The team that began the 2022 Formula One season with a proper foot up on the competition will leave Azerbaijan with neither of their cars having reached the race’s halfway point.
Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc — who is yet to qualify off of the front row this year — took the pole for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix but made a weak run off the line. He was overtaken by Sergio Perez under braking for the Baku circuit’s first corner on the first lap. Leclerc immediately faced pressure from Max Verstappen, while Perez maintained his lead between one and two seconds.
Starting from fourth place, Leclerc’s teammate Carlos Sainz wasn’t in the mix through the race’s opening laps. He was fast enough to defend from George Russell, but not fast enough to stay in touch with Verstappen — solitude was the word for the Spaniard’s first stint.
With Leclerc just over two seconds adrift of Perez at the start of lap 9, it suddenly all went wrong for Sainz. He ground to a halt in the turn 4 escape road, felled by a hydraulic issue. A nasty grinding sound could be heard as Sainz downshifted while turning into the corner, but no visible indication was present that anything was wrong.
Sainz stuck in the escape road brought out a virtual safety car, meaning all drivers were required to drop their pace by around 30 percent until the track was cleared. Leclerc used this opportunity to make an early pit stop for hard tires, as beating the Red Bulls outright on track looked rather unlikely.
When the race resumed one lap later, Leclerc sat behind Verstappen, aiming to lean on the hard tires’ durability to run Verstappen down on an alternate strategy. For all intents and purposes, it was working; Leclerc was pushing hard and setting noteworthy lap times.
Leclerc inherited the lead when Verstappen pitted on lap 19 and had the fastest lap to his credit as well. A slow pit stop for the Dutchman made his gap to Leclerc around 13 seconds, give or take.
But come lap 20, Leclerc’s race ended abruptly.
Looking down Baku’s massively long start-finish straight, Leclerc’s Ferrari was seen coming through the turns 17-20 complex with smoke billowing from the engine cover.
“Problem, problem! Engine!” is all Leclerc had to offer his team as his car coasted into the pit lane to be retired, less than halfway to the checkered flag.
Both Leclerc and Sainz will leave Baku having scored no points, with Leclerc likely losing second place in the drivers’ standings to Perez.
It’s the second straight race where Ferrari has fallen prey to mechanical problems. Leclerc retired from Spain with a turbo failure and saw the Monaco Grand Prix slip away from him owing to an erroneous strategy mix-up last time out.
Sainz, meanwhile, retired from both the Australian and Emilia Romagna Grands Prix, both times due to leaving the track and being trapped in the gravel.
However, Ferrari’s woes in Baku weren’t limited to the factory team.
Zhou Guanyu’s Ferrari-powered Alfa Romeo encountered power-related issues on lap 24, forcing the Chinese rookie’s third retirement in the last four races.
Then, on lap 33, Kevin Magnussen’s Ferrari-powered Haas lost drive exiting the circuit’s tight and winding castle section.
That’s four retirements, all power unit related, in less than three quarters of the race distance. No points for either of Ferrari’s championship contenders and two free positions for Red Bull; it all equals a fair weekend turned foul in Baku for this manufacturer.
Ferrari’s chance to set things right will come on Sunday, June 19 at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, Canada.
More Azerbaijan Grand Prix Coverage
About the author
Alex is the IndyCar Editor at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also leads the Center for Asia-Pacific Policy at the BIED Society, an international think tank in Washington, D.C. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.