Sergio Perez owns the streets, earns second win of season as Red Bull dominates in Azerbaijan

Logan Ploder
FiredUp Network Sports Writer


Sunday, April 30, 2023

Photo credit: The National

BAKU – With four weeks in between the Australian Grand Prix and this weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix, many would’ve hoped for F1’s other nine teams to make gains on the flying Red Bulls.


Early indications pointed to that potentially being the case. Ferrari brought a revised rear wing to Baku, McLaren and Alpha Tauri each brought six upgrade packages to the circuit, while Alpine and Mercedes installed five, and four new parts respectively. 


But even with a breath of fresh air with Charles Leclerc taking a stunning pole position in both Grand Prix qualifying on Friday, and the all-new Sprint Shootout qualifying on Saturday, the prancing horses were simply no match for Red Bull on race-pace. Sergio Perez took advantage of a Lap-eleven Safety Car and jumped teammate Max Verstappen in the pit stop phase to take his second win of the 2023 season.


Sunday’s result was Red Bull’s third 1-2 finish in four races this season, while Perez’s win was his second on the streets of Baku. The Mexican becomes the first driver to be a repeat-winner in Azerbaijan.


“It (the Safety Car) worked out today for us,” Perez told Sky Sports’ Damon Hill post-race. “We stayed in the DRS train to stay close to Max, I had better deg in the first stint.


Verstappen took the lead with an easy DRS overtake into Turn 1 on Lap four, before Perez followed him through on Lap six. Perez stayed within two seconds of Verstappen in the opening stages, before closing in to under a second on Lap 10 when his teammate pitted because of a loss of rear-grip. 


Just moments after Verstappen’s stop, the Safety Car was deployed with Alpha Tauri’s Nyck De Vries being stricken at Turn 6. Verstappen fell to third as Perez took the lead, and never looked back.


“The Safety Car was unlucky,” Verstappen said. “I had to push again to get very close and grab the DRS. I struggled with the balance to remain consistent, and I started messing around with the tools and felt a lot better. A great team result.”


The Dutchman made quick work of Leclerc’s Ferrari on the restart, and for most of the remaining 38 laps, the two Red Bulls stayed within 1.5 seconds of each other, trading fastest lap attempts before Mercedes’ George Russell stole the extra point on the last lap.


“It was very close between us,” Perez continued. “We pushed to the max today, we both clipped the (Turn 15) wall a few times. He pushed me hard, but we kept it under control.”


Despite a stunning pole position - the third of a hat trick - for Leclerc, Ferrari’s and the rest of the field’s pace in race-trim was nowhere close to Red Bull’s once again. In the end, Leclerc brought home the Scuderia’s first podium of the season, albeit over 21 seconds behind Perez.


The Ferrari, as has been the case for the last two years, appeared to struggle with tire wear in the hot conditions. Leclerc was able to stick with the Red Bulls for a handful of laps before eventually falling out of the DRS and into the clutches of Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin on the final lap.


“They’re (Red Bull) in another league once it comes to races,” Leclerc said. “Over 51 laps it’s just not possible.They’ve found something that we haven’t yet…The feeling (of the car) is better, but I see the gap, and they’re probably not pushing flat out.”


Elsewhere in the field, Carlos Sainz finished fifth for Ferrari, albeit over 24 seconds behind teammate Leclerc, seemingly struggling all weekend with a pointy front end and subsequent rear instability. Lewis Hamilton raced his way up to sixth after being unluckily knocked down to tenth during the Safety Car, while Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll finished a distant seventh. He was closely followed by Hamilton’s teammate Russell in eighth.


Lando Norris ended ninth in what was a positive weekend for McLaren with their updates, while Yuki Tsunoda rounded out the points finishers in tenth. That pair ran eleventh and twelfth for much of the race, stuck behind the yet-to-pit Alpine of Esteban Ocon and the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg before they both pitted with under two laps to go.


Ocon’s last-lap stop also caused a scary moment in the pit lane, with a flood of people scattering in the entry for the post-race celebrations not knowing that Ocon was coming into the pits. Thankfully, nobody was injured in what could’ve been a nasty incident.


A four-week break in the rearview mirror, Formula 1 is straight back at it next weekend for the Miami Grand Prix, where 20 of the world’s best drivers head to the United States for the first of three races in America.