Perez crossed the line 5.3s clear of Verstappen, who spent the final laps charging his battery for a final-tour tilt at the fastest lap – which was ultimately successful as he crossed the line with a 1m31.906s lap.
The Mexican driver had to overcome a setback at the start, in which Alonso trickled through into the first corner to take the lead and settled into first place.
But immediately, Alonso was pinged for starting from the incorrect location, and a swift investigation resulted in the Spaniard taking a five-second penalty having been too far to the left in his starting box.
Despite his lead over Perez briefly getting over a second, Alonso was chased down by Perez at the end of the third lap and, with DRS, the Mexican was able to pull to the inside and make a move to regain the lead at the start of lap four.
Alonso stuck with him in DRS range and, although he never made a charge to reclaim the lead, he was able to sit in Perez’s slipstream for a few laps until he was simply unable to keep within a second of the Red Bull.
From there, the Aston Martin driver tailed off and quickly dropped to 1.6s off Perez by the 11th lap – a deficit that doubled two laps later.
But the race was paused on the 17th lap, as Lance Stroll – who had earlier put a sensational overtake on Carlos Sainz on the opening lap at Turn 13 – crawled to a halt and parked up at Turn 8.
This ultimately brought out a safety car, prompting a flurry of pitstops among the front runners as they traded their medium tyres for the hardest compound.
Fernando Alonso, Aston Martin AMR23, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14
Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images
Verstappen was brought on level terms after the safety car restart, having pitted along with the early leading pack, and was initially told to prioritise managing his tyres until DRS was activated on lap 23.
This gave him the tools to dispose of George Russell with DRS into Turn 27, and the Dutchman was subsequently able to catch Alonso in a bid to break into the top two.
Next on Verstappen’s agenda was closing down the 5.4s gap to Perez, and was able to chip about a tenth out per lap – getting it to five seconds by the 30th tour of the circuit as Perez tried to reduce the damage.
The polesitter managed to restore his buffer to about 5.2s on the following lap, as he and Verstappen continued to battle for fastest laps. Although largely matching each other for time, Verstappen was able to…
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