For Sergio Perez, victory might taste just as sweet as redemption. Sunday (March 19) at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the street-circuit maestro won the Formula 1 STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix to claim the fifth F1 win of his career and move to within one point of the World Championship lead.
After earning his second career pole position in Saturday qualifying, the Red Bull Racing pilot only briefly lost the lead to Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, before re-overtaking the Spaniard on the fourth lap.
From there, he simply controlled the race, comfortably holding a margin on first Alonso, then his World Champion teammate Max Verstappen to earn his first F1 win of 2023 by nearly five and a half seconds.
“It turned out to be tougher than expected,” Perez told Sky Sports’ David Coulthard. “We really did a job in that first stint, but that safety car, again, tried to take the victory out of us again in Jeddah – but not this time … The job [the team] have done, they worked so hard during the week and, you know, we had a lot of mechanical issues and these guys have been on top of that. So I’m really happy for them and it’s time to celebrate.”
After a drivetrain failure in the second round of Saturday’s qualifying, defending Saudi winner Verstappen was forced to start from 15th place. When the lights went out, it was a usual crushing march through the midfield for the two-time World Champion, but at perhaps a rate more deliberate than dominating.
As both Ferraris and Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin hit pit road for fresh Pirelli rubber, Red Bull let the Dutchman run long on his medium tires. A mechanical failure that stranded Stroll became a fortunately-timed safety car for the race leaders, allowing Verstappen, as well as both Mercedes, to pit while maintaining position.
On lap 21, Verstappen restarted from fourth. Two DRS-assisted blasts past George Russell and Alonso, and Verstappen assumed the runner-up position he would hold until the checkered flag.
By virtue of setting the fastest lap on the 50th and final circuit of the 27-turn, 3.836-mile temporary street course, Verstappen maintains his lead in the championship standings by a solitary point.
“It wasn’t very easy to through the field,” said Verstappen. “Through the first sector, trying to follow at the beginning of the race was very difficult; a lot of sliding around. But once I cleared them one-by-one we got into a good rhythm. And of course very happy to be here on the podium.”
For the second race in a row, two-time World Champion Alonso stood on the final step of the podium. At least, that’s what he thought.
After he grabbed the lead on the start, the stewards investigated Alonso’s car No. 14 for being out of position on the grid and assessed him a five-second penalty. When the Aston Martin team brought him in for service under the safety car, they waited five seconds before changing tires. Unfortunately, they did so with the rear jack already engaged, meaning that, for the purposes of F1’s rules, they had already begun work on the car.
Post-race, Alonso was assessed a 10-second penalty that dropped him off of the podium and promoted Russell to the third step. The penalty was later rescinded after a review, and Alonso was reinstated to the podium.
Fourth place thus went to Russell, followed home by teammate Lewis Hamilton, with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz in sixth. Charles Leclerc recovered from a 10-place grid drop penalty to end up seventh, with countrymen and Alpine teammates Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly in eighth and ninth, respectively.
A late-braking move from the Dane into the first hairpin let him clear Tsunoda, and claim the first point of the year for F1’s lone American outfit.
In two weeks, F1 heads Down Under for the Rolex Australian Grand Prix at Melbourne’s Albert Park Circuit. Coverage begins Sunday (April 2) at 1:00 a.m. on ESPN.
About the author
Jack Swansey primarily covers open-wheel racing for Frontstretch and co-hosts The Pit Straight Podcast, but you can also catch him writing about NASCAR, sports cars, and anything else with four wheels and a motor. Originally from North Carolina and now residing in Los Angeles, he joined the site as Sunday news writer midway through 2022 and is an avid collector (some would say hoarder) of die-cast cars.
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