Race Weekend Central

F1 Review: Sergio Perez Steals the Show at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

On a sunny, hot day in Baku, Sergio Perez turned up the heat on what looks like a burgeoning title race between him and his teammate and defending champion Max Verstappen.  Perez earned his second win of the season and the sixth of his career as he closed the gap to six points (Verstappen 93 – Perez 87). 

Perez enjoyed a rather clean race after the safety car on lap 14.  Verstappen never mustered much of a fight for the lead and settled for second, his fourth-straight podium of the year. 

Charles Leclerc earned Ferrari their first podium of the year by placing third, while Fernando Alonso missed being on the podium for the first time in 2023 by taking fourth.

Carlos Sainz crossed the line in fifth with Lewis Hamilton close behind taking sixth.

Lance Stroll managed to hold off George Russell and grab seventh, while Russell pitted late for fresh tires to earn the fastest lap but eighth in the race.

Lando Norris spent much of the race outside of the top ten but recovered to finish ninth.  Yuki Tsunoda followed suit and drove his way up to tenth to snag the last points-paying position for AlphaTauri and his second-consecutive tenth. 

Red Bull, with their one-two finish, have now run far in front of the field in the constructors standings and hold the edge over Aston Martin, 180–87.  To say that Red Bull has figured out something with the new car may be an understatement.

The evidence on the season indicates that Red Bull should have the race covered next weekend in Miami as the closest rivals – Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Mercedes – have yet to show they can keep even moderately close.   

The Race

Charles Leclerc used his 19th pole position advantage to jet out to the lead at lights out. Max Verstappen stayed close and by lap four, Verstappen overtook Leclerc with ease, flexing the strength of the Red Bull.  Perez follows suit two laps later, pushing Leclerc to third. 

Lance Stroll and George Russell both powered their ways to good starts, with Stroll moving two places to seventh and Russell two spots to ninth. 

The race then settled into a fairly calm parade until Nyck Devries tagged the wall and broke the suspension on his AlphaTauri.  With is wounded car on the track the safety car came out on lap 11, making this GP the sixth of eight to have a safety car on the Baku City Circuit.    

While it looked for a few moments like the caution period would stimulate a wild shake-up in the running order, nothing surprising manifested itself.  The big loser became Hamilton, who had pitted a lap before the incident and fell back to 11th for the re-start.  Both McLarens suffered in the pit stops and dropped from holding points-paying spots to falling just outside the top 10. 

Perez found himself in the lead, followed by Leclerc and then Verstappen.  When the green flag waved, Perez took off with Leclerc in tow.  Verstappen needed only a few corners before he slotted in behind his teammate, while Alonso slid past Sainz and into the fourth position. 

Hamilton, full of vinegar, made his way to eighth in one lap, then past teammate Russell a lap later, then proceeded to put Stroll in his rearview to hold down the sixth position. 

Things held station for much of the race from lap 25 onward until finally, Lando Norris passed Nico Hulkenberg after hovering behind him at a distance of less than one second for easily 15 laps.

Out front, Perez continued to put together a stellar drive, maintaining his three-second lead.  Verstappen could never manage to push forward enough to challenge his teammate making any action at the front an empty storyline.

Hamilton hounded Sainz for twenty laps, closing up to the gearbox of Sainz’s Ferrari multiple times but never able to get past, helping Sainz give Ferrari a solid points haul while Hamilton leaves the race left to wonder what the performance threshold of the Mercedes is. 

The Good

In a race that never quite delivered any real drama, perhaps the best thing to think about is the battle unfolding behind Red Bull.  There is no way to suggest that anyone is going to threaten the Milton Keynes organization at the front as the team looks so amazingly solid in terms of pace, tire management, and reliability that they resemble the empire that Mercedes recently ruled.

But Aston Martin, Ferrari, and Mercedes all have enough pace and talent to rival one another that at any given race there is no reason to favor one over the other.  The points standings shows just how close the three are, with Aston Martin sitting in second with 87, Mercedes in third with 76, and Ferrari holding 62. 

That the fifth-place team, McLaren has accumulated a mere 14 points exhibits just how close the fight between the three teams is.  That all six of those team’s drivers finished third through eighth also indicates that they have the potential to close out finishes from other teams. 

The Bad

Esteban Ocon, driving nearly the complete GP on one set of tires came into the pits on the last lap to meet the regulations of driving on two compounds.  Normally, such a matter is no big deal as the driver pulls into the paddock and goes through the usual motions of a pit stop.  In a tribute to notions that there is no normal, Ocon found himself barreling toward a mob of pit road reporters who in their eagerness began to move onto pit lane.

Ocon did nothing wrong as the sporting regulations also establish that the press is not supposed to join the fray until after the checkered flag.  And yes, the Sky Sports broadcast may have gone a little overboard in their reaction, but the issue is one that could have been truly troubling.  For all the efforts that have gone into making motorsports a safer environment, this momentary gaffe is one highlighting how things have the potential to go wrong at any time. 

The Questionable

For all the recognition given to tire degradation in this GP, this race saw no team take a chance to gamble on alternate strategies.  The weather conditions pushed a notion that the softest tires meant little for any enduring performance, so teams adopted a follow-the-leader approach of the leaders rather than trying something different. 

With so many engineers and prophetic programs in play, many teams rely on engineered thinking to run their races rather than challenging what is conservative thinking.  While going attempting alternative thinking may not have resulted in stellar results at Baku, there is no reason to think that an opportunity may have been ignored. 

The Driver

Give it to Perez.  Earning only his sixth win of his career, Sergio Perez is helping to develop a storyline where the biggest rivals for the championship are teammates.  While it may be too early to forecast that Perez–Verstappen will rival the year when Rosberg snuck a title past his teammate Hamilton, the early signs are there that these two will be the only ones with the chance of calling himself champion at season’s end. 

The Quotable

Sergio Perez may have subtly dropped the gauntlet, saying, “The Team enjoy calling me the King of the Streets, I am super happy for them all. They have been tremendous all weekend, from the sprint race yesterday through to the way we executed the race today, it was perfect. I think today we were the fastest car on track and regardless of the safety car we would have won the race. I am definitely in the fight for the title, not just because of Baku, I believe I can be very good anywhere this season and now I am just thinking of Miami.”

Three of the next five races take place on street circuits. 

The Results – Azerbaijan Grand Prix (Baku City Circuit; Baku, Azerbaijan; April 30)

POSNODRIVERCARLAPSTIME/RETIREDPTS
111Sergio PerezRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT511:32:42.43625
21Max VerstappenRED BULL RACING HONDA RBPT51+2.137s18
316Charles LeclercFERRARI51+21.217s15
414Fernando AlonsoASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES51+22.024s12
555Carlos SainzFERRARI51+45.491s10
644Lewis HamiltonMERCEDES51+46.145s8
718Lance StrollASTON MARTIN ARAMCO MERCEDES51+51.617s6
863George RussellMERCEDES51+74.240s5
94Lando NorrisMCLAREN MERCEDES51+80.376s2
1022Yuki TsunodaALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT51+83.862s1
1181Oscar PiastriMCLAREN MERCEDES51+86.501s0
1223Alexander AlbonWILLIAMS MERCEDES51+88.623s0
1320Kevin MagnussenHAAS FERRARI51+89.729s0
1410Pierre GaslyALPINE RENAULT51+91.332s0
1531Esteban OconALPINE RENAULT51+97.794s0
162Logan SargeantWILLIAMS MERCEDES51+100.943s0
1727Nico HulkenbergHAAS FERRARI50+1 lap0
1877Valtteri BottasALFA ROMEO FERRARI50+1 lap0
NC24Zhou GuanyuALFA ROMEO FERRARI36DNF0
NC21Nyck De VriesALPHATAURI HONDA RBPT9DNF0

Note – Russell scored an additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race.

About the author

As a writer and editor, Ava anchors the Formula 1 coverage for the site, while working through many of its biggest columns. Ava earned a Masters in Sports Studies at UGA and a PhD in American Studies from UH-Mānoa. Her dissertation Chased Women, NASCAR Dads, and Southern Inhospitality: How NASCAR Exports The South is in the process of becoming a book.

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