Fernando Alonso got the jump but was quickly penalized for being too far left in his start box. Sergio Perez quickly got back by Alonso’s No. 14 Aston Martin Mercedes powered car and never looked back en route to his fifth career victory.
It was validation for Perez in a sense that there were questions on if he could capitalize on his top starting spot. Yes, Verstappen had an issue in Q2 and had to start 15th. Sure Charles Leclerc had a 10 spot grid penalty despite qualifying second. But, could Perez deliver?
He didn’t in last year’s STC Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and finished fourth. In fact, none of the four street course races a year ago were in fact won from the top start by spot. Furthermore, just one of the four street races last season did the pole winner even finish on the podium too.
So, for Perez to clear his teammate by over 5-seconds was a huge moment for the Mexican driver.
Verstappen charged from 15th to runner-up for his 79th career podium result. While most considered Verstappen a favorite, was it very logical for someone to come from 15th to 1st on a street course and do so in only a 50 lap race?
He nearly did. Verstappen was up to 4th 20 laps in. He just was too far at the start to catch his Red Bull teammate.
The thing is, none of the podiums on these street courses last season were also celebrated by a driver that came from a starting spot outside the top 5 too.
Saudi Arabia: 4th, 2nd 3rd
Miami: 3rd, 1st, 2nd
Monaco: 3rd, 2nd, 4th
Baku: 3nd, 2nd, 5th
That’s why it was going to be an interesting battle to see how far Verstappen can come forward.
The Mercedes duo each finished in the top five (George Russell 4th, Lewis Hamilton 5th) while Alonso was dropped from third to fifth initially then given his spot back after a lengthy review.
Fastest Lap Drama
Sergio Perez may have won the pole and the race, but it was Max Verstappen’s final lap of Sunday’s race for which allows him to retain his points lead over his Red Bull Racing teammate. Perez had all the bonus points locked up and the top spot in the standings up until that point.
However, Verstappen laying down that flier was good enough to give him the slimmest of a margin (44-43) in the standings. It doesn’t come without some internal drama, however.
Verstappen asked in the closing lap about the fastest lap. The team pleaded for the two-time defending champion to not worry about it.
“Yeah, but I am,” responded Verstappen to his team radio.
On the final lap, Verstappen pushed hard enough to get it.
However, it could hurt team morale too when the the pit box pleaded with Verstappen not to push hard to secure the quickest lap. A day after a driveshaft issue in qualifying, Verstappen was feeling a vibration towards the end of the race again. The team kept telling Verstappen to stop pushing for the fastest lap and not to risk another mechanical failure. But, Verstappen wasn’t listening to it.
Perez was told about Verstappen’s insubordination and as a result, he sped up quicker himself. The team, scared to push Perez into an issue, told him to slow down as well but he too wasn’t listening to their orders. That’s because if Verstappen was pushing behind and not listening, if he listened, then Verstappen would catch him and pass him for not only the win, but the fastest lap too.
So, you have both drivers pushing harder than they needed to in the end which could have been catastrophic. There was a chance that both cars could have pushed themselves into failures which could have seen them go from a 1-2 finish to both being out of the race.
That makes me question Verstappen as a leader. This is his team but the Dutch driver didn’t lend a helping hand to Perez late last season and here again, he’s doing what he wanted to do and not for the betterment of the team.
Then you have this video of his dad in the midst of this team celebration and you get the sense that this could get ugly by seasons end. It’s clear no one is touching these Red Bull’s in 2023 and the only thing that’s going to be in their way are going to be themselves.
Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg couldn’t get along in their journey against each other and it seems like Verstappen and Perez may not play nicely in their battle in 2023.
Penalties Cost Alonso His 100th Career Podium, Then It Didn’t
Fernando Alonso knew that his focus was on behind rather than in front on Sunday. Despite a front row starting spot, it wasn’t very likely that he was going to beat the Red Bull’s in the second Grand Prix of the 2023 season.
That’s why he played games at the start of the race in order to get the early advantage. Unfortunately, he went too far by being too far to the left in the starting line box. That cost him with being awarded a 5 second penalty for which they served on his opening pit stop….or did they?
FIA deemed that they served the penalty incorrectly and that a 10 second time penalty would then ensue which would take him from a 3rd place finish to 4th.
As a result, despite crossing the finish line in third and being awarded his 100th podium trophy, it was rescinded and handed to George Russell at Mercedes instead.
Alonso and Russell felt like that penalty was extreme. Russell felt like it was too steep of a penalty for a maneuver that didn’t help Alonso on track so why should it cost him a position. Alonso felt bad for Russell in the fact that he didn’t get to partake in any of the photos for his sponsors for his now podium result.
Then, after a review, it was proven that Alonso did nothing wrong and that he was given his position back.
Mercedes May Be 2nd Best Team
We’re two races in and despite all the noise coming out of the Mercedes camp about their struggles, they may very well look up at seasons end and be the second-best team in F1. In fact, they may be there now. Last year, they played third fiddle behind the Red Bull’s and Ferrari’s. The tandem won 21 of the 22 races while Mercedes took the other win.
The thing is, the Ferrari’s have struggled out of the gates while Mercedes sits third in the constructors, one point behind with Aston Martin for second. The Prancing Horses are 13 points behind (39-26) and quite honestly, look like they’ve lost a step between 2022 and 2023.
George Russell finished fourth after starting third while Lewis Hamilton went from 7th to 5th. He was also 5th in Bahrain as well while Russell was seventh in the season opener.
With Lance Stroll’s issues started early, do you really have that much faith in Aston Martin to seriously challenge Mercedes for the second best team in the long run?
Russell and Wolff were each beaming that they’ve closed the gap that they had in a month span compared to how long it took them last year. You can see the progress being made. I’d have to trust the reliability in the Mercedes camp than Aston Martin.
In the same way you can see Mercedes improving, you can also see the Ferrari’s struggling.
They won 2 of the first 3 races in 2022, all with Leclerc. They looked like the championship front runners early on the heels of three consecutive top two finishes in his No. 16 Ferrari in 2022 and 4 in the opening 5 races. He only has four in the last 19 races though, including both races run this season in that count.
Sainz even had 6 podiums in the first 10 races a year ago but three in the last 14.
This team is regressing while Mercedes is ascending.
Has Russell Become Mercedes’ Top Driver?
Lewis Hamilton is a seven-time Formula 1 World Champion and someone who’s won 103 races, 103 poles and earned 191 career podiums. However, the last couple of seasons have maybe shown that his new teammate, George Russell, may very well be the top driver in the Silver Arrow’s camp.
Russell nearly earned his 10th career podium finish on Sunday, 9 of which coming since the start of last season. That was the first time he’s raced his No. 63 Mercedes full-time. Hamilton had 9 podiums compared to Russell’s 8 a year ago, but it was Russell, not Hamilton, the one that gave them their lone 2022 victory.
Now, Russell qualified in the top five and finished fourth while Hamilton went from 7th to 5th. You have Russell boasting with confidence saying that they’re close while Hamilton is struggling with the car saying that he feels like he’s losing more and more confidence by the week.
Even Team Principal Toto Wolff mentioned that if they can’t soon give Hamilton a race winning car, then they’d be open to Hamilton to leave for a new team to where he can. The thing is, Russell looks closer than Hamilton again at victory.
If you go back to the end of last season, Russell has seen the checkered flag first in 3 of the last 4 races.
You just get the sense that Russell is still ascending while Hamilton is descending.
Red Bull Racing Untouchable
There question about Red Bull Racing digressing after the wind tunnel penalty is now far from gone. This season looks like they’re going to be untouchable. Max Verstappen went from 15th to finish second. Sergio Perez held off the field to score his 5th career win.
Perez was 20.728-seconds ahead of the next best car outside of the Red Bull camp in Fernando Alonso. In Bahrain, Verstappen was 38.637-seconds ahead of third place finisher Alonso too.
Perez was first, third and third respectively in practice in Bahrain and second, third and second respectively in Saudi Arabia.
Verstappen was third, second and second respectively in Bahrain and quickest in all three sessions this past weekend.
For the RBR duo to go 1-2 in both races and already hold a commanding 48-point lead in the constructors standings is massive.