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Max Verstappen

How Baku defeat unleashed Verstappen's record season

The Azerbaijan Grand Prix handed Max Verstappen the second of three defeats in the 2023 season on his worst weekend of the year.

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Despite two wins from the first three races of the season, Max Verstappen had not truly found top gear heading into the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

He was still struggling to find a way to drive the RB19, with a reliability failure in Saudi Arabian qualifying that left him 15th on the grid meaning he could finish 'only' second to Sergio Perez.

Baku, the scene for round four - and the first Sprint of the year was not set to be an easy affair either.

The Azeri capital is a race Perez had traditionally gone well at, with strong showings in 2016 and 2018 before winning in 2021 in the late-race chaos and adding another podium in 2022.

By contrast, Verstappen had just one podium to his name, although that was the win in 2022 when Charles Leclerc's engine went bang while leading.

That being said, Baku had also been a favourite of Leclerc, with pole in 2021 and 2022 and a Ferrari package well suited to slow corners and accelerating from traction zones onto long straights.

The Ferrari bagged Sprint pole, with Verstappen colliding with George Russell at the start, leading to sizeable damage in the sidepod. That only added to Verstappen's doom and gloom on a weekend the new Sprint Shootout format was tried - with the World Champion in a funk about his dislike of the format.

Come race day, Verstappen was leading from Perez and Leclerc when Nyck de Vries crashed, and in a pre-emptive strike while the yellows were out, Red Bull pitted Verstappen on Lap 10 as Perez went on his way and assumed the lead.

Fortunately for the Mexican, the Safety Car was deployed as he rounded Turn 2, meaning he would not be hampered by having to fall in line at the head of the snake - whereas the Dutchman was.

On the restart, Perez simply cleared off and held Verstappen at arms length for 37 laps from the Lap 14 restart to Lap 51.

Towards the end of the race, Verstappen, knowing victory was gone, decided to experiment in the RB19 to try and troubleshoot some of the problems he had in the car.

While he was coy about what exactly he had learnt, Verstappen did nod towards it being related to the tyres and how he used them.

"I learned a lot from the race in Baku over how to do some things with the car and how to set it up," he explained to media including RacingNews365.

"Of course, I didn't win that race in Baku, but actually, I really tried a lot of stuff and different tools in the car.

"That's why throughout the race it was a little bit inconsistent, but at one point, I got into a good rhythm with what I found.

"But then I damaged my tyres a bit too much, but it was like: 'Okay, that is quite interesting for the next races.'

"Basically I then implemented that and it has helped me on every track [since]."

After the race in Azerbaijan, there were 18 Grands Prix and five Sprints left in the season.

Verstappen would win 17 and four, respectively and not be defeated in any race between Baku on April 30th and Singapore on September 17th.

			© Red Bull Content Pool
	© Red Bull Content Pool

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