Sergio Perez holds off Verstappen to win Azerbaijan GP

Si202304284560
Si202304284560

Mexican driver Sergio Perez became the first repeat winner around the Baku City circuit in Azerbaijan after beating teammate Max Verstappen to victory in the fourth race of 2023, Red Bull’s 25th 1-2 finish.

Verstappen had led early on, but had pitted moments before a Safety Car was called on Lap 10, which allowed Perez to pit and gain the lead.

“It really worked out today for us, we managed to keep the pressure on Max as we had better degradation on that first stint. I think it was very close between us, we pushed to the maximum today, we both hit the wall a few times but we managed to keep him [Verstappen] under control,” said Perez.

Perez’s sixth career win continues Red Bull’s winning run at the start of the season, with the wins now split equally between their drivers.

The 33-year-old closed the gap further to Verstappen, having won the first Sprint of the season on Saturday, Sunday’s win cutting the Dutchman’s lead to six points at the top of the championship.

Pole-sitter Charles Leclerc earnt his and Ferrari’s first podium of the season with a third place finish, fending off Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton, Lance Stroll, George Russell, Lando Norris and Yuki Tsunoda completed the points scorers.

A dull race, with very little on track overtaking, saw a moment of controversy on the final lap as Esteban Ocon pitted on the final lap after running the entire race on a set of hard tyres from a pit lane start.

When the Frenchman entered the pit lane, a large group of photographers were in the pit entry preparing to get the images of race winner Perez.

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Ominous Red Bull deliver again

The evidence was clear in yesterday’s Sprint that Red Bull would be very difficult to stop, and they were quickly running first and second after Leclerc held the lead from the start.

Verstappen however did not pull away from his teammate, and by Lap 8 Perez had DRS against the Dutchman.

But when Nyck De Vries of AlphaTauri, Red Bull’s sister team, hit the wall at Turn 5 and broke the steering arm of the suspension.

With the car unable to move, the Safety Car was called, but Red Bull had already called Verstappen to the box when it was still only double yellow flags.

As a result, Perez was able to stop and lose significantly less time, as was Leclerc.

Upon the restart, the Mexican made the most of the Ferrari being in the way, breaking clear of the one second window for DRS activation.

World Champion Verstappen complained of engine braking issues and fell further behind his only realistic challenger for this year’s title.

Perez reaffirmed his reputation as ‘King of the streets’ with another street circuit victory, his first at a venue he had previously won at.

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DRS reductions need a rethink

With the battle at the front remaining cool, there was a search for other battles on track, but the reduced DRS zone on the main straight left overtakes difficult to come by.

Alonso in fourth closed on Leclerc on occasion, as did Hamilton on Sainz, and Russell when chasing Stroll – but none of them were able to even make an attempt to pass with DRS.

F1 had shortened the DRS zone by 100 metres for 2023, which left most of the field stuck behind their rivals.

With cars finding it tougher to follow each other in 2023, the quality of racing has seemed lower and overtakes fewer and further between than 2022.

DRS has been criticised for ‘drive-by’ passes but on a tracked famed for providing good overtaking opportunities, it was a disappointing race from that point of view.

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