Perez holds off Verstappen's charge to win Saudi Arabian GP
Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico celebrates after he won the Saudi Arabia Formula One Grand Prix at the Jeddah corniche circuit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, March 19, 2023. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno, Pool)
The Associated Press
Published Sunday, March 19, 2023 3:28PM EDT
JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Sergio Perez won the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and Max Verstappen drove from 15th to second to give Red Bull a 1-2 finish Sunday in what is shaping up to be a runaway season for the reigning Formula One champions.
And there have only been two races so far.
But it's been two Red Bull wins, two 1-2 finishes, and an air of desperation from everyone else on the grid.
Fernando Alonso finished third for the second consecutive race for what would have been his 100th career podium. But he was later handed a 10-second penalty for incorrectly serving an early penalty and that dropped him to fourth.
But even as the Spaniard enjoys a renaissance with his new Aston Martin team, Alonso has acknowledged he had little chance at beating Red Bull.
Verstappen won a record 15 races last season and a second consecutive F1 title, and Perez added another two victories as the 17 total wins in 23 races easily gave Red Bull the constructors title. There have been no signs of an offseason drop in performance and George Russell, who moved up to third after the Alonso penalty on on Sunday, predicted after the season-opener that Red Bull would win every race this season.
Lewis Hamilton finished fifth as Mercedes went third and fifth just three days after the seven-time F1 champion said the team needed three other organizations not to finish a race for Mercedes to have a shot to win.
Montreal's Lance Stroll didn't finish.
The show on Sunday was Verstappen, who overcame a mechanical problem in qualifying that forced him to start 15th and quickly work his way up the grid. The Dutchman set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap to retain his hold atop the F1 points standings.
“Great recovery, Max, that was a really good drive at the end,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner radioed Verstappen.
Red Bull has now finished 1-2 in three consecutive races dating to last year's finale.
It was the fifth career win for Perez, who started from the pole for the second consecutive year at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. He was briefly leading the championship standings until Verstappen slipped ahead by logging the fastest lap.
“Let's keep it up, let's keep pushing,” said the Mexican.
Perez started on pole with Alonso on the front row alongside him and Alonso jumped out to a quick lead, but was promptly penalized for being in the improper starting position. He thought he served the five-second penalty, but the race stewards docked him another 10 seconds post podium celebration.
Perez soon regained the lead while Verstappen and Charles Leclerc - starting from 12th because of a 10-place grid penalty - chewed up the cars ahead of them.
When both Ferrari's pitted for new tires, Verstappen was in fourth.
The 6.2-kilometer (3.8-mile) circuit beside the Red Sea is the quickest street track in F1 with average speeds exceeding 250 kmh (160 mph), which suited Verstappen. It took him only a few seconds to pass Russell and Alonso didn't last long, either, making it a Red Bull shootout.
Perez held firm.