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Sergio Perez led home Max Verstappen for a dominant win in Baku (Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)
Sergio Perez led home Max Verstappen for a dominant win in Baku (Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images)

Perez takes dominant win in Baku to light up championship fight

After the chaos on Saturday, Red Bull cruised to victory in a race that was short on overtakes

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Sergio Perez followed up his Sprint race win with a dominant performance in Sunday’s Grand Prix in Baku, comfortably outperforming teammate Max Verstappen.

The field behaved well at lights out in Baku, with no major incidents into turn one with no major incidents into turn one as the race got underway (Image Credit: @F1 on Twitter)
The field behaved well at lights out in Baku, with no major incidents into turn one as the race got underway (Image Credit:@F1 on Twitter)

With three dominant wins in the first three races,  Red Bull looked in imperious form. However, the unexpected challenge from Ferrari during Friday’s qualifying session in Baku demonstrated the charging bulls may not get the season entirely their own way.

Sprint qualifying proved to be a continuation of Friday, with Ferrari taking pole position away from Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen. The race was a very different story, with the straight-line speed advantage of the Red Bull in full force down the s 2.2 km straight that defines Baku.

Qualifying had been taken by Ferrari on both days, with Red Bull taking the first of the race wins. The question going around the paddock was a simple one, could Ferrari put up a sustained challenge in the Grand Prix itself?

Pre-race

Baku lived up to its reputation of causing drama, even before the cars had taken to the grid. Nico Hulkenberg’s qualifying efforts were wasted when Haas opted to make a suspension change to his car. Breaking Parc Ferme regulations, the changes relegated him to a pit lane start. He would be joined by Esteban Ocon, Alpine also made a similar change, the team’s weekend continuing to spiral downwards.

The weather looked good ahead of the race, with glorious sunshine coating the streets of Baku. Tension built as the cars took to the grid. Verstappen and George Russell barely acknowledged each other as the national anthem played out to a capacity crowd.

Aston Martin’s DRS operated correctly for the race after issues plagued the team on Saturday. The fix would prove vital, with the team pushing up the order during the Grand Prix.

Strategy also proved a talking point before the race began, with the vast majority of the grid started on medium tyres. Given that the soft runners during yesterday’s sprint were forced to pit due to performance drop-off, this is not surprising. Only Nyck De Vries in the AlpahTauri and the two pit lane starters chose to start on hard tyres, the rest choosing the optimised performance of the mediums.

Lights out

Leclerc converted his pole position and led into turn one. The grid behaved well on the opening lap, with Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin moving up the grid. The McLaren of Piastri had a hairy moment with the Williams of Alex Albon but both continued, albeit losing places.

Further back, Bottas was squeezed into turn three, with the Haas of Kevin Magnussen hitting the Alfa Romeo, sending debris onto the track, but completed the first lap without incident

As the cars started the second lap, the Red Bull ominously gained on the Ferrari, even without DRS. Verstappen completed the inevitable two lap later, the 8km an hour difference of the Red Bull on full display, as the Dutchman breezed past the Ferrari.

Tactical tyre and DRS management

Leclerc attempted to use DRS as a shield to fend off the second Red Bull of Sergio Perez. However, this failed, as Perez breezed past on the start of lap six. This now meant the race in Baku would be between the two Red Bull drivers.

The Aston Martins confirmed to the pit wall neither driver would not attack the other, instead believing that the Mercedes in front was beginning to grain his tyres. Opting to play the long game, it was a tactical gamble. Ultimately this proved to be correct, as Hamilton pitted for hards on lap 10, rejoining in P14 behind a train of cars.

Bottas and Gasly pitted on lap six for hard tyres, their mediums crying enough. This set off a chain reaction at the rear of the field.  Alex Albon pitted the next lap, followed by Oscar Piastri, the second Williams of Logan Sargeant, and Lando Norris.

Safety Car Winners and Losers 

Max Verstappen pitted on lap 11 after de Vries parked his AlphaTauri after clipping the barrier. Crucially, he did this before the Safety Car was deployed. With the field slowed down dramatically, the top four of Perez, Leclerc, Sainz and Alonso found themselves with a potential free stop over the reigning World Champion.

Ferrari double stacked, with Verstappen relegated to P3. Hamilton, Tsunoda, and both McLarens lost out during the Safety Car, all losing positions. The big winners were Russell and Stroll. The wide pit lane in Baku allowed the Mercedes of Russell to sneak alongside the Aston Martin in the pit lane, but no action was taken by the stewards.

Stroll would get the position back at the restart, with Max Verstappen and Fernando Alonso pulling off daring moves to advance up the order. Perez nailed the restart and led off into the distance. The two Mercedes duelled at the restart, Hamilton taking P7 from his teammate after relieving Hulkenberg and Ocon.

Mercedes advance

The field began to stabilise as the race approached half distance. With the Red Bulls over a second faster than the rest of the grid, the action was to be found behind. Perez would expertly manage the gap to his teammate across the race in Baku. The two teammates ran in formation once the Ferrari of Leclerc had been disposed of.

Brushes with the barriers became a common theme, Esteban Ocon gently kissing the barrier out of turn 15. Lance Stroll having hit the wall on the previous laps, both able to continue.

Hamilton advanced to P6 after Stroll made a costly error out of turn 16 before the main straight. The second Mercedes menacingly loomed in, waiting to pounce on the Aston Martin. Russell was not able to pass, the British driver hinted at Plan B.

His teammate Hamilton began to advance on Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari, waiting for an opportunity to pass. The top eight began to manage their tyres, with no one attempting risky overtakes.

Battles in the lower points

After their pit lane starts, Hulkenberg and Ocon found themselves in the top ten, gaining track position in the Safety Car. Both drivers continued to push. Norris tried hard to get his McLaren back into the top ten, the Haas and Alpine in front slowing his progress.

Ocon proved to be a cork in a bottle, a train of cars following the Alpine, with Hulkenberg joining other drivers hitting the wall at turn 15, but continuing. Both McLarens, the remaining AlphaTauri of Yuki Tsunoda and the Williams of Alex Albon were all locked in a waiting game.

Norris began pushing hard again on lap 30, making small gains on the Haas in front but would be unable to pass.

Gasly’s weekend continued to challenge the Frenchman, making a second stop on lap 26 and dropping to last place. Now out of contention, Gasly pushed hard to catch up with the pack, using his hard tyres to pass Bottas’s Alfa Romeo on lap 33.  Bottas would make a third stop, before teammate Zhou Guanyu retired, capping off a truly miserable day for Alfa Romeo.

Alonso and Hamilton on the hunt

Fernando Alonso’s stellar race continued, as he hunted Charles Leclerc to attempt to take his fourth consecutive podium. He made slow progress, hovering at 2.8 seconds behind the Ferrari on lap 36, as he plotted his attack.  This would ultimately fail.

Hamilton while suffering from graining also pushed hard for results. His Mercedes moved to within a second of Carlos Sainz’s Ferrari. The Scuderia had radioed Sainz to say tyre performance was ok, but the Mercedes looked to be visibly faster.

The Ferrari began to struggle and Hamilton moved to within striking distance on lap 40. Sainz’s SF-23 proved to have a strong front end, so despite Hamilton’s best efforts to gain on the straights, his Mercedes was unable to keep up in the corners. Asking his team for more power, he continued his assault.

The cork is removed

With five laps to go Norris finally passed the Haas of Hulkenberg at turn seven. Instantly pulling away, Tsunoda moved into attacking range. Unable to pass initially, the second McLaren of Piastri closed on Tsunoda.  Hulkenberg continued without pitting, but the AlphaTauri passed the Haas on the pit straight the following lap.

Piastri then closed on Hulkenberg, the Australian sensing a potential points finish on a weekend where he has battled illness. The McLaren passed the Haas on lap 49. Haas finally pitted Hulkenberg on the very last lap, a valiant effort from the German resulting in no points after an enduring afternoon.

Chaos in the pits

While Red Bull prepared to celebrate victory for Perez, Alpine needed to pit Esteban Ocon. An organisational error led to the media entering the pit lane to get pictures of the race winner, just as the Alpine hit the speed limiter.

Missing the gathering media by inches no one was hurt thankfully, with Ocon able to dart out of the way of the people attempting to crowd the pit lane.

Away from the chaos, Sergio Perez took the chequered flag to win by 2.6 seconds from Max Verstappen. This rounded off a dominant weekend for Perez, his win securing a double victory after his sprint victory yesterday. With his teammate following him home, this was the 25th one-two finish for Red Bull. Leclerc saw off Alonso’s challenge for P3 to bring home the Scuderia’s first podium of the season.  Sainz beat Hamilton to the line for P5 after a race-long duel.

Further back, Stroll ended an eventful afternoon P7, with Russell P8. Norris recovered to P9 after losing out during the Safety Car, the final point going to Tsunoda’s AlphaTauri after a strong drive.

Perez’s victory saw the Mexican move to within six points of leader Verstappen. Perez will need to take this momentum into the next round in Miami. If Perez wins again stateside, his championship bid will enter a different level.

Feature Image Credit: Red Bull Content Pool/Getty Images

 

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