Sergio Pérez wins the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix but Verstappen retains the title lead | Formula One

Two races into the new Formula 1 season and the numbers already add up to a worrying omen of what is to come. With a first-round double in Bahrain, Red Bull repeated the feat once again at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. This time it was Sergio Pérez who drove his team-mate and reigning world champion Max Verstappen home, but by the time they took the flag both drivers had simply left the rest of the grid in a race. completely different.

Pérez took pole position but Verstappen drove superbly to come back from 15th after suffering a driveshaft problem in qualifying. Fernando Alonso finished a distant third for Aston Martin, his 100th F1 podium which then tipped in the balance amid not-insignificant farce.

The Spaniard was initially demoted to fourth after being handed a 10-second post-race penalty for improperly serving an in-race penalty, a decision later overturned after a review submitted by Aston to the FIA ​​at midnight local time. When it was finally concluded, it meant George Russell remained fourth and Lewis Hamilton fifth, a glimmer of improvement for Mercedes after a grueling first race of the season.

It was far from a thriller in the spotlight of the Jeddah Corniche circuit; rather a showcase of what increasingly seems to be Red Bull’s indisputable advantage. Some drivers have already floated the idea that Red Bull could wipe out 23 races this season, a seemingly impossible goal that remains a long way off, but in this form they have the machinery to at least make it a possibility.

Verstappen’s reaction was telling in acknowledging that it’s almost certainly now a two-horse race. “I’m not here to be second so I’m not happy,” he said: “I’m fighting for a championship and even if it’s just between two cars, we have to make sure the cars are reliable.”

It was brutal Red Bull stuff, a fighter at the peak of his physical form, a lowered presence that threatened his opponents and delivered blow after blow with effortless ease. Last season they had 17 wins from 22 races; this time they already look even more dominant. How entertaining this turns out when the Championship enters its long middle period in what is a long old season is debatable. Nobody likes a drum solo and absolutely person likes a drum solo that is too long. Red Bull is looking at every position to achieve positively prog-rock levels of indulgence.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner acknowledged the work done by his team. “The team, to their credit, they built an amazing car,” he said. Horner hailed Pérez as having probably led his best run ever and also Verstappen for executing a precision return. “He was patient,” he said. “He recovered the cars and then progressed through the peloton, so a phenomenal recovery for him.”

Fighting for the scraps that Red Bull leaves in their wake can only be demoralizing for their opponents so early in the season as they look for positives and hope for improvements. As Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff observed when told he was P2 in the championship: “Yeah, the first loser.”

Hamilton’s assessment of Red Bull was brutally honest and potentially worrying for F1. “I certainly haven’t seen such a fast car,” he said. “When we were fast, we weren’t that fast – it’s the fastest car I’ve seen, especially compared to the others. Max passed me with serious speed.

Struggling all weekend, Hamilton found himself clinging to straws flying through the dirty air and looking hopefully into what now seems like a distant future. “I went ahead, which is always a hope, but the strategy didn’t work and the settings were a bit off,” said the seven-time world champion. “There is a lot of work to be done, but there are positives to be taken from it.

The mood was naturally different at the end. Pérez really wanted the win as he seeks to assert his rights as a championship contender this season, rather than being relegated to play second fiddle to Verstappen.

There was also redemption for the 33-year-old Mexican as he took pole for this race last year and was in a strong position to take a win, but unfortunately was defeated with the timing of a safety car.

Verstappen, in turn, had a mountain to climb and duly climbed it with alacrity. The defending champion has shown his form by slipping through the pack in the past, moving from 20th to second in Russia in 2021 and notably last year from 14th to win at Spa. However, given the treacherous nature of the Jeddah circuit, this feat was particularly impressive.

In truth, there was never any question of any of the Red Bulls taking the flag. After Verstappen went through the field and the pit stops, the safety car helped him into second place behind Pérez and it was a done deal.

The fact that Pérez showed courage in keeping his lead over the Dutchman was impressive, but what made the real impression were those numbers. Up front, alone in the clean air, both cars were consistently a full second per lap faster than the rest of the field. An overwhelming advantage that seems almost impossible for the rest of the pack to overcome.

Meanwhile, Ferrari struggled in the spotlight, with Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc finishing sixth and seventh respectively. Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly finished eighth and ninth respectively for Alpine, with Kevin Magnussen 10th for Haas.

theguardian Gt

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