Mexican Sergio Perez blasted past Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to win Formula One’s first sprint of the season in Azerbaijan yesterday while Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen finished a furious third in a damaged car.
Leclerc, who started on pole position and finished second to more than double his points tally, was the first driver other than Perez to beat double world champion Verstappen on track this year.
Verstappen now has 75 points to Perez’s 62, with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso on 48 and the main race still to come today.
The championship leader still provided a major talking point, slamming the new standalone format and throwing an obscenity at Mercedes’ George Russell after the pair clashed in a first lap battle for third place.
The turn two impact punched a hole in the Red Bull’s sidepod but Russell kept the place until his Dutch rival took it back after a safety car period.
When Russell explained afterwards in the pit lane that he had no grip, Verstappen told him to “expect next time the same” and, as the Briton walked away.
“From my side, I was on the inside and was quite surprised he was resisting it so much. I’m here to fight, the move was on,” said Russell.
Former Azerbaijan GP winner Perez kept out of trouble, slotting into second place behind Leclerc at the start and then taking the lead on lap eight with the benefit of drag reduction (DRS) before pulling away.
Although the sprint was only a 100km dash, the Mexican became the first F1 driver to win more than once around the Baku street circuit.
Russell finished fourth with Carlos Sainz fifth for Ferrari, and Alonso sixth.
Seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton was seventh for Mercedes and Lance Stroll collected the final point for Aston Martin.
A virtual safety car was triggered early on when Yuki Tsunoda hit the wall and his AlphaTauri shed a rear tyre that rolled away down the track while the Japanese continued on a damaged rim.
Tsunoda pitted for a new wheel and nose and went back out, with obvious suspension damage soon becoming apparent, and the safety car was then deployed to allow marshals to clear the debris.
Verstappen passed Russell cleanly at the re-start, Red Bull pointedly noting over the radio that he had done so without making contact, and Sainz passed Hamilton for fifth with Alonso following on.
Williams’ rookie Logan Sargeant did not take part in the race after crashing heavily in qualifying, his car too damaged to fix in time.
The sprint had previously set Sunday’s grid but now stands alone after the sport approved the change earlier in the week in a bid to make Saturday more appealing to fans and boost excitement.
Instead, the Sunday grid is now decided by a Friday qualifying.
Verstappen made clear he was not a fan.
“Just scrap the whole thing,” he told reporters, referring to “artificial excitement”.
“I got bored through today’s qualifying to be honest,” he added.
Leclerc will again start on pole for the grand prix, the fourth of the campaign.