Max Verstappen clinging on to ‘positive lessons’ after Sergio Perez defeat

Thomas Maher
Red Bull's Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen embrace after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, April 2023.

Red Bull's Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen embrace after the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. Baku, April 2023.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was circumspect about the Safety Car intervention which cost him the lead of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Verstappen had been leading the Azerbaijan Grand Prix ahead of Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez when AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries clipped the wall at Turn 5 and damaged his front suspension.

With a broken left-front wheel and unable to get out of the way, Red Bull anticipated a Safety Car and called Verstappen into the pits. But the Safety Car deployment took a little longer than Red Bull perhaps expected, with Perez benefitting from pitting a lap later – Verstappen shaking out in third place behind Perez and Charles Leclerc.

While Verstappen quickly cleared the Ferrari driver to set up a potential Red Bull showdown in the 40 laps remaining, he was never able to get within DRS range of his teammate and was powerless to stop Perez from taking his second victory of the season.

Reflecting on his race as he and Perez spoke in the post-race cooldown room, Verstappen referred to the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix where Perez had lost out to Verstappen in a very similar scenario as he accepted the luck of the draw had gone against him on this occasion.

“I mentioned that I was losing a limit of the rear grip of the tyres but you can take a little bit more out of them,” Verstappen told Sky F1, when asked about whether he could have gone for a longer first stint rather than diving into the pits.

“Then, of course, they called me in and the car [De Vries] stopped. I couldn’t see why he stopped, I couldn’t see that the tyre was damaged. These kinds of things we’ll analyse anyway if it was the right call or not, but it was definitely unlucky.” recommends

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Having fought back to second place at a distance of 1.5 seconds behind Perez, Verstappen managed to get the gap down as low as 1.1 seconds but was never able to get within DRS attacking range of his teammate.

The gap would eventually ease out to over three seconds over the next 20 laps, with Verstappen explaining he couldn’t get the car handling as he wanted.

“I was close in the beginning, trying to get into the DRS”, he said.

“When you’re trying to follow for so long around here, you just overheat your tyres. So then I started to slide a bit more and then I was not really happy with the balance so I was figuring out a bit how to get the balance a bit more in control. I was struggling to be really consistent, so I was playing around with the tools a little bit.

“The last 10 laps actually felt good again, and I was catching up again but it was too late.”

Verstappen said there had definitely been no hanging about as he and Perez slugged it out, revealing both he and Perez had struck the walls gently during their to-and-fro: “A few times, we hit the wall around the lap. We were pushing but that’s also part of a street circuit!”

Despite having lost out and finished second to Perez, following on from his third place in the Sprint race, Verstappen said he was happy to have taken away some vital lessons from his day’s racing in Azerbaijan.

“I think today was just a very good day in terms of understanding the car and what I need from the car a bit more,” he said.

“We know it’s a very long season. A lot of things are learned again, Baku is quite different to Miami and Miami is gonna be, again, very different to the other tracks we go to. But you keep learning,  it can never be perfect all the time. I think there are always days that you can learn.”