Verstappen confident he could have closed the gap to Leclerc

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It hadn't been the smoothest of preparations for Max Verstappen heading into Sunday's Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but when it came to the race it could hardly have gone better for the Red Bull driver.

Verstappen started the race from third position and wasn't quite able to take advantage of a mistake from Ferrari's Charles Leclerc heading into the first corner.

Having dropped out of the lead, Leclerc then used an early Virtual Safety Car his team mate Carlos Sainz' retirement to make a 'free' pit stop that put him back in front when the two Red Bulls made their own stops.

But just as the teams were pondering what this meant for race strategy, Leclerc's car went up in smoke. With both Ferraris now out of the running, Verstappen and Perez were able to turn their engines down and coast to the finish.

"We had an incredible pace in the car," Verstappen told the media in parc ferme after the chequered flag. "We could really look after the tyres and we could chip away at it, pass for the lead.

"Of course [we were] also maybe a tiny bit lucky because with the [Ferrari] retirement," he admitted. "But I think nevertheless our car was really good today.

"I could have closed that gap and then of course you have a race on your hands," he predicted. "At the end, to have a 1-2 as a team as well, it was a really good day for us."

Sergio Perez (MEX), Red Bull Racing Max Verstappen (NLD), Red Bull Racing and George Russell (GBR), Mercedes AMG F1 12.06.2022. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 8, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku

Today was certainly a much more composed and assertive display from the reigning world champion than Friday and Saturday, where he admitted to struggling with front-rear balance in the RB18 and finding it hard to keep pace with his team mate Sergio Perez.

"Overall, [I was] really, really happy with how the balance of the car was today," he confirmed. "I don't know, just tyre behaviour together with just the general grip of course of the car.

"That's what you need around here, [so] that you can look after your tyres," he added.

Today's result means that Verstappen is now on 150 points in the drivers championship, a 31 point lead over Perez with Leclerc dropping to third place in the standings on 116 points.

The Red Bull 1-2 together with Perez snapping up the bonus point for fastest lap means that the team now has an 80 point advantage in the constructors championship over Ferrari after the first eight outings of the 22-race season.

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