Sergio Perez won his first Formula One race for the Red Bull team after a dramatic end to the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
On the streets of Baku, Perez took the chequered flag first to triumph after multiple late twists. It had looked like his team-mate Max Verstappen was set to win, only for the Dutchman to crash out following a puncture on the main straight with five laps remaining.
Verstappen’s high speed crash lead to a red flag and a 45 minute pause. This also set up a two lap rush to the finish, which saw Perez initially overtaken by Lewis Hamilton only for Hamilton to make a mistake and fall all the way to the back of the field. Perez duly held off a challenge by Sebastian Vettel to win, before having to stop more or less straight away after a hydraulic failure.
The Red Bull duo had been running 1-2 at the front of the grid when Verstappen’s tyre failed, with the pair moving up to second and third places in the opening laps before both jumped Hamilton in the pit-stops.
Perez’s victory is his second in Formula One, after he picked up his first in the second Bahrain race at the end of 2020. It’s also the first time a Red Bull driver other than Verstappen has won a race since Daniel Ricciardo won the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix, although the tyre failure ended Red Bull’s hopes of a first 1-2 triumph since Malaysia in 2016.
All 3 drivers on the podium had driven for the Milton Keynes-based team, with Vettel finishing second for Aston Martin and Pierre Gasly taking third for Alpha Tauri.
Victory for Perez sees him move up to 3rd in the Driver’s Championship standings, with the driver now on 69 points. His team-mate Verstappen still leads Hamilton by 4 points at the top of the standings, after a race where both failed to get points.
In the Constructors Championship race, Red Bull remain top after 6 races, with the team having 174 points. The MK-based team lead Brackley-based Mercedes by 26 points, with the two teams having won 3 races apiece.
Speaking after the race, Perez praised the team and voiced his happiness to get the win, though he admitted a sadness for his team-mate.
He said, “We love Baku! It feels amazing to get my first win with Red Bull. The Team did a tremendous job and I want to thank Mr Mateschitz for this great opportunity and giving me the seat. I feel very sorry for Max because he deserved the win and a 1-2 for the Team would’ve been very enjoyable. It was a crazy rollercoaster of a race, we were basically flat out from the very first lap and I had Lewis behind pushing me so I couldn’t breathe, it was very challenging but we kept our focus.
“Everything worked perfectly today apart from the restart at the end where I just had no grip. I thought I cannot lose this race two laps from the flag so I broke as late as I could into Turn 1 and then I saw Lewis locking up and go straight on into the run off. It just shows how on the limit we are, the speeds we are doing are tremendous and I am sorry for Lewis because it’s very painful when these things happen but we are all vulnerable to mistakes. We have to enjoy today, our pace was great and we have a very good race car.
“We are working flat out and giving our best every week, it’s only race six and there’s more to come from me, the relationship with Max and the Team is great and there’s still a long way to go in this championship.”
Verstappen admitted his disappointment at losing a race victory after crashing out 5 laps from the end.
He said, “To retire from the lead of the race so close to the finish is pretty frustrating. I didn’t feel anything strange with the car and then suddenly the left rear went and I was in the wall quite hard. It’s not a nice place to crash and we don’t know the exact cause yet, I’m sure it will be fully investigated. Up until that point it was a great day, the car felt perfect and I was comfortable in the lead so it felt like it would be an easy 1-2 but there are no guarantees in this sport.
“Of course I am frustrated from my side not to win but I was very happy to see Checo up there. He did everything that the Team could have wanted today. He had a great start and then we both got past Lewis in the pits. I heard he had to defend for most of the race, so if I couldn’t win, I’m glad he could. He’s a great guy and a great teammate so it was good to see him smiling on the podium and having his first win for Red Bull.”