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Red Bull’s Sergio Perez is a bonafide street circuit stud and he cemented that in Saudi Arabia.
Going into the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, Perez had 4 career wins and 3 of them came on street circuits.
Quite frankly, he should’ve won in Saudi Arabia last season, had he not been hosed by a safety car (that fate befell another team this year).
Perez overcame a sluggish start off the grid from pole which allowed Fernando Alonso who started alongside him in P2 to steal the lead early. Oddly enough, it turns out that Perez had a slightly quicker reaction to the lights going out, but Alonso just managed to pull through the gears faster and out-drag him into the first corner.
Perez built a nice lead that looked to be in danger due to a safety car from when Lance Stroll stopped on track with a mechanical issue.
The sight of the safety car had to have Perez’s teammate, reigning champ Max Verstappen, licking his chops. The Dutchman had overcome a P15 start and was in P4 for the restart behind only George Russell and Fernando Alonso.
That put him very much into play as both Red Bulls dove into the pits for a cheap stop.
However, Perez handled the restart perfectly and was untouchable as Verstappen swallowed up every car in front of him save for the sister Red Bull.
Perez notched his fifth career win and now sits one point behind Verstappen in the World Championship standings.
Verstappen’s Drive Through The Field Shows How Good The RB19
Any other drier or team that would have suffered a driveshaft issue that left them P15 in qualifying would have been down in the dumps. For Red Bull and Verstappen, they knew that a podium was still very much in the cards.
That’s how dominant their car is this season. I was curious to see what it could do in traffic after both cars spent the Bahrain Grand Prix more or less out front.
Well, Verstappen showed that the RB19 is perfectly capable of overtaking cars, and for whatever reason, it’s especially slippery with DRS. At one point, Martin Brundle mentioned that the Red Bull had a 17 mph advantage over other cars without it.
The only car Verstappen couldn’t catch was the one that was identical to his own. We got the sense that this team was going to be virtually unstoppable, and that seems more likely each race.
Alonso Grabs 100th Podium… Then Lost It… Then Got It Back
Fernando Alonso got an incredible run off the grid… perhaps too good. He was dinged almost immediately with a 5-second penalty for not lining up properly in his grid slot.
Now, that’s the same penalty that Esteban Ocon received in the previous race, and Alonso was way more out of position than Ocon was in Bahrain.
The Spaniard served that penalty under the safety car, however, the rear jackman appeared to have the jack in position.
We will get back to that in a moment…
Fernando let the Red Bulls through knowing that there was no way his race was against them on Sunday. He needed to stay ahead of the Mercedes and Ferraris and maximize the points lost from Stroll’s retirement. Had Stroll stayed in the race, there’s no doubt that the team was in shape for a good points haul with both cars.
Just moments after the podium celebrations had concluded and Alonso was dripping with rose water (sorry, no champagne in Saudi Arabia) the stewards dropped a 10-second penalty on him. That sent him tumbling off the podium to P4 and promoted Mercedes’ George Russell to P3.
However, three hours after that, the penalty was overturned, and Alonso was able to officially celebrate his 100th podium in Formula 1.
That’s a heck of a milestone. He’s only the sixth driver to hit the century mark, and he’s in great company. The others are Lewis Hamilton, Michael Schumacher, Sebastian Vettel, Alain Prost, and Kimi Raikkonen.
The Nightmare Continued For McLaren
Oh, McLaren. Poor McLaren.
Can’t these folks catch a break?
Rookie Oscar Piastri qualified well and started the race in P8. Meanwhile his teammate Lando Norris was thrust into damage control mode after only qualifying P19.
Immediately, things went off the rails. Just a few corners in you could see a papaya orange endplate fly up on the air mid-pack. That belonged to Piastri who dove into the pits at the end of the opening lap.
Ugh. Well, at least Norris could potentially claw back and make a bid for a points finish.
That’s right, Norris went one full lap more than his teammate before he too needed to pit for a fresh front wing.
This team, man…
Thanks to retirements from Williams’ Alex Albon and Lance Stroll, plus a miserable race from Alfa Romeo’s Valtteri Bottas (who had to have been dealing with some kind of issue, it was that bad) the two Mclarens ended up in a fun battle with each other.
Granted, that battle was at the back of the pack, but it was still fun.
Norris finished P17, while Piastri managed to sneak past Williams’ Logan Sargeant late to finish P15.
Those upgrades McLaren is expecting in a few weeks can’t come soon enough.
Ferrari Fell Victim To A Typical Saudi Arabia Safety Car
Given the nature of the circuit in Jeddah, Safety cars are common. That said, you still don’t know when they’re coming. Someone always falls victim to the timing of these safety cars.
This time around, Ferrari was that team.
Ferrari overcut Stroll’s Aston Martin beautifully with both of their cars. However, it was Stroll parking his car with a mechanical failure that tanked their race.
That gave everyone in front of the two Ferraris a cheap pitstop and buried both of their cars in P6 and P7 with Carlos Sainz ahead of Charles Leclerc.
P7 wasn’t a terrible result for Leclerc who started in P12 thanks to a 10-place grid penalty. That said, P6 for Sainz was a disappointment. He started P5 and it seemed like a podium was absolutely possible.
Both cars getting to the finish is still big for the Constructors’ Championship, especially with Aston Martin not scoring with Stroll.
It wasn’t an ideal race for the Scuderia, but it was far from their worst showing in recent memory.
Other Thoughts From Saudi Arabia
• AlphaTauri: They overperformed in Saudi Arabia, which is funny because the race came just a couple of days after team principal Franz Tost blasted his engineers in the media. They must have gotten the message because both cars had decent races despite both getting knocked out in Q1.
Yuki Tsunoda was in the conversation for points while Nyck de Vries gained a few spots to finish 14. That was a much better day than they had in Bahrain.
• Mercedes: The Silver Arrows looked to have had one bounce their way with the timing of the safety car. Plus, their strategy to start Lewis Hamilton on hard tires and switch to mediums worked especially well on the restart. They finished P3 and P5 with Russell ahead of Hamilton.
At one point it seemed like they would need to swap Hamilton and Russell to give them a shot to catch Alonso in P3 on track. Russell fought this and he was probably right to do so because he started to pull away from Hamilton. In the end, they were gifted a podium after all thanks to the penalty for Alonso.
Not the most thrilling race there’s ever been, with most of the good battles taking place on the fringes or well outside of the points.
Next up on the schedule is a great race for all you night owls, the Australian Grand Prix. That puppy has a 1 am start time here for those of us on the east coast. I’d like to go hard and watch it live, but that might be one I get up and watch on my own time.
It’s shaping up to be a good battle between Verstappen and Perez, as well as on the constructors’ side of the equation between Aston Martin, Mercedes, and Ferrari.
I can’t wait until Formula 1 reconvenes Down Under for the Australian Grand Prix on April 2.
Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle