Sergio Perez Picks Up First F1 Sprint Win in Azerbaijan
Perez driving for Red Bull Racing, passed Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc on lap 8 of 17.
Yuki Tsunoda brings out the safety car on lap 4 after hitting the wall exiting Turn 14.
Max Verstappen, George Russell exchange tense words after the race.
Sergio Perez maintained Red Bull’s unbeaten start to the 2023 Formula 1 season after taking top spot in the 17-lap Sprint Race in Azerbaijan on Saturday.
Ferrari and Charles Leclerc sprung a surprise on Friday by taking pole position for Sunday’s grand prix, and made it two out of two in the new Sprint Shootout on Saturday, despite a small crash at the end of Q3.
That gave him top spot for Saturday’s mini-race but he was shadowed by Perez and eventually overhauled by the Red Bull driver, who breezed past along the pit straight.
Perez led Leclerc home to trim Max Verstappen’s championship advantage by two points to 13 ahead of Sunday’s race.
“I had more pace than what I’ve shown today, but [pushing] at 100 per cent maybe the tires become a problem, so I feel like I was driving to the maximum capacity of the tires – it’s about looking after them and making sure you arrive to the end,” said Perez.
“I tried my best, we are still lacking some pace in the race,” said Leclerc. “This is where our focus is, it’s been our focus for quite a bit, we are working on that trying to find something for the races. I think we did a step forward, we are better, not yet at the level of Red Bull, so there is work to do, but I’m happier with the car.
Verstappen, who will start Sunday’s race alongside Leclerc on the front row of the grid, was in third spot and stewed over minor contact with George Russell that left his Red Bull RB19 with a hole in the aerodynamically sensitive sidepod.
Russell aggressively attacked Verstappen on the inside into Turn 2, with the Mercedes driver moving ahead after minor contact, though it was only temporary as the World Champion reclaimed the position later in the race. The incident was not even noted by race control.
Verstappen confronted Russell in parc ferme after the race, with the pair exchanging words, as Russell explained that he had no grip.
“Mate, we all have no grip, we all need to leave a little space,” said Verstappen. “Well then expect the next time the same,” he added, as Russell walked off, before Verstappen muttered that Russell was a “dickhead.”
Speaking shortly afterwards Verstappen said: “I just don’t understand why you need to take so much risk on lap one, understeer into my sidepod and create a hole, we all have cold tires, it’s easy to lock up. But, in his beautiful way of explaining ‘ah mate I locked up, look at the onboard’, well, it doesn’t make sense. But it’s fine. We still got into P3 and got some good points.”
Russell explained that “as a driver you know the risk on the outside, I’m here to fight, I’m not going to hold back just because he’s leading the championship. I was quite surprised he was trying to hold it around the outside, none of the contact was intentional, I was trying to have a clean fight. I was surprised he was quite resistant. I was surprised why he was so angry to be honest, he was still P3, he’s got enough experience to know if you’re trying to overtake on the outside there’s a risk the guy on the inside is going to run wide into you – I don’t think anything would have been any different had the positions been reversed.”
It was a relatively calm race further down the order, with most drivers using it as long run data-gathering ahead of Sunday’s main race.
Carlos Sainz was a low-key fifth for Ferrari, while Fernando Alonso overtook Lewis Hamilton to take sixth spot. Lance Stroll got by Alexander Albon for the final point.
The only major incident of note was when Yuki Tsunoda, having sustained damage in the first few corners, understeered through the high-speed Turn 14, and hit the wall.