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Perez perfect in dominant Saudi win

Perez perfect in dominant Saudi win

FORMULA ONE: Sergio Perez beat teammate Max Verstappen to victory at yesterday’s (Mar 19) Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in another dominant Red Bull Racing one-two finish.

By Michael Lamonato

Monday 20 March 2023, 07:19AM

Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Perez won his fifth Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia yesterday (Mar 19). Photo: AFP

Red Bull Racing’s Sergio Perez won his fifth Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia yesterday (Mar 19). Photo: AFP

Perez led all but the first three laps for a well-judged win, with his lead threatened only briefly in the closing stages by Verstappen’s rampaging recovery from 15th on the grid thanks to a failed drive shaft in qualifying.

The Dutchman had risen to second place with half of the 50-lap race remaining and appeared to have the pace to catch and pass the Mexican, but Perez had more than enough pace in hand to manage the gap back to the sister car, maintaining a five-second advantage throughout.

Verstappen initially resisted team calls to hold station in second to secure a one-two finish but eventually relented when it became clear he couldn’t close the gap. He also reported concerning sounds from his new drive shaft.

Instead the reigning champion unleashed on the final tour to pinch the point for fastest lap of the race from Perez, keeping himself at the head of the title table one point ahead of his teammate.

“It turned out to be tougher than I expected,” Perez said. “The team did a fantastic job.

“We will keep pushing hard. The important thing I think is we were the fastest car out there today, so I’m very pleased with that.”

Verstappen was unhappy to lose a shot at a more sustained victory challenge to his broken drive shaft on Saturday but admitted second was a strong return after starting 15th.

“It wasn’t very easy to get to the field,” he said. “But once I cleared them one by one we got into a good rhythm.

“Of course very happy to be here on the podium.”

Fernando Alonso completed the top three for his 100th F1 podium, but it took four hours and a farcical series of backflips from the race stewards to confirm him in third place.

Alonso’s problems started on the grid when he lined up slightly to the left of his grid box, incurring a five-second penalty to be served at his pit stop. But as he pulled into his pit box, his rear jack operator appeared to engage the jack before his five-second penalty had been completed.

The stewards were notified in the final laps of the race and ruled that the rules had been broken based on an agreement between the teams that touching the car is not allowed while serving a penalty. Alonso was slapped with a 10-second post-race penalty shortly after climbing down from the podium celebrations.

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But Aston Martin was unhappy with the results and appealed. It argued there is no such agreement and that there have been at least seven recent examples of teams touching their cars during while serving a penalty.

The stewards relented, and almost four hours after the race ended, Alonso was reinstated to the podium.

“What a start to the season,” he said. “It was probably unthinkable one month ago when we launched the car.

“I pushed all the way through like qualifying laps. Red Bull is maybe a little bit out of reach but the rest were behind, so I’m happy for that.”

Mercedes teammates George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished fourth and fifth but couldn’t stick with Alonso’s pace, though the result is a step forward from the team’s disappointing season-opening showing in Bahrain.

Ferrari, however, suffered a step backwards, with Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc another five seconds further back in sixth and seventh.

The Italian team endured worse race pace than expected, and though Leclerc recovered admirably from a penalised 12th on the grid, it was clear he had reached the ceiling of his car’s potential once he caught up to his teammates in the lower reaches of the points.

Alpine had a similarly lonely race to eighth and ninth with Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, with 10 seconds ahead to Ferrari and another 10 seconds behind to Kevin Magnussen in the final point-scoring position.

Yuki Tsunoda beat Nico Hülkenberg to 11th ahead of Zhou Guanyu and Nyck de Vries.

Australian rookie Oscar Piastri finished 15th ahead of fellow first-timer Logan Sargeant, with Lando Norris 18th ahead of only Valtteri Bottas among the finishers.

Thai driver Alex Albon retired halfway through the race with a brake problem, while Lance Stroll stopped on track with a power unit issue.

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