Sergio Perez Dominates in Azerbaijan

We are back to racing after a three-week break!  This week featured the new sprint format.  Teams are given one practice session.  Then they do their qualification for the grand prix.  On Saturday they do another qualification run but this is for the sprint itself.  This qualification run is significantly shorter and is termed the shootout.  Then, a few hours later, the actual 17 lap sprint begins.  This format has garnered mixed reviews from the drivers.  Max Verstappen voiced his displeasure with this new format over the weekend.


Most of the drama of the weekend occurred prior to the Grand Prix itself.  The Alpines have surprisingly regressed.  Pierre Gasly had a rough weekend as his car caught fire during his practice run and then hit the wall during Q1, effectively ending his day.  During lap one of the Sprint, George Russell squeezed Verstappen into the wall and tore off a chunk of the Red Bull’s left side pod.  Then, during lap 2, Yuki Tsunoda hit the wall hard causing him to lose his right rear wheel.  Yellow flags waved as his tire went bouncing down the track.  Alpha Tauri put him back on the track without realizing that Tsunoda’s car suffered chassis damage as well.  His day ended prematurely.  Ultimately, Sergio Perez ran away with the Sprint victory.  Charles Leclerc held off Verstappen to secure second in the Sprint.  Verstappen’s car wasn’t at peak performance, but he still managed to put pressure on Leclerc most of the Sprint. Red Bull is managing to consistently drive at a blistering pace week in and week out.

Red Bull driver Max Verstappen of the Netherlands steers his car during the Formula One Grand Prix at the Baku circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, Sunday, April 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

Today’s Grand Prix was largely anticlimactic.  I think the Sprint really informed the teams and drivers how to navigate the track, possibly making the race safer.  The main strategic concern centered around the tires due to the heat.  The degradation to the soft Tires during the Sprint caused most teams to go with the medium.  Unfortunately for several teams, their cars were not set up to manage the mediums in the Central Asia heat.

The race started off smoothly as there were no wrecks thru turn one or turn three.  There was a bit of bumping and scraping but nothing that halted the race.  As the teams struggled to figure out tire strategy early in the race, a rookie driver handed them the answer.  The whole grid breathed a sighed of relief when yellow flags waved for Nyck DeVries.  Nyck clipped a corner breaking his left steering arm.  The yellow flags waved, and Verstappen was the first into the pit for a tire change.  As he was coming out of pit lane, race control decided to send out the safety car under the yellow flag.  This slows the whole grid down and gives the opportunity for the front runners to pit and regain their race position.  Verstappen had come out of the pit and was forced to drive at the slower pace while the front runners took advantage of the safety car.  He restarted in third.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco leads the field after the start during the Formula One Grand Prix at the Baku circuit, in Baku, Azerbaijan, Sunday, April 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

The Red Bull car is special.  They are 8km faster than the Ferrari without the benefit of DRS.  When DRS kicks in, the Red Bull turns into a rocket ship.  Once the grid was back to green flag racing, it didn’t take long for Verstappen to overtake Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari.  They restarted on lap 14 and on turn three Verstappen undercut Leclerc and took off.  At turn six, the wiley vet, Fernando Alonso overtook Carlos Sainz.  By the time lap 14 ended, Lewis Hamilton had also moved up two spots.  After that initial lap after green flag racing there wasn’t too much drama.  During lap 20, Hamilton did overtake Lance Stroll and during lap 46, Lando Norris drove his McLaren into the points as he overtook Nico Hulkenberg at turn seven.  The remarkable thing about this street race was Red Bull’s pace.  By lap 51, Red Bull was 18 seconds ahead of Leclerc.  Red Bull is managing to consistently drive at a blistering pace week in and week out.  Perez benefited from the safety car earlier in the day, but I think he would have really pushed Verstappen had that not happened.  This is Perez’s second win in Azerbaijan and his sixth career Grand Prix victory.  In a contract year, he hopes to secure a few more victories.  Verstappen remains at the top of the driver standings, though only six points separate him from Perez.

Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco steers his car during the Formula One Grand Prix at the Baku circuit, in Baku, Azerbaijan, Sunday, April 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)

Looking around the grid, Tsunoda recovered nicely for the Grand Prix driving his car into the points.  George Russell stole the fastest lap time point from Red Bull when he pitted and put in a new set of softs the last lap of the race.  His 22 second lead on Norris allowed him to make such a run and still finish eighth overall.  Lastly, Fernando Alonso continues to keep his Aston Martin as the number three manufacturer on the grid as he finished fourth behind both Red Bulls and Leclerc’s Ferrari.  Of note, during the race, he was offering advice to Stroll thru his engineer.  Alonso seems to be enjoying his time and his role at Aston Martin.  On to Miami!

Second placed Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, right, of the Netherlands, third placed Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc of Monaco, left, and winner Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico attend the awarding ceremony after the Formula One Grand Prix at the Baku circuit, in Baku, Azerbaijan, Sunday, April 30, 2023. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)


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