Formula 1: Chequered Flag - Azerbaijan GP Review
Max Verstappen won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the first time on Sunday, as both he and Red Bull tightened their grips at the top of the standings.
The reigning world champion led home a one-two for Red Bull, with Sergio Perez coming in second, while there was another consistent showing from Mercedes' George Russell who completed the podium.
However, Ferrari were nowhere to be seen, as both Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc were forced to retire from the race early - the latter while leading, as he failed to take advantage of another pole position.
Verstappen cruises to first Baku win
It all looked set up for another intriguing battle at the front of the grid between Red Bull and Ferrari, but the Scuderia's reliability issues resurfaced in spectacular fashion at Baku City Circuit.
First of all, Sainz was forced to retire during lap nine due to an hydraulic failure, while Leclerc's engine also failed 12 laps later, with the cloud of smoke erupting from the Monegasque's car signalling his exit from the race.
Leclerc's retirement meant Red Bull could cruise to a one-two finish, with Verstappen outpacing Perez to claim his fifth race victory of the season and also the fifth in a row for his team.
The Dutchman is now 21 points clear at the top of the Drivers' Championship standings and 1.083 to defend his title, with team-mate Perez now his nearest challenger. The Mexican having overhauled Leclerc into second place.
Red Bull are also now 80 points clear of Ferrari in the Constructors' Championship standings, with the Austrian outfit currently priced at 1.12 to retain their crown.
Ferrari's season going up in smoke
The smoke that erupted from the back of Leclerc's car as he retired from Sunday's race felt symbolic to how Ferrari's season has seemingly unravelled over recent weeks.
After such a strong start to the year that saw the Scuderia win two of the opening three races of 2022, reliability issues and a failure to convert poles into victories has started to prove costly.
Leclerc secured his sixth pole of the season in Baku during Saturday's qualifying session and it was also the fourth race in a row where he had started on the front of the grid.
However, just like in Miami, Spain and Monaco, the 24-year-old was unable to convert pole position into a victory and he is now 34 points behind Verstappen in the standings and priced at 8.50 to end the year as world champion.
It is also the second time in three races that Leclerc has been forced to retire and this latest DNF clearly hurt, as he described it as "more than significant" and "a huge disappointment".
It is not just Leclerc suffering, as team-mate Sainz has now been forced to retire three times during 2022, and it is certainly something 7.00 Ferrari are going to have to resolve if they are to win their first Constructors' Championship since 2008.
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Consistent Russell delivers once again
It has been far from a vintage year for Mercedes to date, but the Silver Arrows are showing signs of improvement, and in Russell they have statistically the most consistent driver on the grid in 2022.
The Brit claimed his third podium of the season in Baku and, in doing so, maintained his record as the only driver to have finished in the top five of every race to date this year - not bad for someone enjoying his debut season with Mercedes.
In truth, it was a drama-free race for Russell, who started fifth on the grid, but was able to move up two places thanks to the retirements of Leclerc and Sainz.
Russell may now have Leclerc in his sights, as the 24-year-old is fourth in the Drivers' Championship standings and just 17 points behind the Ferrari driver.
Hamilton shows fighting spirit
It was a good day all round for Mercedes (by this season's standards anyway) as Russell's team-mate Lewis Hamilton finished fourth and he showed plenty of tenacity in doing so.
Having pitted alongside Russell while the virtual safety car was out early in the race, Hamilton was forced to wait behind his team-mate, with that split-second delay seeing him re-emerge from the pits down in 11th place.
However, the 37-year-old was able to show some of the grit, determination and skill that has seen him win seven world titles in the past, as he overtook the likes of Sebastian Vettel, Yuki Tsunoda and Pierre Gasly to clinch fourth place - equalling his best result since the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix.
Alpha Tauri's Gasly took fifth ahead of Vettel in his Aston Martin, while the top-10 was completed by Alpine's Fernando Alonso, the two McLaren's of Daniel Ricciardo and Lando Norris and Esteban Ocon in the second of the Alpine's.
The 2022 Formula 1 season will now roll into Montreal for next week's Canadian Grand Prix, the first staging of the race since Hamilton claimed the seventh of his victories at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in 2019.
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