Red Bull’s Sergio Perez overtook Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to win the first F1 sprint of 2023 in Azerbaijan, closing the gap to championship leader Max Verstappen.
Perez won the Grand Prix in Baku in 2021, passed the Monegasque driver on Lap 8, to take the first sprint win of his career.
The 33-year-old said: “It was good! A lot of pressure on us, our mechanics. To get away with maximum points was the objective but we know tomorrow is the main race.”
“It was key to make sure we had good pace, good rhythm and that we pushed in the key moments of the race, that really made the difference today. I had to push quite hard initially to get past Charles, especially at the restart because on the first lap I could see he had good pace and very good mechanical grip. Later on, I was able to make the move early enough and that to me was important. In the end I think it was a really nicely executed race and it’s been a great weekend from the whole Team so far. I am really proud of my Team because we have come back from a four week gap and then straight into a new format. We have done a tremendous job but tomorrow is what matters and we must focus on that now. I am confident I will be fighting for the win tomorrow but let’s see, it is Baku and anything can happen! I just have to make sure I deliver when it happens.”
The Mexican’s teammate Verstappen finished third, recovering from losing a place to George Russell on the opening lap, contact between the pair causing a small amount of damage to the Dutchman’s Red Bull car.
An unhappy Verstappen said he didn’t understand why there was the need to take so much risk on Lap 1, after the contact put a hole in the sidepod of his car. Russell finished behind the defending World Champion in fourth.
“It was a bit of a messy first lap and then with the damage I think it was a bit tricky to pull forward throughout the rest of the Sprint. I think overall third was fine, and to manage the damage that we had, we did alright. I need to look into the data to see how much the damage affected the race today, but it’s never ideal to have a hole in the car. Looking ahead to tomorrow, we have a good race car, you could see that today with Checo’s performance. I think the most important thing tomorrow is to stay out of trouble and I think we can go for the win,” said Verstappen.
Several racing laps were lost in this race after Yuki Tsuonda hit the wall on Lap 1, with his right rear tyre and debris from the wheel rim scattered across the track, which necessitated firstly a Virtual Safety Car (VSC) and then a full safety car.
The Japanese driver was returned to the circuit with damaged suspension, the car ‘crabbing’ at an odd angle, but most bizarrely, AlphaTauri allowed the 22-year-old to complete an entire lap with the car in an unsafe condition, despite several escape areas to park the car.
Carlos Sainz (fifth), Fernando Alonso (sixth), Lewis Hamilton (seventh) and Lance Stroll (eighth) completed to points scoring positions.