Saudi Arabia GP review - Pérez holds off charging Verstappen to win in Jeddah

Sergio Pérez holds off charging Max Verstappen to win in Jeddah

March 20, 2023

Sergio Pérez took home his first Saudi Arabian Grand Prix win as he converted his pole to a win. His teammate Max Verstappen, who started P15 after a mechanical issue that hampered his qualifying, finished an incredible second, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso finishing on the podium for a second race in a row, though a post-race penalty for serving his penalty initially incorrectly dropped the Spaniard to P4 and saw George Russell score his first podium of the season; this was later rectified.

Mercedes had Lewis Hamilton finish P5, with the Ferrari duo of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc finishing a disappointing P6 and P7, respectively. The two Alpine drivers, Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly, were P8 and P9, respectively, with Haas’ Kevin Magnussen rounding up the top 10 places. 

Verstappen snatched the fastest lap on the final lap, which means he leaves Jeddah as the Drivers’ Standings leader, with his teammate Pérez just a point behind in second place. Fernando Alonso remains in the title hunt, while George Russell, Carlos Sainz and Lewis Hamilton are further below.

Red Bull’s second 1-2 in as many races means they have a 49-point lead in the Constructors’ Standings, with Mercedes in a surprise second place and Aston Martin in third. Ferrari are a distant fourth with 26 points and will be disappointed after a poor Jeddah race, which should have yielded them more points.

It was Sergio Pérez who got the action underway. The Mexican was immediately overtaken by Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso going into Turn 1. Alonso took the early lead from Pérez with Mercedes’ George Russell in third. Alonso’s teammate Lance Stroll overtook Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz on the opening lap, while Charles Leclerc, who took a ten-place grid drop, was up three places by the end of the first lap. Championship leader Max Verstappen, who started P15 due to a driveshaft issue in qualifying, made up two places in the opening lap and was up to P13. Up ahead, while Alonso was in the lead, he was given an early five-second penalty for starting out of position on the starting grid. 

By Lap 3, Alonso had opened up the gap to Pérez to just above a second, with Russell almost two seconds behind the Red Bull driver. Pérez, however, re-took the lead of the race on Lap 4, going inside Alonso in Turn 1. His Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen, meanwhile, was up to P11 by the fifth lap, while the two McLaren drivers were the first to pit and were right at the bottom of the grid — in P19 and P20, respectively.

Leclerc, meanwhile, passed Gasly for eighth on Lap 7 and was all over the back of Lewis Hamilton, who was one of the only two starting on the hard compound tyres, with Williams’ Logan Sargeant being the other one.

Verstappen entered the points positions as he breezed past Guyanu Zhou on Lap 8. Leclerc got past Hamilton on Lap 9 for P7 on the main straight, with the Mercedes racer having no chance against Leclerc’s Ferrari. The seven-time World Champion was eaten up by Verstappen on Lap 12 as the Dutchman eased by on the main straight, giving the Brit no chance to hold on to P8. Pérez, by this point, had opened up almost a three-second gap to Alonso right at the front of the pack. 

Ferrari called in Sainz on Lap 14, with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll pitting as well. This saw Verstappen move up to P6, though, interestingly, Sainz did not pit, contradicting his team’s call, which was most likely a dummy call to force Aston Martin into pitting Stroll; it worked perfectly for Ferrari.

Sainz eventually did pit on Lap 16, while his teammate moved up to P4. The Spaniard re-joined in P9, just ahead of Stroll. Championship leader Verstappen moved to P4 as Leclerc came into the pits on Lap 17, as did Esteban Ocon. Leclerc re-joined in P8, just ahead of Stroll, who was behind both the Ferrari cars.

The race saw its first Yellow Flag as Stroll stopped on the track, which saw the Safety Car getting deployed. The Safety Car saw a host of cars come in for their pit stops, including race leader Pérez, Alonso, both the Mercedes cars, and Verstappen. With Mercedes double-stacking, Alonso managed to hold on to his second place, even though he had to serve his five-second penalty. 

The Safety Car came in on Lap 20, as racing resumed. Pérez got led from Alonso once again, with Russell and Verstappen behind. Within a lap of the restart, Pérez was already two seconds ahead of Alonso, who was a second clear of Russell in P3.

Hamilton overtook Sainz for P5 on Lap 22 going into Turn 3. Verstappen moved into the podium places on Lap 23 as he breezed past Russell. A lap later, he went past Russell for P3.

Verstappen took second place from Alonso on the main straight. With the Dutchman in second, it was a Red Bull 1-2 with half the race left, Verstappen having made up an incredible 13 places inside the opening 25 laps.

The race saw its second retirement on Lap 28 as Alex Albon limped back to the pits, reporting brake failure on the radio. The gap between Pérez and Verstappen was four seconds by Lap 37, with the Mexican doing everything to keep his teammate at bay.

Further down the grid, the Alfa Romeo of Zhou Guanyu got past Logan Sargeant at Turn 3 for P13, and the lone remaining Williams was being hunted by AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries, just behind him. De Vries ultimately took P14 from Sargeant on Lap 42, with the McLaren duo of Lando Norris and Oscar Piastri hounding behind him. 

Haas’ Kevin Magnussen got past Yuki Tsunoda for the final points place on Lap 47, with the AlphaTauri driver losing the place after holding Magnussen at bay for multiple laps. Rookie Oscar Piastri overtook his teammate Lando Norris on Lap 49 for P16, going past the Brit on the main straight.

Pérez eventually did manage to take his first win at the Jeddah circuit. His teammate Verstappen finished second after making up an incredible 13 places following his P15 start. The Dutchman also took home the fastest lap right at the last lap, which meant he led the Championship by a solitary point, with Pérez in second. Fernando Alonso finished third, although a post-race penalty demoted him to fourth.

It already seems like Red Bull will be running away with the two Championships soon, but Aston Martin have been a pleasant surprise as Ferrari continue to struggle. After suffering a DNF in the opening race, Ferrari came into the Jeddah race with a lot of promise but eventually just lacked the race pace and fell behind the slower Mercedes.

Haas also managed to score their first points in Saudi, which only AlphaTauri and McLaren are yet to score, with the latter looking particularly woeful.

The action resumes in two week’s time as we head to Australia for Round 3. 

Aditya Chaudhuri

Hailing from the City of Joy, the things that bring me joy are cricket, a good non-tilt CS:GO session, F1 and movies.

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