Starting second, Perez slotted in behind Leclerc at the start and stuck with him through the opening lap, before the race was paused for a safety car period produced after Yuki Tsunoda hit the wall at Turn 14 on the opening lap.
The Japanese driver tore the right-rear tyre off the rim, appearing to have had contact with team-mate Nyck de Vries to damage his front wing.
A virtual safety car emerged for the debris, as Tsunoda crawled back to the pitlane. Although AlphaTauri put a new set of tyres on to try and salvage something from the sprint, the car was noticeably crabbing on the straights and the team was investigated for releasing the car in an unsafe condition.
This evolved into a full-blown safety car by the third lap, with proceedings restarting on the sixth lap once the debris was cleared from the track.
Leclerc let fly on the restart to stay ahead of Perez, leading the next two laps with the Mexican keeping tabs on him.
But once DRS was available once more Perez became a greater force in Leclerc’s mirrors and, at the end of lap seven, reeled the Ferrari in on the 2.2-kilometre Neftchilar Avenue straight and swept past to pick up the lead of the 17-lap race.
The Monegasque stuck with him and had a brief look down the inside into Turn 3, but ultimately was not presented with an opportunity to return the favour.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, George Russell, Mercedes F1 W14, Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB19, the rest of the field at the start of the Sprint
Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images
With greater straightline speed, Perez could slowly start to edge away from Leclerc and eventually broke free of DRS range as Leclerc was more concerned with trying to manage his tyres to keep ahead of Max Verstappen.
The Ferrari driver briefly closed in once again and got back within DRS range of Perez, but the Red Bull driver turned up the wick and once again broke free of Leclerc at almost a second a lap’s advantage, growing to 4.4s by the flag.
Leclerc managed to hang on in second from a late Verstappen charge, as the reigning champion was hampered by damage in a first-lap skirmish with George Russell.
The Mercedes driver had a better getaway and was side-by-side with Verstappen through the opening array of corners, eventually breaking past at Turn 3 – with Verstappen complaining that Russell had touched him through the first lap. His Red Bull sustained a small gash in its left sidepod, as he…
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