Baku Sprint winner Sergio Pérez once again proved he was king of the streets as he clinched the top spot in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday.
The main race had been relatively uneventful compared to the action-packed Sprint race that took place the day before.
The Red Bull tandem had an easy takeover on pole sitter Leclerc early in the race. Verstappen managed to grab P1 on Lap 4 and Perez took P2 on Lap 6.
The race was yellow flagged after AlphaTauri’s Nyck De Vries hit the wall at Turn 5 and halted on Lap 10. The safety car was out until Lap 13.
Verstappen, who lost the lead when he had to pit before the safety car, regained P2 from Leclerc at turn 3 of Lap 14. Pérez had the reins of the race.
Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso also displayed impressive calculations when he took over Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz to get P4.
With their unmatched pace, the Red Bull duo continued to sail away smoothly from the rest of the grid.
Wall contacts had been committed by both Pérez and Verstappen on Laps 33 and 34 but incurred no serious damage.
Pérez seemed to have P1 secured. Verstappen enjoyed the safe distance from Leclerc as he dealt with engine break issues which impeded him from going all out to mount a challenge against his teammate.
Come the final lap, Leclerc was 19 seconds behind Verstappen.
There had been overtaking attempts but Alonso failed to snag the podium finish from the Ferrari man and settled on P4. Sainz finished P5.
This was the first podium finish for Ferrari after four races in the 2023 season.
Despite the big improvements compared to their performances in the last three races, Leclerc admitted to not having the pace to fight the Red Bulls who just had their third 1-2 finish in the season.
“That was the absolute maximum I could do today, that we all could do as a team because the strategy was really good, everything was really good but we just don’t have enough pace in the car today to fight with the Red Bulls,” Leclerc said post race.
He continued, “And also, the Aston Martins seem to have a stronger race cars than we do. It was a good effort to stay in front of Fernando but at the end, it's like this. The reality is we have a lot of work to do.”
Asked about the next round in Miami, Leclerc remained optimistic about the changes the team will bring in the cars.
“I don't expect any miracles but hopefully these small steps will help us,” he said.
With this podium win, Leclerc climbed two spots up in the championship standings. He now has 28 points tied with Mercedes’s George Russell.
The 1-2 finish for Perez and Max Verstappen meant good news for the Red Bull team in their constructors’ championship campaign, but perhaps not to defending World Champion Verstappen.
Perez trimmed the gap to his teammate down to 6 points.
Verstappen maintained the lead with 93 points, with Perez closely behind with 87. ###