F1: Sergio Perez seals Saudi Grand Prix as Max Verstappen moves from 15th to second
In Bahrain, it was Max Verstappen who took the checkered flag, this time it was his team-mate who converted pole for the fifth victory of his F1 career.
But Verstappen’s drive stood out after climbing 15e on the grid at the next start is a driveshaft failure in qualifying to secure an almost unlikely victory.
At times, Verstappen threatened to bamboozle his team-mate when he slipped into second halfway through the race, the most grateful recipient of a safety car deployed to remove Lance Stroll’s struggling Aston Martin.
But even for the two-time champion, it proved a matter of too many, his second place finish, a result he would no doubt have achieved had he left to watch the second half of qualifying unfold on Saturday.
After his victory from pole, Perez said: “It turned out to be more difficult than expected. This safety car tried to take the victory away from us but not this time. The team did a fantastic job. We were the fastest car today.
Despite all of Verstappen’s dominance over the past year, the Dutchman repeatedly warned his team that there was something wrong with his car, surmising that it was a problem. similar driveshaft that cut short Saturday’s track action. He was simply reassured by the words “we are hay right now, Max”.
At present, reliability issues appear to be the only thing likely to derail Verstappen and Red Bull which, at the start of the season, must be worrying for Formula 1 bosses.
The rules they had worked so hard to revise for the start of 2022 certainly helped to improve overtaking within the peloton, unfortunately not at the front of the race.
That said, Fernando Alonso briefly threatened to cause an upset when he pounced on Perez on the line only to be handed a five-second penalty for incorrect starting position. In truth, it had little bearing on his race, as Perez still had the top pace to regain the lead before he even stopped for his penalty.
In a one-stop race, pit stops were crucial, which made the arrival of the safety car all the more timely for Verstappen, Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, who had previously berated his team for putting it on. on hard tires at the start.
The safety car intervened on lap 18 when Stroll was instructed to “stop on the track immediately”. By this point Hamilton had been nearly 38 seconds off the pace, now he was sixth and back after a difficult weekend.
Verstappen had had a difficult start from the 15e struggling to make inroads until DRS was activated, then taking out the cars in front of him with such ease it felt like little more than a concession by the cars in front.
At the time of the safety car he was fourth and from there it became a numbers game in terms of times to Perez – 5.7 seconds – and positions.
But despite the fighter’s best efforts, Perez held Verstappen at bay for a first victory in 2023 despite a potential problem with his brake pedal with 10 laps to go.
After his climb to second place, Verstappen said: “We got into a good pace and of course very happy to be on the podium.”
In the battle for the final podium spot, which has always looked like Alonso’s – what would have been the 100th podium of his career – to continue Aston Martin’s impressive start to the season. But he was judged for failing to properly serve his five-second penalty and first received a 10-second penalty after the finish.
It lifted George Russell, who has looked more comfortable in the W14 this season, to third after fending off Hamilton’s challenge after a slightly temperamental exchange with his team on the race radio about his track positions and those of his more experienced teammate. However, F1 eventually reinstated Alonso after a review.
The Mercedes were followed by the two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc sixth and seventh respectively with the two Alpines also in the points.