Sergio Pérez took the first Sprint win of his career with a controlled drive to victory in Baku that saw him pass Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc midway through the race. Third place in the 17-lap race went to Max Verstappen. The championship leader dropped to fourh at the start after being hit by George Russell but later passed the Mercedes drive to take the P3 medal.
When the lights went out at the start, Leclerc got away well from the front of the grid to take the lead. Pérez matched the Ferrari drive off the line and tucked in behind, but Verstappen was slow to start and he was quickly put under pressure by Russell. Verstappen had the upper hand in Turn 1 but Russell was more aggressive at the next corner. He locked up on cold tyres, however, and collided with the Red Bull, gouging a hole in the sidepod of Versatppen’s RB19. The Dutchman had to give way to the Briton as they headed onto the straight towards Turn 3.
Moments later the Virtual Safety Car was deployed when AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda hit the wall in Turn 14 and with debris on the track the physical Safety Car was released at the end of lap three.
The SC left the track at the end of lap five. Leclerc managed the restart well ahead of Pérez but it was Verstappen who reacted best to Leclerc’s acceleration and he ambushed Russell just after they crossed the start-finish line. The Dutchman dived down the inside of the Mercedes and powered past the Mercedes into Turn 1.
Behind them, Carlos Sainz also reacted well and he muscled past Lewis Hamilton under braking into Turn 1 to take P5. Hamilton, forced wide, also surrendered position to the opportunistic Fernando Alonso who tucked in behind Sainz and stole P6.
On lap 8, with DRS back in play after the resumption, Pérez closed up to Leclerc and as they roared along the long straight toward Turn 1 he swept past the Ferrari to take the lead.
Two laps later, Leclerc lost the DRS boost of being within a second of Pérez and Verstappen tried to close in. The Ferrari driver responded, though, and he briefly pushed his way back into DRS of the race leader as Verstappen drifted out of range of Leclerc.
Pérez was now in firm control and on lap 14 he stretched his lead to 1.3 seconds and from there sailed serenely on to take a superbly managed first Sprint win.
Verstappen managed to close up to within a second of Leclerc on the penultimate lap but the Ferrari driver was wily enough to harvest energy in the right places and was able to keep restrict the Dutchman to third at the flag.
Behind the top three, Russell took fourth place ahead of Sainz and Alonso and Hamilton and the final point on offer went to Lance Stroll in the second Aston Martin.
2023 FIA Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix – Sprint
1 Sergio Pérez Red Bull/Honda RBPT 17 –
2 Charles Leclerc Ferrari 17 4.463
3 Max Verstappen Red Bull/Honda RBPT 17 5.065
4 George Russell Mercedes 17 8.532
5 Carlos Sainz Ferrari 17 10.388
6 Fernando Alonso Aston Martin/Mercedes 17 11.613
7 Lewis Hamilton Mercedes 17 16.503
8 Lance Stroll Aston Martin/Mercedes 17 18.417
9 Alexander Albon Williams/Mercedes 17 21.757
10 Oscar Piastri McLaren/Mercedes 17 22.851
11 Kevin Magnussen Haas/Ferrari 17 27.990
12 Zhou Guanyu Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 17 34.602
13 Pierre Gasly Alpine/Renault 17 36.918
14 Nyck de Vries AlphaTauri/Honda RBPT 17 41.626
27 Nico Hülkenberg Haas/Ferrari 17 48.587
16 Valtteri Bottas Alfa Romeo/Ferrari 17 49.917
17 Lando Norris McLaren/Mercedes 17 51.104
18 Esteban Ocon Alpine/Renault 17 1’00.621
Yuki Tsunoda AlphaTauri/Honda RBPT 2 – Retirement
Logan Sargeant Williams/Mercedes 0 – Withdrawn