AZERBAIJAN GP – Sergio Perez wins in Baku two seconds ahead of Max Verstappen as Red Bull charges clear

Testing & Race Reports

Sergio Perez has won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix beating his teammate Max Verstappen by two seconds to be the first repeat winner in Baku. The Red Bull drivers looked unstoppable once again as the Mexican took his second win of the season, they dominated from the start and once again steadily increased their lead at the front.

Perez controlled the race from the start despite Verstappen looking better off the line but throughout the early phase of the race looked pretty much evenly matched. However, Verstappen lost out to Perez under the safety car when he dropped behind when the Mexican managed to jump his teammate having just stopped before the safety car.

Perez’s victory makes him the first repeat winner in Baku again underlining his status as a street circuit specialist, where five of his six wins in the sport have now come. Red Bull are frimly still the team to beat in 2023, it remains to be seen how their rivals respond to that and when they start throwing their eggs into 2024.

While Verstappen lost out when the safety car came out early on when Nyck De Vires clouted the rear of the car against the wall on Lap Ten, breaking his front suspension and bringing his car to a halt in the run-off area at Turn Six.

Verstappen was able to clear Leclerc on the restart but felt that the mistimed pitstop had caused damage to his own race, and felt that it was something for the team to look into.

The question, given Red Bull’s two all-draw-in wins between the drivers and the dominance is whether Perez could mount a serious and sustained challenge for the championship.

Ferrari’s Leclerc was third, the Monacan who started on pole went into the race expecting to struggle like he did in the sprint, so it proved the Red Bull’s managing to find their way past the Ferrari’s early on. Verstappen soon started to drop. Leclerc and pull away with the gap already being a second by the end of lap nine.

It was a much-needed fillip for Leclerc and Ferrari after a disappointing and difficult start to the season. But they are still needing to search for an answer to Red Bull’s pace if they are to challenge Red Bull this year, however, after the first four race and the dominance show by the team it looked unlikely.

Leclerc had a thrilling battle with Fernando Alonso, however, it appeared to stabilise by the middle part of the race despite the Aston Martin drivers best effort to close the gap and pass the Ferrari. The gap eventually being eight-tenths meaning Alonso missed out on a fourth consecutive podium.

Perez said, “It really worked out today for us. We managed to stay in the DRS train and keep the pressure on Max. I think it was very close between us, we pushed to the maximum, we both clipped the wall a few times.”

Verstappen added, “The Safety Car was a bit unlucky, then I have to push again. I have try to stay very close to try and get into the DRS. I think the tyres were overheating a bit because of that, trying to follow.”

Perez, who also won Saturday’s Sprint a its new format for 2023, now trails Verstappen by just six points going into next weekend’s Miami Grand Prix.

Alonso however did his best to make it four podiums in four races, however, the step by Ferrari made it more difficult. Aston, Ferrari, and Mercedes while making gains on Red Bull are all hoping that the first major upgrade package in three weeks’ time at Imola delivers a big step towards Red Bull.

While Aston’s race pace – along with the rest of the field – remains some way off Red Bull’s, they will take encouragement and hope significant upgrades planned for Imola later this month can move them closer to contention. But its looking safe to conclude the team will continue to be amongst the top four this season.

Alonso pressured Hamilton into a early stop, before passing Sainz at the restart to gain two places from his starting position. Hamilton recovered well after a slow start to pass Nico Hulkenberg and Esteban Ocon having dropped to tenth at the restart, before then making moves on team-mate Russell and Stroll to take sixth.

But they continued to fight right until the closing stages with Leclerc securing the final podium spot after finishing eight-tenths ahead of Carlos Sainz. But Leclerc started to look like he has started to get a handle on the tyre degradation which has been one of the biggest challenges for the team this season.

Sainz managed to hold off Lewis Hamilton, the Mercedes driver looked unable to challenge the front runners after losing out behind the safety car. Hamilton then managed to make a move down the inside and pass his teammate George Russell, who then lost a place in the closing stages to Lance Stroll.

Stroll got away with contact with the wall, while Russell had his chances of a better result hampered by a poor safety car restart. The Mercedes finished six seconds ahead of Lando Norris, who had also lost places at the start before fighting back to ninth and finished ahead of Yuki Tsunoda.

Norris had spent most of the race sat behind the Haas of Nico Hulkenberg, who had a long stint on the hard tyre. That decision in the closing laps saw the German drop down the order to seventeen and a lap down as his tyre life wore away. Esteban Ocon was running ninth with two laps to go, however, he was forced to stop on the penultimate lap.

Alpine were gambling on a late safety car to make the Frenchman’s only stop, which never materialised and they were forced to bring him in as he hadn’t run two compounds of tyre. That resulted in the Frenchman dropping down the order to fifteenth six seconds behind his teammate Pierre Gasly.

Alpine somewhat strangely waited until the final lap of the race to bring Ocon in for a mandatory change of tyres, but race organisers had not realised and allowed photographers to gather at the start of the pit lane where they were awaiting the top three. Their will be an investigation into why race control had allowed photographers into a live pit lane when Alpine hadn’t completed the mandatory change of tyres.

Ocon’s late stop promoted Tsunoda into the points with the Alpha Tauri splitting the two McLarens, as he finished nearly three seconds ahead of Oscar Piastri. Alex Albon had another decent result for Williams in twelfth ahead of Kevin Magnussen, the two Alpines and teammate Logan Sargeant.

Valtteri Bottas was the final finisher as he Alfa Romeo teammate Guanyu Zhou retired


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