Sergio Pérez holds off Max Verstappen’s charge to win the Saudi Arabian GP

Sergio Pérez holds off Max Verstappen’s charge to win the Saudi Arabian GP

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia – Sergio Perez won the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and Max Verstappen lifted Red Bull from 15th to second on Sunday for a 1-2 finish in what is turning out to be a runaway season for the reigning Formula One champions. .

And so far only two races have taken place.

“Good job guys an excellent result for the team,” said Pérez, who finished almost 5 seconds ahead of Verstappen.

Through the first two races of the season it has been two Red Bull wins, two 1-2 finishes, and an air of frustration from everyone else on the grid.

Verstappen is chasing a third straight title and is not worried if it turns into a straight fight between him and Pérez.

“The best would be up front,” said the Dutchman.

Perez seems to have peaked right now.

“I’m not sure it’s my best weekend with the team, Melbourne will be even better,” he said, looking to the next race in Australia on April 2.

Fernando Alonso finished third in his second consecutive race for his 100th career podium. But he was later given a 10-second time penalty for incorrectly completing an earlier penalty, which dropped him to fourth.

But even though the Spaniard is enjoying a renaissance with his new Aston Martin team, Alonso admitted he had little chance of beating Red Bull.

Verstappen won a record 15 races last season to claim his second successive F1 title, and Pérez added two more as a total of 17 wins in 23 races easily handed Red Bull the constructors’ title. There is no sign of an offseason slump in performance and George Russell, who moved up to third after an Alonso penalty on Sunday, predicted after the season-opener that Red Bull would win every race this season.

“I was having fun out there and the car felt good,” Russell said after his 10th career podium. “I think what happened to Fernando was harsh. But I’m happy to have picked up the silverware.

Lewis Hamilton finished fifth as Mercedes finished third and fifth as the seven-time F1 champion said the team needed three more outs to complete the race if Mercedes could not win.

“We’re not where we want to be, but we’ll get there,” Hamilton told his team.

Sunday’s show was Verstappen, who overcame a mechanical problem in qualifying that forced him to start 15th and quickly worked his way up the grid. The Dutchman set the fastest lap of the race on the final lap to retain his grip on the F1 points standings.

“Great recovery, Max, it was a really good drive at the end,” Red Bull boss Christian Horner radioed Verstappen.

Verstappen felt the late push was worth the risk.

“I gave it a go in the end and luckily it worked,” he said.

Red Bull have now finished 1-2 in three consecutive races leading up to last year’s finale.

It was a fifth career win for Pérez, who started from pole for the second year in a row at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit. He was briefly leading the championship standings until Verstappen was overtaken by setting the fastest lap.

The Mexican said, “Let’s keep it going, let’s keep pushing.”

Pérez started on pole alongside Alonso and Alonso quickly took the lead, but was immediately penalized for being in an improper starting position. He thought he had earned a five-second penalty, but the race stewards docked him 10 seconds after the podium celebration.

Russell said “common sense needs to apply,” and Alonso was furious with the governing body FIA.

“I think it’s more a poor performance from the FIA ​​than a disappointment for us today,” Alonso told broadcaster Sky.

Pérez soon regained the lead, while Verstappen and Charles Leclerc – starting from 12th due to a 10-place grid penalty – chewed up the cars ahead of them.

When both Ferraris pitted for new tyres, Verstappen was up to fourth.

The 6.2-kilometre (3.8-mile) circuit beside the Red Sea is the fastest street track in F1 with average speeds in excess of 250 km/h (160 mph), which suited Verstappen. It took him only seconds to pass Russell and Alonso, or so making it a Red Bull shootout.

Perez stood firm.

Ferrari had another race to forget, with Carlos Sainz Jr. in seventh ahead of Charles Leclerc in sixth. At least Leclerc ended up retiring in Bahrain, but he was not happy.

“Staying behind like that is really (insulting), I don’t know what to do,” said Leclerc as he was running behind traffic.

Frenchmen Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly finished eighth for Alpine and 10th with Haas driver Kevin Magnussen.

Alonso’s teammate Lance Stroll retired on lap 18, prompting a safety car restart to suit Verstappen.

Alex Albon retired his Williams and his teammate Logan Sargent, the rookie American driver, started last and finished 16th. McLaren again struggled with Oscar Piastri in 15th and Lando Norris in 17th.

“Tough race after an unfortunate start with damage to both cars on the opening lap. Made things very difficult to turn around. But we tried hard,” McLaren boss Zak Brown tweeted. “Time to get our season back on track in Australia.”

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