Perfect Perez wins Azerbaijan GP
By Mat Coch
Sunday 30th April, 2023 - 10:39pm
Sergio Perez has taken victory in the F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix at the head of a Red Bull one-two.
He rose from third on the grid, taking advantage of an early Safety Car, to complete a near-perfect weekend.
Perez was the victor in the F1 Sprint on Saturday, having raced his way beyond pole-sitter Charles Leclerc in that encounter.
In Sunday’s race, he shadowed Verstappen in the opening laps after again dispatching Leclerc to run second.
A Safety Car shortly after Verstappen was in the lane handed the strategic advantage to Perez, one he used to claim victory.
Leclerc fell from pole to finish third and claim his first podium of the year, while Fernando Alonso was fourth to miss it for the first time in 2023.
A good jump from Verstappen wasn’t enough for the Red Bull driver to beat Charles Leclerc into the opening turn as the Ferrari driver headed the field from the start.
Sergio Perez slotted into third from Carlos Sainz, Lewis Hamilton and the fast-starting Lance Stroll.
Kevin Magnussen picked up damage to his front wing, while Oscar Piastri had contact with Alex Albon at Turn 2, damaging the Williams driver’s front wing.
DRS was enabled as the field completed Lap 2, Verstappen promptly taking advantage to breeze by into the race lead into Turn 1 as they began Lap 4.
Leclerc managed to hang on to the Red Bull for a time before falling victim to Perez down the front straight and into Turn 1 on Lap 6.
Alfa Romeo Sauber and Alpine elected for early stops, boxing Valtteri Bottas and Pierre Gasly after seven laps on the medium compound tyres.
Several others followed suit over the next two laps, Piastri among them on Lap 9.
Hamilton soon struggled for grip and found himself under pressure from Fernando Alonso before he too pitted.
Verstappen also began to struggle, Red Bull reacting to a moment from Nyck de Vries to pit the leader.
De Vries had skated long at Turn 6, stopping short of the barrier but needing to engage reverse.
He was ultimately unable to and was forced to climb from the car in what amounted to his first Formula 1 DNF.
He’d brushed the wall on the apex at Turn 5, breaking the front-left suspension.
That prompted the deployment of the Safety Car, which was good news strategically for Perez.
The Mexican was able to pit for new tyres and rejoin in front.
Leclerc, Sainz, and Alonso were also in a position to leapfrog Verstappen.
Following the pit lane rush, the order was Perez from Leclerc, Verstappen, Sainz, Alonso, George Russell, Lance Stroll, Esteban Ocon (who did not stop), Nico Hulkenberg (also having not stopped), and Lewis Hamilton.
Russell got by Stroll in the pits, effectively passing the Aston Martin as the pair entered the lane opportunistically.
Perez headed the field to the restart at Lap 14, the Mexican having to defend from Leclerc.
The Ferrari driver had to defend at Turn 2 from Verstappen, though only delayed that as the move was made under brakes at Turn 3.
A corner later, Alonso picked Sainz’s pocket to move to fourth place.
The younger Spaniard had been slightly wrongfooted as Leclerc recovered from losing out to Verstappen out of Turn 3.
Perez soon eased out to a 1.5s advantage over team-mate Verstappen, the Red Bull pair enjoying a strong pace advantage, in the region of a second per lap, over Leclerc in third.
That pattern continued, Red Bull seemingly managing its pace to remain safe from Leclerc without stressing its cars.
Behind, Ocon in 10th was the cork in the bottle ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, Lando Norris, and Yuki Tsunoda.
Dramas for Zhou Guanyu saw the Alfa Romeo Sauber driver called into the pits and retirement on Lap 37 of 51.
With 10 laps remaining, Alonso turned up the wick in his pursuit of Leclerc in third.
Having fallen 4.5s off the back of the Ferrari, he turned in a personal best to begin closing that gap.
The pole sitter reacted next time around to stabilise the gap at four seconds.
Once Ocon and Hulkenberg pitted, Norris shuffled forwards to ninth and Tsunoda into the last points-paying position.
A late stop for Russell saw Mercedes fit a set of soft tyres as he chased the bonus point for fastest lap – he had a sizeable gap to Ocon making it a free stop.
Ocon pitted as he started the final lap, the pit lane filled with personnel; photographers and team mechanics as the parc ferme set up began.
On track, Perez crossed the line to win the race just seconds later, heading Verstappen to the line by 2.1s.
Leclerc was third, Alonso missing out by 0.8s at the flag with Sainz fifth.
Hamilton, Stroll, Russell, Norris, and Tsunoda completed the top 10 while Piastri was the first to miss the points.
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