Once Sergio Perez had shaken off polesitter Charles Leclerc in Formula 1’s sprint race at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, victory seemed to be plain sailing.
The Mexican, a winner here in 2021 and a driver who has always performed strongly in the Azerbaijani capital, stuck with the Monegasque on the sixth-lap restart under the safety car and waited until DRS was available.
He scampered free of the Ferrari’s slipstream across the long stretch on the route to the start-finish line and powered down the inside, with Leclerc able to offer little in return as Perez took control of the race.
While Leclerc initially kept pace with Perez and remained in his tracks with DRS, it was inevitable that Perez would be able to break free of that one-second gap, particularly when Leclerc began to struggle with tyre degradation relative to the Red Bull. Although it looked that, on lap 13, Leclerc might be able to inch closer to Perez and provide an unexpected challenge for victory until the end, the briefest flutter of the DRS flap was not enough to resume parity. Perez instead put the 17-lap race beyond all doubt, tripling the gap to 2.1s by the start of the 15th tour and continuing to extend his advantage until the final difference between the two stood at 4.4s.
Leclerc did, however, manage to keep the chasing Max Verstappen behind him once the Dutchman had closed up towards the end of the race. But the #1 Red Bull had been hampered by damage sustained in his fierce battle with George Russell on the opening lap, one which left a gaping wound in Verstappen’s sidepod. While not exactly the most critical damage, it was enough to deny Verstappen a chance to close up to Leclerc and break past at the death for a Red Bull 1-2 finish.
Aside from the Russell and Verstappen squabbling, the first lap also featured more moments of infamy; Yuki Tsunoda had hit the wall moments before Turn 14 and dislodged his right-rear tyre away from the rim. A touch with team-mate Nyck de Vries at the third corner broke the Japanese driver’s front wing and, without the downforce, Tsunoda washed out into the barrier to bring out what was initially a virtual safety car. This became a full safety car, as the level of debris littering the track became all too apparent.
Perez reeled in Leclerc to win the Baku sprint race, with the Red Bull tyre prowess a key advantage over his Ferrari rival
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
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