Mexico’s Sergio Perez beat teammate Max Verstappen to victory in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, but was denied the championship lead by the Dutchman.
That was because the double World Champion set the fastest lap on the final lap, to split the Red Bull duo by a single point after back-to-back 1-2 finishes to start the 2023 season.
Perez, 33, had to recover from losing the lead to Fernando Alonso at the start to convert pole position into a win for the first time in his career.
“It turned out to be tougher than expected!” Perez said, “The team have worked so hard across the weekend, we had a lot of mechanical issues.
“I had a wicked race – which is a new word I learnt this week! I didn’t have a great start but after I got back around Fernando, I was able to create a good gap between the rest of the field and me… until the safety car came out and I was reminded of Jeddah 2022… It was a new race after the safety car though and I’m happy I was able to build a gap again and then keep it, even when Max was pushing at the end. Everyone back in Milton Keynes and here at the track have built such a fantastic car for us this season. I love being a part of this Team because of the way we push and the way we deliver, I’m so proud of us. The Team is working at such a high level so it’s really great to be a part of. In the end, we must remember it’s a long season but tonight was a massive team result.”
“We will keep pushing, we were the fastest car out there,” the Mexican concluded.
Verstappen finished second having started 15th, following a driveshaft failure in qualifying, and passed his opposition with alarming ease on the straights.
“The beginning of the race was a bit tricky, it was hard to follow in the train of cars because there was very low grip. At one point it all settled down a bit, I could move forward and the safety car helped a little bit. It was about being calm and overtaking the cars one by one. In general P2 was always the target today. Today was about recovering what was possible, if I had qualified P1 then today would have looked very different. I was catching Checo towards the end of the race but we calculated it wouldn’t be enough to make up the gap to him by the end of the race. I started to feel a vibration in the laps where I was catching and trying to push, I started to feel some instability in the car. Sometimes it’s better to just tell yourself it’s better to bring that P2 home. As a Team we have to work on making sure both cars are reliable because we have a very fast car but I still think we can do a better job. I would like a clean weekend in Melbourne to maximise everything we can. I am happy with the way it is turning it out at the moment but it is still a long season,” said Verstappen.
Aston Martin’s Alonso, beat Mercedes’ George Russell to the final step on the podium, to score his 100th career podium, however the stewards handed the Spaniard a post-race penalty for incorrectly serving a time penalty at his pit stop, which demoted Alonso to 4th and gave the podium to Russell.
Ferrari slumped to a sixth and seventh finish, behind the second Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton.
Alpine points with both car finish as Haas’ Kevin Magnussen took the final point.
Perez recovers and holds off Verstappen charge
After taking his second career pole, at the same track as his first, Perez immediately lost the lead to the Aston Martin alongside him into Turn 1.
But the pace advantage of the RB19 was clear as Perez quickly put pressure on Alonso and regained the lead on Lap 4, which he would not lose.
Perez aced the restart following a safety car period on Lap 18 for Lance Stroll’s stopped Aston Martin, opening a margin of almost two-seconds on Alonso in one lap, while Verstappen was already fourth.
The Dutchman had made steady, if not rapid, progress from 15th on the grid, breezing past most of his rivals on the pit straight with the help of DRS, which could make the Red Bull as much as 17mph faster than another car.
By the time Verstappen had passed Alonso and Russell following the restart, Perez had opened a lead of five seconds, which the Mexican managed to the flag.
But their run to the flag was not without it’s concerns as first Verstappen complained of an issue with the driveshaft, which the team found to be unfounded.
Perez also raised worries about a long brake pedal, but that too was brushed away as nothing to worry about, as the pair traded fastest laps.
Verstappen managed to snatch the fastest lap on the final lap to hang on to the championship lead after two rounds.