Azerbaijan GP | Quiet End to Exciting Weekend

55 Carlos Sainz of Spain, Scuderia Ferrari, SF-23 - Ferrari, action during the Formula 1 Azerbaijan Grand Prix of FIA Formula One World Championship from 27th to 30th of April, 2023 on the Baku Street Circuit, in Baku, Azerbaijan. | Image by Gongora/NurPhoto

Formula 1’s first sprint race weekend of the year packed plenty of excitement despite the Sunday grand prix failing to deliver an exciting outing.

With the new sprint weekend format, teams had only one practice session on Friday, as opposed to the typical three, before gearing up for a qualifying session that would set the Sunday race order.

The expedited schedule meant that teams went into the first high-stakes event of the weekend without a firm grip on the best set-up for their respective cars, something Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll said he liked as it heightened the pressure and created new opportunities and risks.

Qualifying ended with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc snapping up pole position after besting Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez who secured the second and third spots respectively.

Saturday saw the first ever Sprint Shootout qualifying session where drivers competed in a shortened version of Friday’s qualifying session to set the order for sprint race later that afternoon.

Leclerc once again secured the top spot, but this time Perez finished in second with Verstappen right behind.

The sprint race opened with an exciting first lap as Mercedes’ George Russell took the fight to Verstappen after a better start off the line from fourth place. Russell repeatedly challenged Verstappen, leaving him little room and even at one point making contact and tearing open the Red Bull’s sidepod.

While Russell would take the position from Verstappen, his victory was short-lived as the Dutchman quickly reclaimed it and didn’t look back. Further up the order, Perez passed Leclerc on the fourth lap and never yielded the lead.

The sprint would finish in that order with Perez on top followed by Leclerc and Verstappen.

Afterwards, Verstappen confronted Russell about his aggressive driving in the opening lap, but Russell quickly dismissed him and walked away in the middle of the conversation.

Russell told the media that he was surprised that Verstappen attempted to defend his position while Russell clearly felt he had the better of it.

Upon hearing this criticism, the reigning two-time Drivers’ Champion retorted, “[Defending] is not allowed because Princess George is there?”

The Sunday Grand Prix was light on drama or hard-nosed racing. After the lights went out, Verstappen made quick work of Leclerc, followed shortly by Perez. The Red Bulls then stormed to a commanding lead over the rest of the grid.

However, AlphaTauri’s Nick deVries made contact with the wall and ended his day. Right as the accident hit, Verstappen was called into the pit lane to make his first-and-final tire change of the day.

Soon after Verstappen left the pit lane, the race was placed under a safety car. Perez and numerous other drivers at the top of the order were able to take advantage of this and make a quicker pit stop, saving around 10 seconds each.

The timing was devastating to Verstappen’s race. Perez never relinquished his lead and fought off his teammate beautifully for the remaining laps. Perez secured his sixth race victory and became the first driver to ever win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix more than once.

Verstappen finished second with Leclerc earning his first podium finish of the year in third. Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso placed fourth with Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz bringing in fifth.

After a great weekend for Perez, he now finds himself only trailing Verstappen by 6 points in the 2023 Driver’s Championship standings. Red Bull is nearly 100 points clear of its closest rival for the Constructors’ Championship at 187 points total.

Formula 1 heads to Miami, Florida next weekend.

This motorsports column is brought to you by Elliott Griffin, principal of Griffin Communications. To read his previous coverage on everything related to motorsports, click here.

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  1. Azerbaijan GP | Quiet End to Exciting Weekend – Round Up DFW - […] Dallas ExpressMay 1, 2023Uncategorized […]

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