AZERBAIJAN GP – Sergio Perez wins the sprint race as Max Verstappen and George Russell collide fighting for third
Sergio Perez won the sprint race at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, after overtaking Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc midway through the race. The Mexican looked the favourite from the start and broke the DRS range around the half way stage and built his lead after getting past Leclerc when he dived down the inside at Turn One after getting a tow and DRS to pass the Ferrari.
The Red Bull looked quick once again although as expected the gap between Red Bull and Ferrari closed slightly in the sprint though its still yet to be seen how that will play out during a Grand Prix. Max Verstappen was third however the Red Bull driver was frustrated following contact with George Russell as they fought for third.
Perez’s victory further enhances the Mexican’s reputation at street circuits, and adds another honour to the four podiums he has previously secured in Baku. In tomorrow’s Grand Prix he will look to repeat that from third on the grid.
Perez, who took victory in the sprint race, said: “It was good, with these tricky sessions it’s been a lot of pressure on us, our team, our engineers, mechanics and drivers, so to get away with maximum points today was the main objective but obviously we know that tomorrow is the main race.”
At the start Russell made the better start and had the lead at Turn One, but as they got alongside each other in Two made contact as they closed in. It looked to be an unlucky incident as they both closed in, but the stewards deemed it was nothing more than a racing incident.
Verstappen was furious with Russell afterwards, going over to remonstrate with the Mercedes driver, calling him a “dickhead” after the Briton refused to accept he had been at fault and walked away. But looking at the incident and regulations it was clear that Russell was legitimately alongside, before locking up and sliding into Verstappen, it was nothing more than bad luck and couldn’t have been avoided.
Verstappen would continue to complain over team radio for several laps, and then confronted Russell at the end of the race, before the pair criticised each other while speaking to the media. The damage would explain why he was unable to catch and pass Leclerc.
He said, “I don’t understand why you need to take so much risk in lap one, understeer into my sidepod and create a big hole.”
Russell responded by saying if you’re on the inside of a corner, at the apex, it’s your corner. He adds if a driver tries to hold on the outside, “that’s the risk you are taking.”
Leclerc said following Friday the that he feared he would struggle to hold off Red Bull at the start, that was proven right and doesn’t help him going into the Grand Prix. The Ferrari looked to struggle towards the end of the sprint with the graining of the tyres with him dropping back, this suggests the race could be a two-stop.
Red Bull’s apparent long-run advantage suggests Leclerc faces a tough task to keep hold of the first place he earned in the Friday Qualifying session that set the grid for Sunday’s race.
Perez slotted in behind Leclerc at the start and stuck with him through the opening lap, before the race was paused for a safety car period produced after Yuki Tsunoda hit the wall at Turn Fourteen on the opening lap. The Alpha Tauri ripped of his rear tyre after contact with his teammate Nyck De Vries.
Though Leclerc managed to stay with Verstappen at the start, the rapidly closing Perez forced the Ferrari to switch to defence. But the Monacan had just enough life left in his tyres to hold off the two-time champion.
Verstappen will start alongside Leclerc on the front row on Sunday, while Sprint winner Perez will begin in third.
Carlos Sainz was fifth finishing nearly two seconds behind Russell and ahead of his fellow Spaniard Fernando Alonso by just over a second. The two Spaniards battling with Lewis Hamilton, Sainz finding his way pass on the restart before breaking the tow on the restart. Alonso copied the Ferrari to get pass Hamilton and finish sixth with his teammate Lance Stroll claiming the final point in eighth.
Alex Albon continued his strong weekend for Williams finishing ninth ahead of Oscar Piastri, however, both were outside the points as only the top eight score points in the sprint. Stroll found his way past the Williams at Turn One on lap twelve despite the British-Thai driver making a good effort to hold off the Aston.
Stroll highlighted the speed advantage Aston has using it well along with DRS on the back straight to blast past Albon. But this has been a decent weekend for Williams and shows a step forward for the back markers. McLaren also looking to kickstart their season had mixed results in the sprint.
Oscar Piastri finished tenth after passing his teammate Lando Norris, however, the Englishman’s race unravelled as he was forced into a pit stop following damage, that dropped him to seventeenth.
Kevin Magnussen was eleventh, the Haas driver finishing six seconds ahead of Guanyu Zhou and Pierre Gasly. Nyck De Vries coming from the back to finish fourteenth after being the slowest car in SQ1 during qualifying at lunchtime. The Dutchman six seconds ahead of Nico Hulkenberg and Valtteri Bottas.
Following his difficult race and weekend Norris was nine seconds ahead of Esteban Ocon. Yuki Tsunoda was the only retirement the Japanese driver damaged his car, possibly on the debris from Verstappen-Russell or contact with the wall, he dislodged the rear tyre.
He did make it back to the pits, only for it to become clear there remained significant damage on the car, which would force him to retire and lead to a stewards’ investigation into why he was initially sent back out.
A full Safety Car was eventually required to enable all the debris on the track to be cleared, and the race would only restart at the end of lap six.
Prixview – Azerbaijan Grand Prix 2023