Sergio Pérez took his second race win of the season Sunday leading a Red Bull 1-2 in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
He also became the first driver to win twice in Baku, driving a controlled race to the flag after taking the lead from teammate Max Verstappen during an early Safety Car period. The final podium place was taken by Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Polesitter Leclerc led the field off the line at the race start with front-row starter Verstappen and Pérez, who started third, tucking in behind. Further back the major movers at the start were Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll who passed the McLaren of Lando Norris to take P7 and Mercedes’ George Russell who climbed from P11 on the grid to P9 behind Norris, as eighth-place starter Yuki Tsunoda dropped back.
When DRS came into play, Verstappen closed in on Leclerc and on lap four he powered past the Ferrari driver on the approach to Turn 1 to take the lead. Leclerc, lacking the pace of the Red Bulls, quickly fell into Pérez’s clutches and on lap six the Mexican replicated his teammate’s move to take P2.
Behind the top three, Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz was fourth, two seconds behind Leclerc and bottling up Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and the Astons of Fernando Alonso and Stroll. Norris was in P8 ahead of Russell with AlphaTauri’ s Yuki Tsunoda in the last points position.
At the front, Verstappen and Pérez began to draw away from the pack and on lap nine Verstappen led his teammate by a second, while the Mexican was two seconds clear of Leclerc.
Things changed on lap 10, though. AlphaTauri’ s Nyck de Vries stopped on track and Red Bull immediately called Verstappen to the pits for Hard tires. The call was too early, however, and while the situation was being assessed yellow flags continued to be displayed for crucial seconds.
When the Safety Car was released, it was Pérez who felt its full benefit. He took on hard tires at the head of a slew of drivers making a similar switch and Verstappen slightly disadvantaged having stopped before the caution, the Mexican emerged in the lead ahead of Leclerc and with Verstappen now in third place. Sainz held fourth ahead of Alonso, while Russell had jumped to sixth ahead of Stroll who had been double stacked with his teammate. Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg, who had started from the pit lane on hard tires, stayed on track and climbed to P8 and P9 ahead of Hamilton.
The SC left the track at the end of lap 14 and Pérez held his lead. Verstappen immediately put pressure on Leclerc and in Turn 3 he dived down the inside and stole P2 from the Ferrari man. Behind the top three, Alonso ambushed Sainz to take P4, while Stroll muscled his way past Russell to take P6.
At the front, the Red Bull pair again drew away from the field and over the following laps they built a five-second gap over Leclerc. Pérez was able to keep his team-mate at bay, however, and on lap 17 he was well over a second clear of the Dutchman. He maintained that gap to half distance and then began to draw further away in the closing stages, stretching to three seconds clear with 10 laps remaining.
With the front runners all targeting a one-stop race, attention turned to the lower points positions where Ocon and Hülkenberg were circling in eighth and ninth respectively, hoping for a Safety Car as they both needed to make regulation pit stops.
Hulkenberg eventually began to suffer severe tire degradation and dropped back, while Ocon was forced to pit on the final lap.
It meant that behind the top three Alonso finished fourth ahead of Sainz, Hamilton and Stroll. Russell finished in P8 ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and the final point went to AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda.
“It really worked out today for us,” said race winner Perez. “We managed to stay in the DRS train, and we managed to keep the pressure on Max. I think we had better deg on that first stint. It was looking good already from that side, then the Safety Car came and bunched everyone up and it was again another race on the hard tire.
“I think it was very close between us [myself and Verstappen]. We pushed to the maximum today. We both clipped the wall a few times. We were pushing out there. The way Max pushed me throughout the race was really hard, but we managed to keep him under control.”
With his third place, Leclerc did put Ferrari on the podium for the first time this season.
“I’m here to win and obviously second, third, is not what I want,” said Leclerc. “Considering the first three races which we’ve had, scoring six points in three races, this weekend is better – we didn’t have any problems, it was a trouble-free weekend.
“I think when I look back at the weekend I look back at every session and I think we maximized absolutely everything in every single session, so on that we should be happy; on the other hand, there is still work to do.”
Defending world champion Verstappen had to play the role of runner up all weekend after Perez took the Sprint race on Saturday.
“I think, of course, the Safety Car was a bit unlucky,” Verstappen said. “Then I had to push again, I tried to stay very close [to Perez], to try and get into the DRS, but I think the tires were overheating a bit because of that, trying to follow.
“But also, the balance, I was struggling to be really consistent. I was playing around with the tools a little bit and, I think when I got that sorted, I would say the last 10 laps were actually quite good again.
“[It was] just a little bit too late [to challenge Perez], [but] I think a lot of things learned again throughout the race, and, of course, at the end of the day, a good team result.”
With the win Perez now has cut the points lead to leader Verstappen to six points heading into next week’s race in Miami.
“We know it’s a very long season,” Verstappen said. “As I said, [there were] a lot of things I learned again.
“Baku is again quite different to Miami, and Miami is going to be again very different to the other tracks we go to. But you keep learning; it cannot be perfect all the time, and I think on those days you can learn.”
FORMULA 1 AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX 2023 – RACE RESULTS
|1||11||Red Bull Racing Honda RBPT||51||1:32:42.436||25|
|2||1||Red Bull Racing Honda RBPT||51||+2.137s||18|
|4||14||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||51||+22.024s||12|
|7||18||Aston Martin Aramco Mercedes||51||+51.617s||6|
|10||22||AlphaTauri Honda RBPT||51||+83.862s||1|
|17||27||Haas Ferrari||50||+1 lap||0|
|18||77||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||50||+1 lap||0|
|NC||24||Alfa Romeo Ferrari||36||DNF||0|
|NC||21||AlphaTauri Honda RBPT||9||DNF||0|
Note – Russell scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.
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