Sergio Perez managed to clinch the win from pole-sitter, Charles Leclerc, in the first Sprint of the 2023 season at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
After a stellar weekend, Ferrari’s Leclerc – who starts Sunday’s grand prix on pole also – was unable to hold off the Red Bull in the hands of Perez across the 17-lap contest at the Baku City Circuit.
Leclerc just about kept the other Red Bull of Max Verstappen in his rearview mirrors to claim second, after the world championship leader suffered damage following a first-lap incident with Mercedes’ George Russell (P4).
Carlos Sainz was fifth in the second Ferrari, while Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso took sixth ahead of Hamilton in the Mercedes at a Safety Car restart – caused by Yuki Tsunoda losing a tyre on track.
Alonso’s Canadian team-mate Lance Stroll took the final point of the Sprint race in eighth place after a great recovery having dropped to 10th on the opening lap.
Speaking after the first run of the new format, Sergio Perez said: “It was key to make sure we had good pace, good rhythm and that we pushed in the key moments of the race, that really made the difference today. I had to push quite hard initially to get past Charles, especially at the restart because on the first lap I could see he had good pace and very good mechanical grip.
“Later on, I was able to make the move early enough and that to me was important. In the end I think it was a really nicely executed race and it’s been a great weekend from the whole Team so far. I am really proud of my Team because we have come back from a four week gap and then straight into a new format. We have done a tremendous job but tomorrow is what matters and we must focus on that now.
“I am confident I will be fighting for the win tomorrow but let’s see, it is Baku and anything can happen! I just have to make sure I deliver when it happens”.
Verstappen will be all guns blazing as he starts alongside Leclerc on the front row on Sunday. Meanwhile, Sprint winner Perez will begin in third.
The Dutchman went wheel-to-wheel with Russell, who locked up going into Turn 2 and went into the side of Verstappen, before eventually passing the Red Bull at Turn 3.
The side of Verstappen’s car was left with a hole in it, and the Dutchman fumed over the team radio: “Did he really drive into the side? I don’t understand how he can keep the position and he is damaging my car!”
Speaking after the race, he said: “It was a bit of a messy first lap, and then with the damage I think it was a bit tricky to pull forward throughout the rest of the Sprint. I think overall third was fine, and to manage the damage that we had, we did alright.
“I need to look into the data to see how much the damage affected the race today, but it’s never ideal to have a hole in the car. Looking ahead to tomorrow, we have a good race car, you could see that today with Checo’s performance. I think the most important thing tomorrow is to stay out of trouble and I think we can go for the win”.