Sprint: Sergio Perez leapfrogs Charles Leclerc to take Saturday Baku victory

Henry Valantine
Sergio Perez races in the sprint. Azerbaijan April 2023.

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez leads the sprint. Baku April 2023.

Sergio Perez took victory in the sprint race at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Saturday, overtaking Charles Leclerc to stand on the top step.

The Red Bull driver made a clinical move on the Ferrari driver midway through the Safety Car-interrupted sprint at Turn 1 to take the lead, and never looked troubled again from there as he earned eight World Championship points for his efforts.

Leclerc managed to hold off Max Verstappen to take second in the sprint, with the reigning World Champion third.

George Russell, Carlos Sainz, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Lance Stroll rounded out the points finishers from Saturday’s running, with Stroll passing the Williams of Alex Albon to take the final point on the day.

Leclerc had backed up his speed in Friday qualifying by once again beating both Red Bulls to the P1 grid slot for the sprint on Saturday, and with a very short run to Turn 1 in Baku to negotiate, a solid will have been at the forefront of his mind.

And the Ferrari driver sailed away from the grid with Perez in tow, but the main battle from the line was between George Russell and Max Verstappen, who ran side by side in each of the first three corners – before the Mercedes driver eventually came out on top.

A bit of contact at Turn 2 between the pair did not sit well with the Red Bull driver, who voiced his anger over team radio and getting car damage along with it – a hole in his sidepod, to be exact.

Further back, Yuki Tsunoda came a cropper in the second sector and suffered significant understeer at the usually flat-out Turn 14, losing his right-rear tyre in the process.

He was able to bring himself back to the pits, but his loose tyre helplessly rolled down the hill toward Turn 16 and the Virtual Safety Car was deployed.

While Tsunoda was able to get back out again, his suspension was clearly damaged and he could not drive in a straight line with his steering wheel at the correct angle, which in turn brought out the full Safety Car by the fourth lap of 17.

More time was spent in yellow flag conditions while Tsunoda crawled around and debris was cleared on track, meaning racing action in earnest could fully get underway by the start of lap 6.

With such a long start/finish straight, Leclerc left it as late as possible to get back on the throttle – but others were able to take advantage, Verstappen quick to move alongside and pass Russell into Turn 1, as well as Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso getting past Lewis Hamilton at the restart.

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But with Leclerc unable to break the tow and DRS enabled immediately from the restart, Perez was able to stay within range of the Ferrari driver and was able to dive down the inside into the lead from the start of the following lap.

The job for Leclerc from there was to try and stay within DRS range of the Mexican, with Verstappen not far behind and looking to use his own rear wing advantage.

In the battle for the final point, Lance Stroll, who has been battling issues with his DRS all weekend so far, made a move on Alex Albon’s Williams down at Turn 1 and was able to stay ahead into the next big braking zone at Turn 3.

Back at the front however, while Leclerc held on gamely for several laps, Perez was able to eke out his advantage beyond two seconds on laps 13 and 14 to give him a crucial advantage as the sprint reached its conclusion.

It would be a solid finish for Perez, who will be hoping for a repeat performance from third on the grid on Sunday, while Verstappen was left angered by the damage on his RB19 after the race.

Sprint classification

1 Sergio PEREZ Red Bull Racing
2 Charles LECLERC Ferrari +4.463
3 Max VERSTAPPEN Red Bull Racing +5.065
4 George RUSSELL Mercedes +8.532
5 Carlos SAINZ Ferrari +10.388
6 Fernando ALONSO Aston Martin +11.613
7 Lewis HAMILTON Mercedes +16.503
8 Lance STROLL Aston Martin +18.417
9 Alexander ALBON Williams +21.757
10 Oscar PIASTRI McLaren +22.851
11 Kevin MAGNUSSEN Haas F1 Team +27.990
12 Guanyu ZHOU Alfa Romeo +34.602
13 Pierre GASLY Alpine +36.918
14 Nyck DE VRIES AlphaTauri +41.626
15 Nico HULKENBERG Haas F1 Team +48.587
16 Valtteri BOTTAS Alfa Romeo +49.917
17 Lando NORRIS McLaren +51.104
18 Esteban OCON Alpine +60.621
19 Yuki TSUNODA AlphaTauri Did not finish
Logan SARGEANT Williams Did not start