SAUDI ARABIAN GP – Sergio Perez shows Red Bull is the team to beat winning by five seconds ahead of Max Verstappen

Testing & Race Reports

Sergio Perez has beaten his Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen by five seconds to win the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. The Mexican continued to show the pace of the Red Bull with him leading most of the race despite losing the lead to Alonso at the start, the Aston Martin driver having to recover from two five second penalties for being out of position on the grid.

Red Bull has been quick all weekend, while Perez wasn’t able to pull away from Alonso as easily early on like Verstappen in Bahrain, he maintained the lead for much of the race. Verstappen as well proving the advantage as he came from fifteenth through to fifth in the first twenty laps and then continued to make progress despite complaining of a drive shaft issue.

Perez said “We really did a good job in the first stint, that safety car tried to take it away from us. The team did a fantastic job, the team have worked so hard over the week, we’ve had a lot of mechanical issues and these guys have been on top of that. We will keep pushing hard and the important thing is we were the fastest car out there today so I’m very pleased with that.”

A technical failure in qualifying had left Verstappen with only faint hopes of victory, but he looked in with a strong chance when a safety car helped him move up to second and within six seconds of his team-mate before the race reached its halfway stage.

He revealed post-race the team decided to back off after getting into second because of the drive shaft issue, but described the race as a good recovery. But Perez drove a steady but controlled race which again underlined Red Bull’s status as the team to beat this year.

The Dutchman’s dominant form was such that he remained second favourite, and only marginally behind Perez, to win Sunday’s race. That clear advantage was taken away from Perez on lap eighteen when Lance Stroll stopped bringing out the safety car. While it was only the Mexican’s fourth win of his career, with Red Bull’s third one-two in a row.

Verstappen said “It wasn’t very easy to get through the field. Through the first sector, trying to follow through at the beginning of the race, was difficult, there was quite a bit of sliding around. I cleared them and got into a good rhythm. I’m very happy to be here on the podium.”

Some may have expected the dominance in Bahrain and qualifying for Verstappen to find a way past but a record-extending nineteenth consecutive win wasn’t possible. Perez being a kind of street circuit specialist, the only non-street circuit win in Sakhir 2020, was able to maintain that five second lead.

Alonso was third on track finishing twenty-eight seconds off the lead however the way he served that five second penalty, the stewards ruled that the team touched the car too early and awarded Alonso a ten second penalty. That prompted George Russell to third.

Despite gaining third Russell described the penalty as “harsh.” When Aston Martin lodged a protest to the stewards, arguing the regulation wasn’t clear they overturned the penalty. While the focus may have been on the jack hitting the car, the regulations do not explicitly state that mechanics cannot touch it.

Instead, Article 54.4 c) of F1’s Sporting Regulations states: “While a car is stationary in the pit lane as a result of incurring a penalty in accordance with Articles 54.3a) or 54.3b) above, it may not be worked on until the car has been stationary for the duration of the penalty.”

The FIA was clear, however, that there was an acceptance among teams that it would deem it a breach of the rules if mechanics did touch the car. This suggest that there is a bit of ambiguity in the wording of the regulation which the FIA may seek to change or clarify at the next Commission meeting and issue a directive to change the rule to make it clearer.

A statement said: “Having reviewed the new evidence, we concluded that there was no clear agreement, as was suggested to the Stewards previously, that could be relied upon to determine that parties had agreed that a jack touching a car would amount to working on the car, without more. In the circumstances, we considered that our original decision to impose a penalty on Car 14 needed to be reversed and we did so accordingly.”

After two races, Verstappen leads his teammate Perez by one point with Alonso third, while Red Bull lead Mercedes by the constructors by forty-six points.

A similar penalty was given to Esteban Ocon in Bahrain for the same thing. A second podium on track for Alonso further underlines that Aston Martin are genuinely in the fight and could emerge as ahead of Ferrari and Mercedes, although clear answers may not come until Baku at the end of April or Imola the first European race in mid-May.

Alonso had made a great start but his first penalty was given because he was too far left in his box at the start which gave him an advantage of the line. The Spaniard taking his hundredth podium, admitting a month ago the thoughts of many, something “unthinkable.”

Adding “these guys have made a fantastic car, a fantastic execution of the race here and in Bahrain with the strategy and now two podiums. A hard grand prix but these guys give me power and I push all the way through and in qualifying laps”

Later asked about the penalty before his second penalty was confirmed, Alonso said, “I need to review obviously; I made a mistake. When they told me five seconds penalty, I said okay, I need to drive a little bit faster to make [up] those five seconds. But I need to review.”

In the closing stages, Russell had been instructed to close the gap to under five seconds in case Alonso got a five second penalty which paid off as he gained third. A night of penalties costing the Spaniard a double podium finish to start the 2023 season.

Aston Martin still appears to be Red Bull’s closest challenger, Alonso and Stroll looking to be ahead of Ferrari on race pace early on this season. However, as the first stint proves they simply don’t have the pace at the moment to be fighting Red Bull for victory. Mercedes again looking stronger in race trim, however there may be friction potentially brewing for the team.

In the closing stages despite closing down Alonso, Russell had ignored instructions just before the halfway stage to let Hamilton past. Hamilton had switched under the safety car, triggered by Lance Stroll stopping on track, to the faster medium tyre. That should have allowed Hamilton to close down Alonso and pass him.

The seven-time champion opted for the alternate strategy, he started on hards and completed a 32-lap stint on the medium compound. That kept him ahead of Carlos Sainz who had overcut Stroll.

However, Russell appeared to justify his decision by opening a gap to Hamilton, as the Mercedes cars came home comfortably in front of Ferrari. Ferrari looked to struggle again on race pace, while in the early phases Charles Leclerc, who also had a penalty and started alongside Verstappen, was able to follow him it stalled when the Monacan came up behind teammate Sainz.

Instead, they were left as the fourth-fastest team with Leclerc seven seconds behind Sainz. Like Mercedes Ferrari having their own internal squabble, Leclerc was left angry with his teammate after feeling he had not received the correct instructions under the safety car.

Leclerc had lost position to Sainz under the safety car, Hamilton had pitted and that gave him tyre advantage allowing him to use fresher tyres to pass Sainz. Ferrari maybe left head scratching as they went into 2023 as the team expected to challenge Red Bull, but after two races they find themselves fourth in the constructors sixty-one points behind, with Mercedes second and Aston Martin third.

Esteban Ocon had a much better race after a catalogue of penalties in Bahrain, he finished eighth just under two seconds ahead of teammate Pierre Gasly. It was a much quieter evening for Alpine and scores them points which maybe key later in the season if the battle for fifth, should the top four remain between Red Bull, Ferrari, Mercedes, and Aston Martin.

Kevin Magnussen was tenth, the Haas driver fighting for the final point for much of the second half of the race with Yuki Tsunoda. The Dane made the deceive move on the Alpha Tauri with five to go sweeping pass through the final corner to score the final point.

Magnussen’s teammate Nico Hulkenberg was three seconds behind Tsunoda. While Guanyu Zhou was thirteenth ahead of rookies Nyck De Vires, Oscar Piastri and Logan Sargeant. A solid start to their careers in F1 without major dramas of their own making and finishing races.

Lando Norris was seventeenth finishing nearly a second and a half behind teammate Piastri. While Valtteri Bottas was the final finisher in eighteenth a lap down.


, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,