19 March 2023

Sergio Perez holds off Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen to win Saudi Arabian GP

19 March 2023

Sergio Perez held off Max Verstappen to win the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix as Red Bull’s dominant start to the new season continued in Jeddah.

Perez crossed the line 5.3 seconds clear of team-mate Verstappen, who fought back from 15th after he limped out of qualifying with a driveshaft failure.

Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso looked to have taken the final spot on the podium, with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton fourth and fifth respectively for Mercedes.

But Alonso later dropped to fourth after being handed a 10-second penalty for an incorrectly served penalty, elevating Russell to third place.

Red Bull are on another planet this season, and their crushing one-two finish – their second in as many races – will be a major cause of concern for Formula One bosses as it embarks on a record 23-round calendar.

Russell said after the season-opening race in Bahrain a fortnight ago that he expects Red Bull to win every race this year, and their rapid form here on the Red Sea has done little to dispel the British driver’s chilling prediction.

Reliability looks to be their only flaw, with Verstappen complaining about a possible driveshaft problem in the latter stages of Sunday’s race, only 24 hours after he broke down in qualifying.

But the Dutchman and his victorious team-mate still held a gigantic one-second-a-lap advantage over their rivals. Alonso finished 20.7 seconds behind Perez, who eased off in the closing stages.

Alonso, the 41-year-old Spaniard who is enjoying a remarkable resurgence with Aston Martin, provided some excitement in the opening moments when he dived underneath pole-sitter on the run down to the opening bend.

But Alonso’s chances of taking his first victory in a decade were dealt a significant blow when he was handed a five-second penalty for starting out of position. Perez then breezed past Alonso on lap four to take the lead.

Hamilton started seventh and was the only one of the main players to begin the race on the hard tyres – the slower but more durable compound – and the British driver struggled for speed.

He dropped to eighth on lap eight when Charles Leclerc cantered by, and then fell behind Verstappen on lap 12 to leave him in ninth. He was also shown a black and white flag by the stewards for weaving on the straight as he earlier attempted to keep Leclerc back.

But Hamilton’s night suddenly changed for the better when Lance Stroll broke down in his Aston Martin on lap 18. Out came the safety car and Hamilton was effectively handed a free pit stop, moving him ahead of both Leclerc and Carlos Sainz.

The safety car also looked to have played into Alonso’s hands, as he served his five-second penalty, and Verstappen, too, who also had not stopped.

After it all shuffled out the Dutchman was up to fourth. The race restarted on lap 21 and Verstappen made light work of Russell and then Alonso to take second place.

Such is the speed of the Red Bull this year that Alonso did not even put up a fight in keeping Verstappen behind, and risk losing time to Russell and Hamilton in the fight for the final podium spot.

We will keep pushing, and keep pushing hard. We have got the fastest car, and I am very happy about that

Verstappen had half of the race remaining to overturn Perez’s five-second advantage, but the Mexican drove well to follow up his pole with a composed win, the fifth of his career.

Hamilton, having ditched the hard rubber, looked primed to launch an assault on Russell but his challenge never materialised. He took the flag 5.1 seconds behind his team-mate and half a minute down on Perez.

Sainz finished sixth, one spot ahead of Leclerc in the other Ferrari. Lando Norris started 19th and finished 17th on a weekend to forget for the young British driver in his uncompetitive McLaren.

Perez said: “We will keep pushing, and keep pushing hard. We have got the fastest car, and I am very happy about that.”

Verstappen, who leads Perez in the championship by one point after taking the fastest lap of the race, said: “It was not very easy to get through the field.

“Once I cleared them one by one we got in a good rhythm, and I am happy to be on the podium.”

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