Perez seizes safety car advantage to take Azerbaijan victory

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Perez seizes safety car advantage to take Azerbaijan victory

Formula 1

Perez seizes safety car advantage to take Azerbaijan victory

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Sergio Perez led Max Verstappen to a dominant Red Bull Racing one-two finish at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix after a conveniently timed safety car catapulted him into the lead.

Verstappen and Perez trailed polesitter Charles Leclerc at the start, but there was no holding them back once DRS was activated. Verstappen breezed past on lap 4 with an almost embarrassing advantage of 19mph, and Perez followed him through two tours later.

The Mexican was the quickest driver on track at that point, and he reeled off a series of fastest laps to close to within a second of his leading teammate and set up a duel for the lead.

Verstappen pre-empted the fight by diving into the pits on lap 10 for his tire change, but the race turned on its head only seconds later when the safety car was deployed.

Nyck de Vries had snapped his front-left suspension glancing the apex barrier at Turn 5 and parked his AlphaTauri on Turn 6, requiring the race to be neutralized – and gifting Perez a free pit stop.

Perez and also Leclerc jumped Verstappen with their cheap tire changes, and though it took the Dutchman only three corners to move back up to second place, he couldn’t close the gap to his teammate. The pair traded fastest laps as they galloped away from the field, but Perez always had fractionally more in hand, as he had appeared to have had before the safety car, and continuously stretched his advantage.

In the final 10 laps the gap grew to more than three seconds, and it was clear the right was over. Perez cruised towards his second victory of the year and sliced his title deficit down to six points.

“It really worked out today for us,” he said. “We managed to keep the pressure on Max – I think we had better deg on that first stint – and it was looking good already from that side. Then the safety car came and bunched everyone up.

“I think it was very close between us. We pushed to the maximum today. We both hit the walls a few times. We were pushing out there. But we managed to keep it under control.”

Verstappen rued his bad luck with he timing of the safety car but said poor car balance meant he was in contention for much for the race anyway.

“With the balance I was struggling to be really consistent,” he said. “Once I got that sorted I would say the last 10 laps were actually quite good again.

“A little bit too late, but … at the end of the day a good result.”

Leclerc drove admirably to hold onto third place ahead of the wily Fernando Alonso, who launched several waves of attack against the Ferrari driver but always found his attempts to close the gap rebuffed by Leclerc’s excellent pace through the middle sector of the track. It was Leclerc’s first grand prix podium this season and it more than doubled his points haul for the season.

“[Red Bull] are in another league once it comes to the race,” he said. “Over 51 laps it’s just not possible. They have so much more pace than we do in race pace.”

Carlos Sainz finished a long way adrift of the podium battle in fifth, some 19 seconds behind Leclerc on a weekend the Spaniard described as damage limitation. He spent the final half of the race defending against Lewis Hamilton, who tried in vain to overcome his Mercedes car’s lack of straight-line performance.

Lance Stroll finished seventh ahead of George Russell despite being jumped by the Englishman in pit lane during the safety car. The Canadian snatched the position back almost immediately at the restart but couldn’t make an impression on Hamilton ahead. Russell took the bonus point for fastest lap after stopping on the final tour

Lando Norris finished ninth after a tight battle with Yuki Tsunoda, who took the flag 10th to collect the final point of the race.

Oscar Piastri finished a commendable 11th after suffering a nasty bout of food poisoning all weekend, having reportedly lost around 6 pounds since arriving in Azerbaijan.

Alex Albon finished 12th ahead of Kevin Magnussen and Pierre Gasly.

Esteban Ocon finished 15th after a bizarre last-lap pit stop that saw the Alpine enter the pits after photographers and other personnel had been released into pit lane for the post-race procedures.

Ocon had started the race from pit lane and run the entire race with a single set of tires hoping for a late-race red flag or safety car that never eventuated, dropping him from ninth to out of the points on a difficult weekend for Alpine.

Logan Sargeant finished 16th ahead of Nico Hulkenberg, who used the same long-stint strategy as Ocon, while Valtteri Bottas finished a listless last after making three pit stops.

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