Sergio Perez became the first driver to win multiple times in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. (Photo: Alex Pantling | Getty Images)
BAKU, Azerbaijan - Oracle Red Bull Racing earned a 1-2 result at the Baku City Circuit as Sergio Perez held off teammate Max Verstappen by 2.137 seconds to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the second time in his Formula 1 career.
Perez earned his sixth career F1 victory, in a weekend sweep after taking Saturday's F1 Sprint Race.
Baku was the first of six sprint races scheduled for the 2023 season, and the new format debuted this weekend. This new format saw Friday’s Free Practice 1 session followed by qualifying that set the grid for Sunday's Grand Prix. A second shortened qualifying session dubbed the "Sprint Shootout" was held on Saturday morning to set the grid for Saturday’s sprint race.
Scuderia Ferrari's Charles Leclerc managed to put the Ferrari on the pole, outqualifying the field for both the F1 Sprint Race and Grand Prix. Ultimately, in the end, it was Perez mimicking past street-circuit performances and living up to his nickname of "King of the Streets."
"Yeah, it was a great weekend overall, you know," Perez said. "We delivered when we had to. It was a lot of pressure. I felt that with this format it puts a lot of stress on the drivers, on the engineers, the mechanics. So the way we delivered over the weekend was great. Yesterday, we executed a good race.
"But I think today, the way we pushed each other, Max (Verstappen) and myself, pretty much from lap one onwards, once we got Charles (Leclerc), it was basically a race between us from the start to the end. I think that first stint was a big key to my race today."
At the start of the Grand Prix, polesitter Leclerc tried to hold off the two Red Bulls of Verstappen and Perez, but without the aid of DRS, he found himself overtaken by both drivers in the early stages of the race.
Verstappen pitted from the lead under yellow flags brought out by AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries. A lap later, race control converted the yellow flags into a safety car and Perez wisely pitted for new tires. He then emerged from the pits as the new race leader, ahead of his teammate.
"The unfortunate thing was the safety car, with 20-20 hindsight you'd have left him out there another lap," Team Principal Christian Horner said.
Perex earned the praise of Horner, who gave "Checo" all the credit for driving a great race.
The Austrian team based out of the United Kingdom has now won the first four races of the 2023 season.
Despite losing the lead, Leclerc remained on the podium in third and more than doubling his points total prior to the weekend.
Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) finished fourth, ending his three-race streak of third-place finishes. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) gained a position over Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) to round out the top five.
FIA Safety Woes Continue
Formula 1's safety measures have been praised in recent times, with serious accidents becoming rare. However, the number of near-misses has been on the rise, culminating in an incident at the end of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
Alpine's Esteban Ocon narrowly avoided a potential disaster after he almost collided with photographers gathered in the pit lane on the final lap.
Ocon, pitting for his mandatory tire change, was caught off guard by their presence and explained he was forced to lift and back off.
“I don't understand why we're starting to prep the podium and prep the ceremony while we're still racing," Ocon said. "There's one lap to go, there's still people that didn't pit. I'm arriving at 300 kph, I'm braking very late."
The incident prompted an immediate investigation by the FIA race stewards. The photographers were gathered at the entrance of the pits to capture the podium finishers in parc ferme for post-race ceremonies.
With investigations ongoing, fans will be hoping for swift action to ensure the safety of drivers and track personnel at all times.
The 2023 GRID Ranking is the seventh year of the premier motorsport ranking in the world and it was initially released on Sunday, April 2.
Drivers in the seven racing series participating in the ranking (NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, Formula E, World Rally Championship, Repco Supercars, MotoGP) have earned GRID Ratings, which help determine their seeding each week in the 2023 GRID Ranking.
Week 5 GRID Ranking Formula 1 Drivers:
MOST RECENT FINISH
Next, the FIA Formula 1 World Championship heads to the United States for its first of three races in America this year, with the second edition of the Miami Grand Prix on Sunday, May 7.
Full results from the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix can be found here: