we could have achieved on merit,” Russell said. “But we can’t keep on relying on others’ misfortune, and we need to find more performance. And that’s what everyone’s trying their hardest to achieve.”

But for the second time in three rounds, the biggest story in the race was in Ferrari throwing away a strong chance of a victory through their reliability. After such a strong start to the season for Ferrari where Verstappen and Red Bull had been the ones breaking down and dropping valuable championship points, the paradigm has shifted. Verstappen, however, didn’t have much sympathy.

“I would always say shit happens,” he said. “Yeah, that’s racing. It happened to me, it happened to many people in the past. Unfortunately, it’s happening to Charles.”

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Author information

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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23 comments on “Verstappen picks up the pieces in Baku as reliability paradigm shifts for Ferrari”

  1. Yeah, not the most exciting race. But there was enough going on in the midfield, and the emotions around both Ferraris (and Magnussen) dropping out made it a decent enough one to watch.

    This season really is turning into a bit of a survival derby with almost everyone apart from McLaren and Mercedes suffering with either accidents or unreliability. McLaren are very peaking in their performance. And Mercedes is wreaking their drivers but the car is slowly and consistently delivering them respectable points it really shouldn’t get.

    Will be interesting to see how things pan out over the rest of the year – still 2/3rds to go. I think we might still see some issues for Verstappen come up too. And we will be starting to see more and more grid penalties all over the grid.

    1. I have the impression that mercedes’ fight with Mclaren is going in their favor at least in part due to their superior driver line-up this year.

      1. I am unsure I understand you there @lamalas? This year we’ve seen several outstanding performances from Norris already. And while Hamilton certainly did a some good things in the last few races, certainly not that great. Russel has certainly been delivering. But much of that was due to very good strategic choices that might have also involved some luck, as well as skill and will to carry them out.

        Sure, Ricciardo hasn’t ever seemed to be on par with those three, but the difference between them is not so much the drivers but 1. Mercedes, while being a handful and possibly painful, being the faster and more consistent car and 2. a combination of good pit work/strategy and luck.

    2. As pointed out by Sky Italy yesterday, Red Bull’s reliability problems were actually ‘minor’ and not related to the power unit. Indeed, Red bull themselves told that they had ‘issues that usually happen in pre-season testing’.

      Ferrari made a huge mistake in their PU upgrades. They took a gamble to be able to compete with RBs even on fast tracks like Baku but they got it all wrong. WIth the old PU (1), Leclerc would have won in Spain and fought for p2 against Perez in Baku. +37/40 points….

      1. Yes, that’s a good point, however if you end up fighting with perez you in practice have no chance on winning most races, as you saw from the gap between verstappen and perez.

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised alot if not all of Ferrari’s mechanical issue’s are caused by porpoising.

    That Ferrari have chosen not to quickly upgrade and update their car like Red Bull has chosen to do, seems to backfire for Ferrari.

  3. Ferrari and Red Bull appear to be glass cannons. Mercedes is not even perfect either, but the better of the 3 teams. Ferrari needs to worry about other races and Binotto needs to be careful with his words because they can challenge for the championship. He is just saying that it is not their aim to take off all the pressure, but the fact that all races they have at least been in contention for the win, shows they can and they are more capable to challenge for it.

    1. Think is, with a brand new car and regulations, you expect some reliability gremlins in testing and the the first races. Red Bull had those and seem to have sorted them out. Ferrari had a trouble free testing and first 4 races and then suddenly imploded. Their porpoising seems to have gotten worse as well, I guess these two could be connected.

      Sainz failing to do some decent laps in the first races couldn’t have helped either. They will get on top of it eventually but I wonder if it will be too late by then.

      In any way, I’d prefer to have a fast car and fight for wins and pole positions than be in Mercedes’ position for sure.

    2. @krichelle with respect to RBR I think they’re pretty much OK. Sure they had a few costly DNF’s, but there are differences with Ferrari’s DNF’s in the sense that for RBR they seem to have been isolated and really minor issues that had big consequences, but easily fixable and non recurrent. The only thing that does seem a bit of a returning nuisance is the DRS stuff, but it seems like that isn’t going to cost them more than a few points (which are always handy, but still, nothing like a DNF).

      On the other hand we have Ferrari which seem to eat through their PU’s. The top 3 teams with mechanical issues are Ferrari, Haas and Alfa Romeo, all Ferrari-engined, and a lot of the DNF’s are PU-related.

      This should be highly worrying for Ferrari. It’s already become impossible for Leclerc to finish the year with just the allocated 3 PU’s (well, that is to say: of some parts they can even use just 2) so he will take one or more grid penalties. On the other hand Max (iirc) has just started his second PU, which means nothing worrying there.

      So I think all in all Red Bull are pretty much OK. If I had to choose any car on the grid, I’d take the Red Bull, based on what I’ve seen in this first third of the season.

  4. Almost all teams on the 2022 grid do not allow any sort of fighting between their drivers. With only Mercedes ironically so far being the exception. I had Mclarens radio on during the race and if Redbull did half their micromanaging all hell would break loose.

    I guess it’s partly a side effect of the budget cap.

  5. Title of this article does not do justice to Verstappen’s demonstration of a masterclass…

    1. What masterclass, he was cruising…

      1. Yeah it say’s a lot. Ver cruising and the rest racing like idiots. What a performance.

      2. A masterclass cruising ;-p

        1. He was cruising and gaining 20 + seconds on perez across the whole race?

  6. As much as we hate them as fans, the sprint races may be Ferrari’s saviour. Gives them an extra 30 mins to two races to make up for engine pens like Lewis did in Brazil last year.

    1. Possibly but it’s also an extra 30 laps for their engine to blow up in…

      1. True, altough 30 is unrealistic, probably 20 on a conventional track, would be 26 at monaco, 27 at bahrain outer circuit.

      2. although*

  7. Not surprising that it’s been Red Bull and Ferrari that have suffered most from reliability issues – they are the only teams in the running for the championships, so naturally they are going to be running the cars much closer to the limit.

    It’s been good for Russell, no doubt, as much as he should be getting praised for his consistency and being in the position to pick up the pieces when the top 4 cars have issues, his ultimate points tally/position in the table has been flattered by those retirements – often he is in a complete no-mans-land on track, with nobody else to challenge from behind.

  8. Ferraris being comfortably in the lead for the rest of the season is going to be horribly tense from now on as I’m just going to expect a gremlin or strategy balls up.

    At the same time I hope the upper management don’t freak out, as they always do in Italy, and replace Benotto too hastily and then have to build up from scratch yet again. For a change at least they do have about joint best car on the grid. Just need to get on top of a few things, but fast.

  9. F1 fans asked and F1 delivered: a very exciting category with beautiful cars and different winners at each race.

    Thrilling!

  10. FORMULA 1 icon Lewis Hamilton is contemplating his post-retirement options once he gives up racing, having already dipped his toes into Hollywood waters.

    His first true acting appearance ( except his cameo) for the big audience was not yet on a “oscar” level.

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