Sergio Pérez claimed his first win for Red Bull Racing at a predictably unpredictable Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which saw team-mate and championship leader Max Verstappen crash out in terrifying fashion.
In a race which saw two tyre failures, a red flag and a two lap sprint race, it was Pérez who came out of all the carnage as the race winner. The Mexican started the race in aggressive fashion, overtaking Pierre Gasly on the opening lap and then Charles Leclerc a handful of laps later to raise him to third. Pérez then settled into the race behind race leader Lewis Hamilton and Verstappen until the pit-stops, where he was given his chance to put pressure on the leading pair.
Despite a slow pit-stop Pérez emerged from the pit-lane in second place, behind Verstappen but ahead of Hamilton whom was overcut by both Red Bull’s. The race then quietened down significantly and the order remained the same, despite a safety car period to clean up a crashed Aston Martin, after Lance Stroll suffered a high speed tyre failure.
However with a handful of laps remaining, jaws dropped as Verstappen also suffered a high speed tyre failure of the exact same tyre and tyre compound, the rear left C3 tyre. This brought out a red flag and put Pérez into the race lead and on pole for the two lap sprint finish.
Pérez was poor off the line and couldn’t get across quickly enough to cover a charging Hamilton, however Pérez couldn’t believe his luck as Hamilton went straight on at turn one after a significant lock up. All Pérez had to do then was bring it home, which he did to not only take his first win for the team but also to help extend the teams constructors championship lead. It was an exceptional drive by the Mexican, who may even consider himself now as being in the title fight.
“We love Baku! It feels amazing to get my first win with Red Bull,” said Pérez. “The Team did a tremendous job and I want to thank Mr Mateschitz for this great opportunity and giving me the seat.
“I feel very sorry for Max because he deserved the win and a 1-2 for the Team would’ve been very enjoyable. It was a crazy rollercoaster of a race, we were basically flat out from the very first lap and I had Lewis behind pushing me so I couldn’t breathe, it was very challenging but we kept our focus.
“Everything worked perfectly today apart from the restart at the end where I just had no grip. I thought I cannot lose this race two laps from the flag so I broke as late as I could into Turn 1 and then I saw Lewis locking up and go straight on into the run off. It just shows how on the limit we are, the speeds we are doing are tremendous and I am sorry for Lewis because it’s very painful when these things happen but we are all vulnerable to mistakes.
“We have to enjoy today, our pace was great and we have a very good race car. We are working flat out and giving our best every week, it’s only race six and there’s more to come from me, the relationship with Max and the Team is great and there’s still a long way to go in this championship.”
“Anything can happen” – Max Verstappen
For Verstappen it was heartbreak, the Dutchman drove superbly to take the lead during the pit-stops and then controlled virtually the entire race before a crash completely out of his control.
Luckily for Verstappen he still holds the championship lead, after Hamilton’s run off at turn one meant he crossed the line last and more importantly for Verstappen, outside of the points. The race could have put Verstappen in a much stronger position over his title rival, however he is quick to realise it wasn’t his fault and that Pérez drove superbly for the team.
“To retire from the lead of the race so close to the finish is pretty frustrating,” said Verstappen. “I didn’t feel anything strange with the car and then suddenly the left rear went and I was in the wall quite hard.
“It’s not a nice place to crash and we don’t know the exact cause yet, I’m sure it will be fully investigated. Up until that point it was a great day, the car felt perfect and I was comfortable in the lead so it felt like it would be an easy 1-2 but there are no guarantees in this sport.
“Of course I am frustrated from my side not to win but I was very happy to see Checo up there. He did everything that the Team could have wanted today. He had a great start and then we both got past Lewis in the pits. I heard he had to defend for most of the race, so if I couldn’t win, I’m glad he could. He’s a great guy and a great team-mate so it was good to see him smiling on the podium and having his first win for Red Bull.
“It’s a shame that we missed out on the opportunity to make the gap bigger to Lewis today in the championship as we know when we get back to the normal tracks Mercedes will be very strong again but it just goes to show anything can happen and it’s still a good result for the Team!”