Perez picks up Sprint race win from Leclerc in Baku

Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23 leads at the start of the Sprint race. 29.04.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku Street Circuit, Azerbaijan, Sprint Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images
© XPB 

Red Bull's Sergio Perez claimed a calm and assured win in the Azerbaijan sprint race, swooping past pole sitter Charles Leclerc as soon as he had DRS available down Baku's super-long straight.

Max Verstappen was unable to pull off a similar pass after he was left with damage to the left hand side of the RB18 following first lap contact with Mercedes' George Russell, who had briefly succeeded in snatching third place when the lights went out.

The sprint saw a safety car period after Yuki Tsunoda hit the wall at turn 13 on the first lap, sending a tyre bouncing down the track as he himself struggled to get the wounded AlphaTauri back to pit lane.

Having set the pace in the first-ever sprint showdown session on Saturday morning, Charles Leclerc lined up in pole position ahead of the Red Bull pair Sergio Perez, with George Russell in fourth having just beaten Carlos Sainz at the end of the sprint qualifying - party as a result of Sainz missing out in a final run due to Leclerc's late shunt. Only two drivers - Lando Norris in P10 and Valtteri Bottas starting from 15th - had opted for soft tyres with everyone else sporting mediums. Missing from the grid was Logan Sargeant, after Williams were forced to withdraw his badly damaged car and focus on getting it ready for tomorrow's Grand Prix instead.


When the lights went out to get this abbreviated half-hour, 17-lap affair underway, a solid start for Leclerc saw the Ferrari hold the lead into the first corner, while the Mercedes cars got a better start than the Red Bulls leaving Verstappen failing to hold off a feisty Russell, Verstappen complaining over the team radio about Russell making contact in turn 2, and the team warned him that there was some minor floor damage from the incident.

Meanwhile Sainz had just managed to fend off Lewis Hamilton to hang on to fifth. However further back, a stray tyre bouncing down the track signalled disaster for Yuki Tsunoda, whose AlphaTauri had understeered into the wall at turn 13, leaving the car scraping along the ground on its way back to pit lane.


A safety car was deployed to allow marshals to clean up the debris scattered by Tsunoda's accident. Race control was unimpressed when the team sent the damaged car back out and ordered an investigation for a pretty self-evident unsafe release. The race eventually resumed on lap 6 with Leclerc leading Perez, Russell, Verstappen, Sainz and Hamilton followed by Fernando Alonso, Alex Albon Lando Norris and Lance Stroll.

With Leclerc sotting away at the front with Perez in hot pursuit, Verstappen had his revenge on Russell and reclaimed fourth, while Alonso had similar success dispatching Hamilton at the same time and Stroll also got the better of Norris whose soft tyre gambit had not worked out well. DRS kicked in on lap 8 and that gave Perez an overwhelming advantage as he lined up Leclerc to take the lead of the race for the first time down the super-long straight into turn 1.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 and Charles Leclerc (MON) Ferrari SF-23 battle for the lead of the Sprint race. 29.04.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku Street Circuit, Azerbaijan, Sprint Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Bearne / XPB Images

Leclerc was able to stay close enough to Perez to maintain DRS and a tow from the leader's slipstream, which enabled him to stop Verstappen from finding his way past. The top three had dropped Russell, Sainz and Alonso, and Hamilton had pulled away from Albon and Stroll having a private battle over eighth, while Norris had succumbed to Haas duo Nico Hulkenberg and Kevin Magnussen and was called into the McLaren pit box to abandon the hopeless soft tyres for a set of mediums. Esteban Ocon - who had pitted for softs under the safety car - was also in again to put a fresh set on the Alpine.

Stroll finally picked off Albon down the inside of turn 1 on lap 12 for the final points-paying position, leaving Albon trying to hold off Oscar Piastri. Hulkenberg had hit problems and lost positions, dropping him to 14th place just ahead of Bottas and Nyck de Vries, with Norris and Ocon still a long way back in the rear view mirror after their pit stops.

(L to R): Max Verstappen (NLD) Red Bull Racing and George Russell (GBR) Mercedes AMG F1 discuss the Sprint race in parc ferme. 29.04.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 4, Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Baku Street Circuit, Azerbaijan, Sprint Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

Perez' lead was now secure with Leclerc easing off the gas, giving Verstappen a chance to close up for the last two laps but still not getting quite within DRS range of the Ferrari to pull off the pass. There was too little time remaining before the chequered flag saw them confirmed on the podium, with Russell fourth followed by Sainz, Alonso, Hamilton and Stroll in the top eight for championship points. As they returned to parc ferme, Verstappen stalked over to Russell to make his unhappiness over their first lap contact as clear as possible.

Perhaps more importantly for the teams was the data gathered for tomorrow's race, with the soft tyre looking effectively unusable and even the medium compound degrading quicker than anyone had been anticipating.

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