Formula 1 Racing

Sprint race shows why pole position offers Leclerc little advantage in Red Bull fight · RaceFans

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2023

In the far, distant past of the 1990s, when digital satellite television was in its infancy, service providers would regularly offer pay-per-view events for viewers to purchase at the press of a remote.

Whether it was a Robbie Williams concert, live boxing, Wrestlemania or some other special event, they would always be accompanied by a short preview show of around 30 minutes – a last minute pitch to encourage viewers to cough up the cash to watch the main event.

In many ways, the Azerbaijan sprint race felt a lot like an extended preview to Sunday’s grand prix – same pole winner, same two cars lining up behind him albeit in a different order. By the time it had ended, everyone – teams, drivers and fans alike – were left with a clear idea about what kind of grand prix is likely to unfold on Sunday. And likely few of them will be expecting a blockbuster race on the strength of those 17 laps.

Even though Charles Leclerc had boosted the confidence of his Ferrari team again on Saturday, backing up his grand prix pole position by topping the grid in sprint race qualifying, he clearly never expected to be able to keep the Red Bulls behind him over the course of the sprint race. As valiant as Leclerc’s effort was, Sergio Perez only had to wait for his opportunity to present himself to challenge for the lead.

When that chance came, almost immediately after DRS was activated, Perez had virtually sealed the eight points the moment his nose edged in front of the Ferrari’s.

Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2023
Gallery: 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix sprint race in pictures

“I had to push quite hard initially to get past Charles, especially at the restart because on the first lap I could see he had good pace and very good mechanical grip,” Perez said after the race. “In the end I think it was a really nicely executed race and it’s been a great weekend from the whole team so far.”

The sprint race revealed that, despite the four-week gap between Australia and Azerbaijan, little has truly changed when it comes to the core performance of Red Bull and Ferrari in race trim.

Leclerc enjoyed a great launch off the line to be comfortably leading into the first corner. Race starts have not exactly been Red Bull’s greatest strength in the early part of 2023, as demonstrated by how George Russell managed to challenge Max Verstappen on the short run to the first corner, before going on to elbow his way past in a manner the world champion took great exception to.

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