Sergio Perez took full advantage of a safety car intervention to beat Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen in a head-to-head duel at the front of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
His second Formula 1 grand prix win of the year brings Perez to within six points of Verstappen at the top of the points table.
But does this make Perez more of a title contender and was it his most convincing win against Verstappen yet? Our writers give their verdict.
Perez’s best win keeps him in there
This was probably Perez’s best win, as although the safety car timing helped him jump Verstappen his pace in the race was strong.
It’s difficult to see it being massively significant championship-wise as history tells us Verstappen will surely be his superior over the balance of the season, but performances like this help Perez hang in there and remain a factor in the title race.
It’s to Perez’s credit that he keeps pushing himself and is remaining in the mindset of someone who can win the title. He’s not simply taking the easy route of accepting being the support act and he’s done a good job to keep raising his game.
With every day like this, the confidence will build, but there’s going to need to be a lot more of these for him to be seen as strong enough to beat Verstappen over the year.
The key for Verstappen is to take defeat on the chin and not be too frustrated about Perez taking another win. After all, while he has an intense will to win, he knows that more often than not he will be on top. And his post-race reaction seems to suggest he knows exactly that.
Safety car intervention robbed us of a great fight
The timing of the safety car obviously played a major role in defining the outcome, but it seemed to me that Perez was actually quicker than Verstappen across the balance of the grand prix regardless of that helping hand, and it’s unfortunate we never got to see Perez actually hunt Verstappen down and challenge Red Bull to let him try to overtake on track to win the race.
Perez was so fast in the early stages that he closed to within DRS range before Verstappen bailed out for that slightly-too-early pitstop. Verstappen burned his tyres faster than Perez early on; later he complained about the balance of his RB19 and the relationship between the car’s differential settings (which he is able to adjust from the cockpit) and the amount of engine braking aiding his deceleration for the corners, as he fell out of touch with Perez.
TV graphics showed Verstappen was only ever really gaining time on Perez in the slipstream on the straights. Perez had to punch a hole through the air for Verstappen for the majority of the grand prix, yet he was always able to stay out of DRS range and respond whenever Verstappen lapped fractionally faster.
Verstappen is right to point to Baku being an outlier circuit, and I’m still sure there will be many more days than not over the balance of this season when Verstappen is the stronger of the two Red Bull drivers, but this performance should give real encouragement to Perez. Unlike last season here, he completely outdrove Verstappen today.
A real statement from Perez
This was Perez’s best win yet, and definitely his most significant against Verstappen. It was a statement: the first time that he didn’t need Verstappen to be removed from the picture to win.
Yes, the safety car changing their positions was significant, but don’t forget that Perez was poised to overtake Verstappen when Max dived into the pits anyway.
Whether Verstappen wanted that early pitstop or not, I think he needed it. The fact Perez didn’t have to is because he was happier with his balance and holding on better at that stage.
And given Perez’s pace I think this is a race he could/would have won regardless of the safety car. He certainly drove well enough to be given the benefit of the doubt.
So I’m happy to view this as, to all intents and purposes, a straight fight – one that Perez won convincingly.
Verstappen’s post-race reaction was telling
If Verstappen’s Saturday reaction made it seem like he’s feeling the heat from Perez, Verstappen’s Sunday reaction – acknowledging that he’s benefitted from well-timed safety cars before – dispelled that particular reading.
This was pretty much a straight-fight defeat – given how much better Perez was at the end of that first stint, and how he streaked away midway through the second – and yet Verstappen appeared extremely nonplussed speaking to his team post-race and in the interviews.
Verstappen probably doesn’t think that Perez is outright better than him at street circuits – but he may well think that Perez overperforms his baseline on street circuits much more than Verstappen does.
“Not going to be perfect all the time,” was his verdict in parc ferme, and when it’s a two-car title race you don’t need to be. And as excellent as Perez was today – and he was extremely excellent, save for that potentially ruinous Turn 15 brush – it’s only if he’s much closer at more conventional tracks than he was at, say, Melbourne that Verstappen should really start to worry.
A good result for neutrals (except the gap to third)
What I think this race showed was that overtaking is more track-dependent than the car design so basically the only excitement was off the start and at the safety car restart. Once things settled down it was processional to say the least, the hard tyre is far too hard.
As for who should have won well unfortunately for us viewers Red Bull has simply done a better job than any other team and for the viewers I think the most important thing is that the guy in second place in the championship scored more points than the guy leading it so the championship so the fight is still on.
Both Perez and Verstappen drove very well, they were pushing and both clipped the wall on various occasions. The big problem was that their main competition, Charles Leclerc in his Ferrari, was some 17 seconds behind.