BAKU: Sergio Perez won Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix with teammate Max Verstappen in second to ram home Red Bull’s supremacy over the rest of the Formula One grid.
Ferrari’s pole-sitter Charles Leclerc completed the podium, a respectable third.
“Vamos!” exclaimed the Mexican on the team radio after making it a hugely profitable weekend in Baku where he also claimed Saturday’s sprint race.
Red Bull boss Christian Horner acknowledged Perez’s “sensational weekend”.
He added: “He’s always been outstanding on this track, I don’t know what it is about Azerbaijan, but he absolutely excels here.”
Red Bull’s roll through 2023 after four races now reads four wins plus Saturday’s sprint, three poles, and three 1-2s.
Verstappen leads the drivers’ championship by just six points ahead of the fifth round of the record 23-race season in Miami.
Perez’ engineer told him on the team radio he was the “king of the streets” and with justification as five of his six F1 wins — not counting Saturday’s sprint — have come on street circuits, twice in Baku alongside victories in Saudi Arabia, Monaco and Singapore.
The popular Perez, who believes he can really challenge Verstappen for the title, said: “It really worked out today for us (me), we managed to keep the pressure on Max. I think it was very close between us, we pushed to the maximum, we both hit the wall a few times but we (I) managed to keep him under control.”
Leclerc conceded that for the time being at any rate Red Bull were in “another league once it comes to the race”.
“Over 51 laps it was not possible, they have so much more pace than we do. Everyone is working flat out to understand what we can do in the races to close the gap.”
The warmest day of a frenetic sprint weekend had the drivers arriving onto the grid, umbrellas perched on their cars.
After a resounding rendition of the national anthem the covers came off the tyres and the lights went out with pole-sitter Leclerc holding off Verstappen to the 90 degree turn one.
The Dutch ace had the Ferrari in his cross hairs though, waiting to pounce.
The inevitable happened on lap four as the Red Bull star nipped past, leaving Leclerc sandwiching the Red Bulls.
Perez inched closer to the slower red rival and duly coasted past on lap six.
Verstappen pitted on lap 10 leaving Perez in control but then the safety car intervened to clear Nyck De Vries’s stricken Alpha Tauri after hitting a wall.
All the leaders used the safety interlude to take a free pit stop with racing resuming under a safety car restart on lap 13.
Perez managed that slickly as Verstappen got the better of Leclerc to leave the Red Bulls in front.
At the midway point Perez led from Verstappen with Leclerc a forlorn 13sec behind, and that’s as it ended up in a race that will not figure on most fans top five of the season.
Fernando Alonso only narrowly missed out on a fourth consecutive podium, the 41-year-old Spaniard finishing fourth in the Aston Martin ahead of Carlos Sainz in the other Ferrari.
Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton was in sixth ahead of Lance Stroll in the second Aston Martin.
George Russell, who secured the point for the fastest lap, was ninth for Mercedes with Yuki Tsunoda’s Alpha Tauri rounding out the top 10.
Verstappen was relaxed at his teammate taking the limelight.
“We know it’s a very long season, you keep learning — it can never be perfect all the time.” — AFP