Race Weekend Central

Sergio Perez Wrenches Baku Sprint Win from Charles Leclerc

Sergio Perez won Saturday’s (April 29) Formula 1 Sprint race in Azerbaijan from third on the grid, upsetting two-fold polesitter Charles Leclerc in the process.

Perez, who has a history of success on the streets of the Azerbaijani capital, took the lead from Leclerc at the start of lap 8 of the 17-lap race, and never looked back while his teammate Max Verstappen was unable to challenge Leclerc for second place after picking up damage on the opening lap.

“It’s been a lot of pressure put on us, on our team’s engineers, mechanics, drivers,” Perez told Sky Sports’ Naomi Schiff. “So to get away with maximum points today was the main objective. But obviously we know that tomorrow is the main race … I think there is good learning today and, yeah, P3 is not ideal for tomorrow’s race but I will give it a go and fight for the win.”

See also
Sprint Slipstream Saturday: A New Adventure at Baku

Sprint Shootout

The day began with the first iteration of F1’s new Sprint Shootout qualifying session. A zero-sugar version of standard qualifying in many respects, the shakedown saw Leclerc take his second pole on the streets of Baku in as many days, securing himself a first-place start in both Saturday’s Sprint and Sunday’s (April 30) Grand Prix.

The Sprint Shootout first saw American rookie Logan Sargeant smack the wall with his Williams machine, leading to a red flag which ended the first session and dealt his car damage which would force Williams to withdraw his entry from the Sprint race in order to have the car repaired before Sunday.

Leclerc likewise found the barrier, albeit in much more dramatic circumstances when he planted his Ferrari in the barriers of turn 5 during his final run of the Shootout. Fortunately for Ferrari, Monegasque had already set a time fast enough to take pole for the Sprint race and that position was not topped for the rest of the session.

Sprint Race

While Leclerc and Perez dashed into the distance on lap 1, Verstappen immediately found himself side-by-side with Mercedes’ George Russell and the two did battle from turn 1 through to turn 3, where Russell forced the issue and made contact with Verstappen’s left side before the Dutchman then grazed the wall with his right-rear tire.

The contact with Russell left a sizeable hole in the left-hand sidepod of Verstappen’s RB19 which hindered his performance and handling for the rest of the event. Verstappen and Russell spoke after the race with Verstappen warning Russell: “Expect it next time the same, d***head!”

Moments later on lap 1, Yuki Tsunoda triggered a virtual safety car when the right-rear tire of his AlphaTauri came lose and rolled down the racing line between turns 15 and 16. Owing to the amount of debris left on the track, a full safety car period followed, the only one of the race.

When racing resumed on lap 5, Perez immediately set off after Leclerc and was able to overtake the Ferrari on lap 8. Leclerc fought to keep himself within reach of the lead for much of the race, but by lap 15 of 17, Perez had amassed a nearly four-second lead. The race ended with Perez comfortably clear of Leclerc and Verstappen uncomfortably slow on the straights, unable to meaningfully approach the gearbox of the Ferrari.

2023 F1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix Sprint Race Results

The 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix will take place on Sunday, April 30, at 7 a.m. ET with coverage on ESPN.

About the author

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Alex is the IndyCar Content Director at Frontstretch, having initially joined as an entry-level contributor in 2021. He also serves as Managing Director of The Asia Cable, a publication focused on the international affairs and politics of the Asia-Pacific region which he co-founded in 2023. With previous experience in China, Japan and Poland, Alex is particularly passionate about the international realm of motorsport and the politics that make the wheels turn - literally - behind the scenes.

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