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Pérez scores easy win in Baku

Pérez scores easy win in Baku

FORMULA ONE: Sergio Pérez has sliced his title deficit after dominating the Azerbaijan Grand Prix yesterday (Apr 30) ahead of Red Bull Racing teammate Max Verstappen.

By Michael Lamonato

Monday 1 May 2023, 09:30AM

Pérez celebrates his win. Photo: AFP

Pérez celebrates his win. Photo: AFP

Pérez, the only man to win in Baku more than once since Formula 1 arrived in Azerbaijan in 2016, inherited the lead of the race after a conveniently timed safety car demoted erstwhile leader Verstappen down to third behind Charles Leclerc.

Verstappen made quick work of Leclerc after the safety car restart but had no answers for his teammate’s pace. Pérez had looked the quicker of the two before the race had been neutralised, and over the 38 laps of racing remaining he gradually eked out his advantage until Verstappen’s challenge was broken.

Combined with his victory in the sprint race on Saturday, the Mexican gained back nine points on Verstappen’s championship lead to reduce his deficit to six ahead of this weekend’s Miami Grand Prix.

“It really worked out today for us,” Pérez said. “We managed to keep the pressure on Max.

“I think we had better [tyre wear] on that first stint; it was looking good already from that side.

“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 was sanguine in defeat, saying he struggled with his car for most of the race.

“I think of course the safety car was a bit unlucky,” he said. “The balance - I was struggling to be really consistent.

“Once I got that sorted I would say the last 10 laps were actually quite good again - a little bit too late, but… and at the end of the day a good result.”

Pole-getter Leclerc came home third after being easily passed for the lead in the opening laps. His Ferrari was no match for the Red Bull Racing machines down the front straight, the speed delta between them reaching more than 30 kilometres per hour, rapidly demoting him to third.

“They 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.”

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Fernando Alonso finished fourth and less than a second shy of the Ferrari, but the Spaniard was never able to reel Leclerc in close enough to attempt a move.

Carlos Sainz came home fifth but more than 24 seconds behind Leclerc on a weekend of damage limitation, the Spaniard having never got comfortable in his car over the fast-paced sprint weekend.

Lewis Hamilton was sixth after an almost race-long challenge on Sainz, but the Briton wasn’t able to put a move on him and took the flag 0.6 seconds further back.

Lance Stroll finished seventh ahead of George Russell, who pitted late for a set of soft tyres to score the bonus point for fastest lap.

Lando Norris duelled with Yuki Tsunoda for ninth and 10th in the final points-paying places.

The race was unusually unremarkable by Azerbaijan’s standards as a crash-prone venue, with Nyck de Vries the only driver to crash after clipping the wall at turn 5 and breaking his suspension, triggering the race-changing safety car.

The grand prix almost ended in disaster, however, when organisers let photographers and other personnel into the pit lane before the race had finished. Esteban Ocon stopped on the final lap of the race but was shocked to see a crowd of people blocking his way as he hit the brakes to get under the speed limit. The group managed to dive to safety and out of Ocon’s way, allowing the Frenchman to make his tyre change.

The incident comes just one round after spectators invaded the Australian Grand Prix circuit on the final lap, which saw Melbourne organisers reprimanded by the stewards on safety grounds.

Oscar Piastri missed out on points in 11th after suffering food poisoning all weekend. He held off a train of cars, including Thai driver Alex Albon, Kevin Magnussen, Pierre Gasly and the late-stopping Ocon.

Logan Sargeant finished 16th ahead of Nico Hülkenberg and Valtteri Bottas. Zhou Guanyu was a late retirement with a technical problem in his Alfa Romeo.

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