Another podium for “Checo” Pérez: Red Bull repeated the 1-2 with Verstappen in first place at the Azerbaijan GP

the dutch Max Verstappen (Redbull) reinforced his leadership in the Formula One World Championship by winning, ahead of his Mexican teammate Sergio Perez, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, the eighth of the year, which was held this Sunday at the urban circuit of Baku, the country’s capital; where the two Ferraris left, that of the Spaniard Carlos Sainz and that of the Monegasque Charles Leclerc, who had started from pole position and who retired, for the third time this year, when he was leading the race.

Verstappen, 24, took his 25th F1 victory, his fifth of the year, by leading Red Bull’s third ‘double’ of the season; in a race that ‘Checo’ finished second -signing his twentieth podium in the queen category- and the Englishman George Russell (Mercedes), third; ahead of his compatriot and teammate the seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton, fourth this Sunday in Azerbaijan: where the other Spaniard, the double Asturian world champion Fernando Alonso (Alpine) finished in a creditable seventh place.

The new sports idol from the Netherlands and his Mexican teammate -who had just won two weeks ago in Monaco- They dealt an important psychological blow to the championship, signing another ‘double’ while Ferrari staged a shipwreck in the Caspian Seawhich bathes the Azerbaijani capital, with the withdrawal of its two single-seaters.

Sainz, who started fourth, did so in the ninth of the 51 laps, due to a hydraulic problem; and the Monegasque Charles Leclerc, who started from pole, by one in the power unitbefore reaching the middle of the race, in the twentieth lap.

In a new triumphant day for the red bulls, Red Bull extended its lead in both championships. Verstappen now leads the Drivers’ World Championship with 150 points, 21 more than his Mexican teammate, who signed the fastest lap in the race and rose to second place in the contest after achieving his fourth podium in Azerbaijan -where he had won last year-, a mark that no one has matched in the six editions of this test. And the Austrian team leads the constructors’ competition with 279 units, eighty more than Ferrari.

In a hot race, tire management, especially the rear ones, was key. The top speed was not so great, on the third longest circuit in the World Championship (6,003 metres) and with the longest straight in the championship (2.2 kilometres) and theoretically in favor of Red Bull, which on this occasion prevailed thanks to greater reliability: the one that the ‘Scuderia’ single-seaters did not have.

Leclerc, who on Saturday had signed his fifteenth ‘pole’ in F1 -the sixth of the season- started first, ahead of the Red Bull of ‘Checo’ -second on the grid- and Verstappen; and Sainz, who after signing a great qualifying in which he bordered on the best time, had to settle for starting from fourth place.

Alonso started tenth; and like the vast majority, he did it with a medium tire. The Asturian double world champion became this Sunday the driver with the longest career in Formula One -21 years, three months and eight days since he made his debut, at the 2001 Australian Grand Prix-, beating the record in eight days history of the seven-time German world champion Michael Schumacher, still convalescing from the serious ski accident he suffered at the end of 2013 in Meribel, in the French Alps. A record that the Asturian genius, who intends to drive “another two or three more years” in the premier class, will continue to improve from now on.

With five different winners in the past five editions and five different ‘polemen’, Leclerc repeated the first place on the grid from last year. But Verstappen kept up the pace, becoming the sixth winner in half a dozen races in Azerbaijan; making up, incidentally, for what happened last year, when he crashed at the end of a test in which he seemed to be driving to a certain victory. And that he ended up writing down ‘Checo’: the new ‘fashionable man’ in F1.

The brave driver from Guadalajara shone at the start, in which overtook Leclerc in the first of the twenty corners of the Baku track; in which among the top ten there was only that change and that of the German Sebastian Vettel (Aston Martin) -sixth this Sunday-, who overtook the Japanese Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri) to snatch the eighth place, with Fernando maintaining the tenth position.

‘Mad Max’ attacked the Monegasque, who defended himself as best he could, in actions that were not bad for the Mexican; that, in any case, nor did he take off more than two seconds from the pilot of the Côte d’Azur. In a race in which the entry of a safety car onto the track was taken for granted, something that did not happen; in a day in which there were a couple of virtual ‘safety cars’.

Sainz could not initially follow the first three, but neither did he suffer from the harassment of Russell, fifth on the grid and who ended up signing his fourth podium in F1, certifying his fourth place in the World Cup, 17 points behind Leclerc, third with 116.

Until in the ninth of the 51 laps, The man from Madrid stopped his car on the run-off at turn 4, before retiring due to a hydraulic problem, as reported by Ferrari shortly after, through its press chat, in which Efe is included. A virtual safety car was decreed and Leclerc changed to hard -in a bad stop, since the cat in front did not come out-, in a few moments in which the Monegasque was not the only one to enter the garage.

The Red Bulls didn’t; and Alonso didn’t stop either, he was running fifth when Verstappen passed, on the fifteenth lap, ‘Checo’with problems of rubber degradation and to which Leclerc was dangerously close.

The Mexican went to hard -in another bad stop- and returned to the track behind the Ferrari, which cut Verstappen’s time, who stopped in lap 19, in which the Monegasque regained the race lead. Fernando also entered garages on that lap, also installed the stiffer compound; and provisionally descended to the seventeenth place; from which he would advance ten positions to the finish line.

After the first 20 laps, Leclerc was leading ahead of the Red Bulls and Russell: fourth, ahead of the two McLarens of Norris -with medium- and Ricciardo -hard-, who had not stopped. And that they would conclude the test -reversing order- in eighth and ninth position.

But just at that moment, the Ferrari’s engine broke again and the pilot from the principality of the Côte d’Azur had to leave – for the third time this year – when he was leading the race. Leaving Verstappen and Red Bull a free passwho considerably extended their advantage in both championships with the third ‘double’ of the course in just eight races

Passed the halfway point of the test, in the 27th, when everyone was already riding with the hard, Verstappen commanded ahead of ‘Checo’, with Russell on the podium; ahead of Frenchman Pierre Gasly (Alpha Tauri) -fifth at the end- and Hamilton; and Ricciardo -who had not yet stopped-, in sixth place. Alonso, who had just passed Ocon – who had not entered the garages either – was running in ninth position.

In lap 33, a new virtual safety car was decreed, because of the Danish Kevin Magnussen, who stopped the Haas. A circumstance that the three headers took advantage of to stop, as did Hamilton -sixth at the time- and all those who had not yet done so, including Ricciardo.

The podium positions were not altered. Y Hamilton, who this season does not have the winning car that he enjoyed during the past eight, nor does he seem to exercise the captaincy of the team -Russell, 24, thirteen less than himis beating him on the track- he extracted everything he could from the test to finish, with notorious back problems derived from ‘porpoising’ (the bounces that the car gives on the straights), fourth.

The spectacular and eccentric Stevenage champion crossed the finish line ahead of Gasly, Vettel and Alonso, who moved up three positions on the track to finish in a very creditable seventh place. His teammate, Frenchman Esteban Ocon, scratched another point, finishing tenth -behind the McLarens-; to keep Alpine in fifth position in the constructors’ championship.

The next Grand Prix, the Canadian Grand Prix, will be held next weekend at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.

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