In only his sixth race at Red Bull Racing, Sergio Perez took a superb victory on the streets of Baku yesterday. It’s the first time since the 2018 Monaco Grand Prix that a driver other than Max Verstappen has taken a victory for the Milton Keynes-based team.
Red Bull made the correct call to replace Albon with Perez
The four-time World Constructors’ Champions had a dilemma on their hands after Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly failed to get near Max Verstappen over the course of 2019 and 2020.
With Checo getting dropped by Racing Point in favour of Sebastian Vettel, Red Bull decided to go outside their own academy and gave the 31-year-old a drive for 2021. He’s already achieved more at Red Bull than the Thai and Frenchman combined.
Yes, Red Bull have a much competitive car this year vs Mercedes, but Perez’s performance on Sunday was something that Albon or Gasly didn’t show any signs of producing in their time at the team as he backed up Verstappen brilliantly and cashed in on his bad luck.
Yesterday’s brilliant performance to have two Red Bulls out front
Did Perez need some horrible luck to befall his teammate to win the race? Yes. However, he also drove supremely well and did exactly what Red Bull need him to do in such a close title fight.
Having qualified a disappointing P7 [promoted to P6 because of Norris’ penalty], the Mexican critically had a great first lap to pass Carlos Sainz and Pierre Gasly. The move on the French driver was exceptional as Perez displayed great race craft once again.
In P4 at the end of the opening lap, it put him right in the front group with Leclerc, Hamilton and Verstappen. When Hamilton and Verstappen got past Leclerc, he also followed through to take P3 and sat nicely about 2s off the seven-time World Champion who was in the lead before the stops.
On laps 11 and 12, Hamilton and Verstappen boxed for the hards; the Mexican then went on the rampage.
He had saved his soft tyres beautifully in the early stages and it allowed Perez to set the fastest lap at the end of the 12th tour. Checo then went purple in sectors 1 and 2 [almost 0.7s quicker than Verstappen in the middle sector] on his in-lap on lap 13.
Unfortunately for him, a 4.3s stop lost the Mexican a potential opportunity to overcut his teammate. Nonetheless, his great speed allowed him to jump Hamilton and take a net 2nd in the race.
After the stop, the pressure from Hamilton was relentless. Perez never looked like cracking, though. Strong pace and no errors were critical components in setting up what looked like a Red Bull one-two... until Verstappen’s tyre failure five laps from the end.
To be so close on race pace to a teammate who is quite possibly the quickest driver on the grid right now was extremely impressive.
Perez records his second victory in eight races and first with Red Bull
A red flag for Verstappen’s crash meant the Mexican was forced to do a standing restart from P1 on the grid. The win looked set to slip away as Lewis Hamilton got a much better launch, but the Brit went deep at T1 and into the run-off area after accidentally hitting the ‘magic’ button that effectively switched his brakes off.
It allowed Perez to reclaim the lead and he managed the final two laps perfectly to take his second win in Formula One from Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly. He also had to manage a hydraulic issue on his way to victory as the team feared he may not finish, making his win and performance even more brilliant.
Verstappen was extremely unfortunate to lose a certain win following his tyre failure, but Red Bull will be thankful to Checo for doing a stellar job and making sure the other car was up there for the first time in three years to give them a well-deserved triumph and 25 points.
Perez’s win yesterday moves him up to P3 in the standings, 36 points adrift of World Championship leader Max Verstappen. The Mexican’s win has also helped Red Bull build a 26-point lead in the Constructors’ Championship over Mercedes.
Saturday’s still need working on
Throughout his career in Formula One, Perez’s ability on a Sunday has never been in doubt. His race pace, tyre management and racecraft have all been very strong traits of his. It finally led to him getting a drive in a top team in 2021.
Yesterday’s win, his overtaking masterclass at the Bahrain GP and overcutting three cars in Monaco to finish P4 is proof that his Sunday drives are top class. The one blot on his Sunday copybook was his spin in the race at Imola when running in the top 5.
However, if he wants to be consistently fighting with Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas [when the Finn is on form], Checo urgently needs to improve his Saturday afternoon performance. Qualifying has been his Achilles heel throughout the 31-year-old's time in F1.
Aside from an excellent front row at Imola, P11 in Bahrain, P8 in Spain, P9 in Monaco and P7 [without penalties or formation lap problems] in Baku is simply not going to be good enough to fight for the World Championship against two exceptional drivers like his teammate and Hamilton.
Nonetheless, he can be pleased with his start to life at Red Bull and should find more performance as he continues to understand the car better and integrate into his new team; unlike Albon and Gasly, he doesn’t look like he could get lapped by Verstappen in a race on pure speed.
Red Bull made the right call to go with Checo and he’s paid them back with a win on just his sixth start for the team.
Points after six races at Red Bull
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