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Friday, July 19, 2024  
13 Muharram 1446  

Three things from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Sergio Perez’s controlled win over teammate Max Verstappen in Baku
Can Perez keep the champagne flowing?. AFP
Can Perez keep the champagne flowing?. AFP

BAKU: Three things from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, won by Sergio Perez on Sunday.

Perez makes title statement

Sergio Perez’s controlled win over teammate Max Verstappen in Baku was good news for Formula One fans.

Red Bull nailed the downforce changes last year ironically introduced to generate closer racing, but the outcome was in many ways the opposite with Verstappen sweeping to his second world championship.

While the Austrian team are still streets ahead of their grid rivals at last now there seems to be the prospect of a proper intra-team battle for the 2023 title.

Perez followed up Saturday’s sprint win with what some consider the best of his six career successes.

It pushed him to within six points of his teammate heading to Florida for next weekend’s race in Miami.

As the Mexican left Baku he only had one thought on his mind - the world title.

“Yes, I am in the championship fight, I really believe that, but as I’ve found the best way to speak is on track,” said the driver who went 190 races before his first win in Bahrain in 2020.

Perez believes that without the issues on his side of the Red Bull garage during a disastrous qualifying in Melbourne it could be him and not Verstappen heading to Florida at the top of the drivers standings.

“I can only think back to problems in Melbourne, without those we should be leading the championship.”

But his thoughts are on the future.

“Baku was an excellent result for the championship and for now I’m only thinking forward, only thinking about Miami.

“I’m in the championship fight, but I’ve been saying for awhile the best way to speak is on the track.”

The man whose delicate job it is to oversee the two title combatants is Red Bull boss Christian Horner.

“Checo (Perez) has been incredible all weekend. They were pushing each other incredibly hard.

“We allowed them to race, as long as they keep it clean they can race,” said Horner, meaning the gloves are off, evoking memories of Nico Rosberg’s gripping battle with Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton to claim the 2016 world title by five points in the final race of the season.

‘Scrap’ sprints’

Double world champion Max Verstappen didn’t sit on the fence when quizzed on the new sprint format - “just scrap the whole thing!” he suggested.

Baku staged the first of the six 100 kilometre dashes this season which for the first time have their own ‘Sprint shootout’ qualifying.

The general feeling in the paddock was the change, only approved by the FIA last Tuesday, was positive, giving an added layer of excitement to fans.

But Verstappen derided the sprint shootout’ as “artificial excitement”.

“I got bored through (the sprint) qualifying to be honest.

“I like to have one particular Qualifying, where you just put everything in it, and that was Friday, which I of course enjoy, and then they have to do it again, I’m like, ‘my God, another qualifying?’ I just don’t really enjoy that.”

Warming to his theme he compared the sprint to “gambling”.

“I think I will have more success in Vegas if I go to the casino. So yeah, I like racing, I’m a pure racer and I think this is more for the show.”

While there may well be a few tweaks in the pipeline Charles Leclerc backed the change with the caveat that sprints don’t start popping up at more weekends - MotoGP for instance have introduced them as a fixture at every race.

Charles and the cat

Alarm bells sounded during the sprint when pole-sitting Charles Leclerc reported on the team radio that “there was a cut” - suggesting a serious issue on his Ferrari - the last thing the team needed after their painful showing in the first three races.

But Leclerc was happy to reassure scuderia supporters the only problem was a misunderstanding of his English.

“I said a cat - which is different! There was a cat in the middle of the road and the Safety Car had to stop - but I think I was probably the only one who saw that?”

Serio Perez chipped in with a useful suggestion: “I didn’t see it - but maybe Max can adopt the cat!”

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Formula 1

Max Verstappen