Sergio Perez beat team mate and championship leader Max Verstappen to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on Sunday and continue Red Bull’s Formula One domination with a double success in Baku.
Helped by a safety car period that fell in his favour after Verstappen had pitted, the Mexican made the most of his good fortune to take a sixth career victory and become the first driver to win the grand prix for a second time.
Perez is now six points behind Verstappen with two wins each after four rounds and another challenge in Miami only a week away.
Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who started on pole position for the third year in a row in Baku, finished a distant third for his team’s first podium appearance of the year with George Russell claiming the fastest lap for Mercedes.
“Well done guys, we dominated this weekend,” said Perez who also won the Saturday sprint.
“I think it was very close between us, we pushed to the maximum today, we both clipped the wall a few times,” added the Mexican.
“The way Max pushed me today was really hard but we managed to keep in control.”
Predictions of chaos and carnage, with the race the first sprint weekend of the year, failed to materialise on an afternoon short of thrills, spills or many overtakes.
“For me it was the loneliest race ever,” said Leclerc, who made a clean start to lead into the first corner and held off Verstappen until the drag reduction system (DRS) was activated on lap three.
The champion then scythed past at the start of the next lap and pulled away, with Perez slotting into second two laps later with equal ease.
Everything changed on lap 11 when Nyck de Vries clipped the wall and broke his AlphaTauri’s front left suspension, leaving the car stranded at turn 16.
The safety car was deployed but Verstappen had already pitted while Perez stayed out, the Mexican then effectively gaining a free stop when he came in with the field slowed.
“Checo (Perez) got a little lucky with the safety car there but it’s a long season and very good points today. Great team result,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told Verstappen at the finish.
“It is what it is. We wouldn’t know the safety car could come out there. Good team result,” replied the Dutch driver.
Ferrari and Aston Martin also benefited from the timing of the safety car, and Leclerc was back in second when racing resumed at the start of lap 14.
Verstappen passed the Monegasque again with ease while Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso overtook Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz at turn six to go fourth — a position he stayed in to the finish.
The Red Bulls then showed their true pace, turning the race into a two-car contest with Verstappen, in second, already more than 10 seconds clear of Leclerc by the half distance.
“They are in another league once it comes to the race,” said Leclerc.
Perez kept out of Verstappen’s DRS range, however, stretching out a lead of 2.5 seconds by lap 30 and finishing with a 2.1 second advantage.
Sainz finished fifth with seven times world champion Lewis Hamilton sixth for Mercedes and Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll seventh.
Russell was eighth ahead of McLaren’s Lando Norris and AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda collecting the final point.
There were worrying scenes on the final lap with Alpine’s Esteban Ocon pitting for his sole stop and sending mechanics and photographers preparing for the finish scattering out of his way.