F1: Sergio Perez seals Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as Max Verstappen climbs from 15th to second
Red Bull sealed another one-two, just in a different order this time as Sergio Perez pulled off a team clean sweep at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
In Bahrain, it had been Max Verstappen who had taken the chequered flag, this time it was his teammate who converted pole for the fifth victory of his F1 career.
But Verstappen’s drive was the stand-out having climbed up from 15th on the grid at the start following is driveshaft failure in qualifying to nearly pull off an unlikely win.
At points, Verstappen threatened to reel in his teammate when he moved into second at the halfway stage of the race, the most grateful recipient of a safety car deployed to remove Lance Stroll’s stricken Aston Martin.
But even for the two-time champion it proved one ask too far, his second place a result he would have undoubtedly taken when left to watch the latter half of qualifying play out on Saturday.
Following his win from pole, Perez said: “It turned out to be tougher than expected. That safety car tried to take the victory out of us but not this time. The team did a fantastic job. We were the fastest car out there today.”
For all Verstappen’s dominance over the past year, the Dutchman repeatedly warned his team there was something wrong with his car, conjecturing it was a similar driveshaft issue which had curtailed Saturday’s on-track action. He was merely assured with the words, “we are hay at the moment, Max”.
At present, reliability issues look like the only thing likely to derail Verstappen and Red Bull which, this early in the season, must make for worrying viewing for Formula 1 bosses.
The rules they had worked so hard on to revise for the beginning of 2022 have certainly helped to improve the overtaking within the bunch, sadly not at the front end of the race.
That said, Fernando Alonso did briefly threaten to spring a surprise when he got the jump on Perez on the line only to be handed a five-second penalty for an incorrect starting position. In truth, it had little bearing on his race, as Perez still had the superior pace to retake the lead even before he stopped for his penalty.
In a one-stop race, the pitstops were crucial, which made the safety car’s arrival all the more timely for the likes of Verstappen, Alonso and Lewis Hamilton, who had previously berated his team for putting him on the hard tyres at the start.
The safety car came about on lap 18 when Stroll was ordered to immediately “stop on track”. At that stage, Hamilton had been nearly 38seconds off the pace, now he was in sixth and back in contention after a difficult weekend.
Verstappen had endured a difficult start from 15th struggling to make any inroads until DRS was enabled and then picking off the cars in front of him with such ease it looked like little more than a concession by the cars in front.
By the time of the safety car, he was up to fourth and, from there, it became a numbers game in terms of the time to Perez – 5.7s – and positions.
But for all the chaser’s efforts, Perez kept Verstappen at bay for a first win of 2023 despite claiming a potential issue with his brake pedal with 10 laps to go.
After his climb to second, Verstappen said: “We got into a good rhythm and of course very happy to be on the podium.”
In the battle of the final podium place, that 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 adjudged to not have served his five-second penalty correctly and was initially handed a 10-second punishment after the finish.
That elevated George Russell, who has looked more at ease in the W14 this season, to third having earlier fended off the challenge of Hamilton after a slightly tetchy exchange with his team over the race radio over his and his more experienced teammate’s track positions. However, F1 eventually reinstated Alonso after a review.
The Mercedes were followed by the two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc in sixth and seventh respectively with both Alpines also in the points.