Sergio Perez holds off Max Verstappen at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix for his first F1 win of the season
Sergio Perez won the Saudi Grand Prix and Max Verstappen moved from 15th to second place to give Red Bull a one-two finish on Sunday in what promises to be a blistering season for the reigning Formula 1 champions.
And there have only been two races so far.
“Nice job guys, great result for the team,” said Perez, who finished about 5 seconds ahead of Verstappen.
In the first two races of the season there were two Red Bull wins, two 1-2 finishes and an air of desperation from everyone else on the grid.
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Verstappen is chasing a third straight title and isn’t worried if it comes down to a direct fight between him and Perez.
“The best will finish ahead,” said the Dutchman.
Perez feels he hasn’t peaked yet.
“I’m not sure it’s my best weekend with the team, Melbourne will be even better,” he said, ahead of the next race in Australia on April 2.
Fernando Alonso finished third for the second race in a row for what would have been his 100th career podium. But he was then given a 10-second penalty for improperly serving an earlier penalty, which dropped him to fourth.
But even as the Spaniard enjoys a renaissance with his new team Aston Martin, Alonso admitted he had little chance of beating Red Bull.
Verstappen won a record 15 races last season and a second consecutive F1 title, and Perez added two more victories as the 17 total wins from 23 races easily handed Red Bull the constructors’ title. There were no signs of a drop in performance during the offseason and George Russell, who moved up to third after Alonso’s penalty on Sunday, predicted after the season opener that Red Bull would win all the races this season.
“I was having fun there and the car felt good,” Russell said after his 10th career podium. “I think it’s hard what happened to Fernando. But I’m happy to get the silverware back.”
Lewis Hamilton finished fifth while Mercedes are third and fifth just three days after the seven-time F1 champion said the team needed three more organizations to not finish a race for Mercedes to have a chance of winning.
“We’re not where we want to be, but we’ll get there,” Hamilton told his team.
Sunday’s show was Verstappen, who overcame a mechanical issue in qualifying that forced him to start 15th and quickly rose through the ranks. The Dutchman set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap to retain his place atop the F1 points standings.
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“Great recovery Max, it was a very good drive at the end,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner told Verstappen over the radio.
Verstappen felt the late push was worth the risk.
“I tried in the end and luckily it worked,” he said.
Red Bull have now finished 1-2 in three consecutive races since last year’s final.
It was the fifth career victory for Perez, who started from pole position for the second consecutive year at Jeddah’s Corniche circuit. He briefly led the championship standings until Verstappen slipped ahead by recording the fastest lap.
“Let’s keep it up, keep pushing,” said the Mexican.
Perez started on pole with Alonso in the front row alongside him and Alonso took an early lead but was quickly penalized for being in the wrong starting position. He thought he had served the five-second penalty, but the race marshals tied him up for another 10-second celebration after the podium.
Russell said “common sense must be applied” and Alonso was annoyed with the governing body of the FIA.
“I think it’s more of a poor show from the FIA today more than a disappointment to ourselves,” Alonso told broadcaster Sky. “You cannot apply the penalty 35 laps after the pit stop. They had enough time to inform us.”
Perez quickly regained the lead as Verstappen and Charles Leclerc – starting from 12th due to a 10-place grid penalty – chewed up the cars ahead of them.
When the two Ferraris went head-to-head for new tyres, Verstappen was fourth.
The 6.2 kilometer (3.8 mile) circuit by the Red Sea is F1’s fastest urban track with average speeds exceeding 250 km/h (160 mph), which suited Verstappen. It only took him seconds to pass Russell and Alonso didn’t last long either, making it a Red Bull shootout.
Perez held on.
Ferrari had another race to forget, with Carlos Sainz Jr. finishing sixth ahead of Charles Leclerc seventh. At least Leclerc finished, having retired in Bahrain, but he wasn’t happy.
“Being late like this is really (expletive), I don’t know what to do,” Leclerc said as he shuffled behind traffic.
Frenchmen Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly finished eighth and ninth for Alpine with Haas rider Kevin Magnussen in 10th.
Alonso’s teammate Lance Stroll retired on lap 18, leading to a safety car restart that suited Verstappen.
Alex Albon abandoned his Williams and his teammate Logan Sargeant, the American rookie, started last and finished 16th. McLaren again struggled with Oscar Piastri 15th and Lando Norris 17th.
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“Tough race after an unlucky start with damage to both cars on the first lap. It was too hard to turn things around. But we tried hard,” tweeted McLaren boss Zak Brown. “It’s time to get our season back on track in Australia.”