Sergio Perez took a composed victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday, beating team-mate Max Verstappen to close the gap at the top of the Formula 1 championship.
The Mexican started third but followed his team-mate past Charles Leclerc in the early part of the race, before leapfrogging Verstappen after taking advantage of fortunate safety car timing in the first round of pit stops.
Verstappen managed to overtake Leclerc again to move up to second but was never able to close the gap enough to seriously challenge Perez, who took the sixth victory of his career.
Leclerc finished third after starting on pole, holding off the Aston Martin of Fernando Alonso in fourth.
So, what did we learn from the race in Baku?
Perez can put up a more serious title challenge against Verstappen
It’s fair to say that Perez inherited his victory to an extent, given that he gained the lead without having to pass Verstappen after Red Bull pitted the double world champion too early before the FIA instructed the safety car to enter the track.
But the 33-year-old subsequently outdrove his team-mate, taking the win with the kind of smart, controlled drive which has become something of a trademark of his time with Red Bull once he is able to put himself out front.
Perez is not as a naturally fast or relentless as Verstappen, but his strength in managing tyres, delivering consistent lap times across stints, and keeping his head under pressure makes him a genuine threat to Verstappen during some weekends.
Though Perez is very unlikely to actually take the title this season, he’s now won two races from four, and if he can maintain that kind of form then he can sustain a title challenge and put pressure on Verstappen for a lot longer than he was able to do in 2022.
Leclerc did everything he possibly could to make life difficult for Red Bull this weekend.
The Monegasque topped qualifying twice, managed good bursts off the line in both races to lead into the first corner, and rinsed every ounce of performance out of the Ferrari throughout the weekend.
And still, by the time the chequered flag fell, he and the entire rest of the field were nowhere near the Red Bulls.
The RB19 is by far the fastest car on the grid, that much was known before even the five lights went out in Bahrain at the start of the season.
What has been proven by the grand prix in Baku, arguably the circuit on the F1 calendar with the most potential for chaos and unpredictability, is that Red Bull are capable of dealing with and utterly eviscerating the best realistic challenge a competitor is able to put up.
With that in mind, the Milton Keynes-based squad really is capable of winning every single race this year. Whether they do will come down to their own competence, reliability, and a bit of luck, but an invincible season is most certainly possible.
When AlphaTauri had to find a new driver to replace the outgoing Pierre Gasly at the end of 2022, it came as quite a surprise that they opted to hire outside of the Red Bull young driver programme.
At 28, Nyck de Vries didn’t fit the team’s template of youthful hopeful who could one day join the senior Red Bull team, either. But the hope was that the Dutchman’s stellar stand-in performance for Williams at Monza was evidence of huge untapped potential.
In Azerbaijan this weekend, though, De Vries’ stock dropped even further. He crashed out of qualifying on Friday, was way off the pace of team-mate Yuki Tsunoda again, and then retired in the early stages of the race after inexplicably hitting the inside wall at a corner and breaking his suspension.
De Vries’ start to the campaign has been woeful, in truth, and with Red Bull junior Liam Lawson impressing in his debut Super Formula campaign, he is running out of time to save himself from the kind of mid-season sacking Red Bull have shown themselves willing to undertake in the past.
Since its entry onto the Formula 1 calendar in 2017, the Azerbaijan Grand Prix has been one of the mostly hotly anticipated events of the year.
The layout of the Baku street circuit demands high top speeds, precise cornering and total driver concentration, with any small error likely to be punished by a heavy crash into the wall.
Couple that with plenty of overtaking opportunities plus high frequencies of safety cars and red flags, and you have a recipe for superbly entertaining racing.
This weekend, though, the action in Baku was humdrum from start-to-finish.
The ground effect aerodynamics F1 introduced at the start of 2022 were designed to render following the car in front easier and increase instances of wheel-to-wheel racing, but the reality is that hasn’t really come to pass.
If even Baku produces this kind of racing, with few genuine battles, a small amount of easy DRS overtakes and cars strewn out a few seconds apart from each other in processional queues, then the signs aren’t great for the traditionally less thrilling events to come.
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