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Monday, May 27, 2024

‘Street fighter’ Perez leads Red Bull F1 sweep

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Jeddah, Saudi Arabia—Red Bull’s Sergio Perez flexed his street circuit muscles with dramatic effect on Sunday by storming to victory ahead of team-mate Max Verstappen at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Red Bull Racing’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez celebrates after winning the Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit in Jeddah. AFP

While the top two were clear cut, the next two places remained in confusion long after the race had finished with Fernando Alonso first stripped of third place and then reinstated in the early hours of Monday morning.

Perez, a 33-year-old Mexican, came home 5.355 seconds clear of the defending double world champion as Red Bull reeled off a masterful one-two triumph, the Dutchman having stormed through the field from 15th on the grid.

Verstappen also clocked the fastest lap of the race on the final lap to retain his lead of the embryonic drivers’ championship, snatching it back from Perez as they duelled at high speed.

It was Perez’s fifth career win having previously triumphed in Monte Carlo and Singapore to earn his reputation as a ‘street fighter’.

“It turned out to be tougher than expected,” he said. “The safety car tried to take the victory from us again here, but not this year! The team did a great job. Now we must keep pushing.”

Verstappen was eliminated from qualifying after a drive-shaft failure.

“It wasn’t easy to get through the field,” he said. “We settled for second so it’s a good recovery in the end.”

Two-time world champion Alonso finished a stirring third on track for Aston Martin to claim a 100th podium finish on his record-extending 357th start.

That place was initially taken from him. He had received a five-second penalty for starting outside his grid position. When he tried to serve it during a pit stop, stewards ruled a jack had touched the car too soon and they hit Alonso with a 10-second penalty.

George Russell rose to third for Mercedes.

But Aston Martin requested a review and showed stewards videos of similar incidents that went unpunished. Stewards accepted that it was not clear the offence had broken Formula One rules and lifted the punishment.

Alonso was back to third followed by the two Mercedes cars of Russell and Lewis Hamilton.

Next were the Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, who started 12th. Esteban Ocon and his Alpine team-mate Pierre Gasly occupied the next two places.

The race began under dazzling floodlights at the Jeddah Street Circuit in balmy conditions, ideal for spectators, drivers and cars.

Alonso dream start

Alonso made the best start, from his incorrect position too far to the left of his grid slot, as he surged past Perez to lead into turn one.

He was unable to retain it for long and was passed by Perez at turn one at the start of lap four. By then, he had been given a five-second penalty for his starting spot error.

Behind them, Leclerc, on soft tyres, began his climb from 12th and reached seventh by lap eight as Verstappen climbed from 15th to 10th while Russell and Stroll settled into third and fourth.

After an unexceptional start, Hamilton, one of only two drivers on hard tyres while the majority took mediums, was warned for weaving on the straight.

By lap 11, Hamilton was eighth, trapped between Leclerc and Verstappen.

The Dutchman passed Hamilton on lap 12 while Perez reeled off another fastest lap to pull three seconds clear of Alonso.

On lap 18, yellow flags waved as Stroll obeyed a team order to stop his Aston Martin on the track – resulting in a full safety car deployment and a rush to pit for Perez, Alonso, Russell, Verstappen and Hamilton.

Despite attempting to serve his penalty during the pit stop, Alonso stayed second behind Perez. Hamilton, sixth, was the only front-runner on mediums while the rest took hards.

Verstappen showed great pace as he pressed Russell, breezing past him for third on lap 24. When he passed Alonso, he had gone from 15th to second before half-distance.

With 10 laps remaining, Verstappen said his drive-shaft, which had caused his exit from qualifying on Saturday, was “running a bit rough”.

He was pacified by the team as was Perez who complained of a “long brake pedal” before the final fast laps were completed.

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