Perez and Verstappen battle for supremacy in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
Red Bull’s Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen battled it out for first place in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. With only a 4-second lead and six laps left, Perez was hesitant to relax, despite reassurances from his race engineer.
Sergio Perez’s race engineer, Hugh Bird, was reassuring his driver that he was on track to win the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and didn’t need to worry about Max Verstappen. However, Perez was hesitant to relax with only a 4-second lead and six laps left, given Verstappen’s impressive abilities and his own past experiences of being compromised for his team-mate.
Bird initially gave Perez a target lap time of 1m33.0s but then revised it. When Perez questioned this, Bird informed him that Verstappen was doing a lap time of 32.6, causing Perez to wonder why he was being asked to do 33.0. Perez expressed his concerns about pushing unnecessarily and his competitive paranoia and common sense kicked in.
When a Formula 1 team is in a 1-2 position, it’s not an uncommon situation. However, the competition between Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen has an extra edge due to Red Bull’s significant advantage over the field, with about 1 second per lap. Verstappen has already conceded that the championship looks like it’s between their two cars, making it crucial for neither to give anything to the other.
For Perez, it’s especially important not to allow Verstappen’s usual internal dominance to be established. Realistically, his chances of achieving this are probably remote since Verstappen is a remarkable driver who has become the focus of the team regardless of the machinery they are given, thanks to his talent.
Despite the odds, Perez is a competitive racing driver who is not willing to accept defeat easily. At Jeddah, a track where he always performs well, he recognized the value of Verstappen’s misfortune in Q2, which allowed him to start ahead of him.
Moreover, the Red Bulls are barely finishing races with their current transmissions. Perez acknowledges that they were fortunate to be so far ahead in Bahrain because if they had to push until the end, they would not have made it. There are reliability concerns at the moment, and he hopes that they won’t affect them anytime soon.
Perez could sense a vibration from the rear of his car, which was similar to what Verstappen was experiencing, and both issues arose in the second half of the race. Therefore, when Perez made the call to the team to avoid risking a non-finish, it was not only to ensure that he beat his team-mate, but also a genuine plea questioning the need to race each other at the cost of a potential failure. Although Perez did not explicitly say it, the message was clear: “You need to call Max off.”
However, this was Red Bull, and it was unlikely to ask Verstappen to not try to win. Ultimately, it was Verstappen himself who made the decision to settle for second place and not risk having an issue with the car. He calculated that he wouldn’t be able to close the gap with only 10 laps left and decided that it was more important to settle for second place.
With 10 laps remaining in the race, the gap between Perez and Verstappen was 4.3 seconds. Verstappen had benefited from the lap 17 safety car caused by Lance Stroll’s broken-down Aston Martin, which had neutralized much of Verstappen’s time deficit and allowed him to easily overtake George Russell’s Mercedes and Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin.
After dealing with them, Verstappen was only 5 seconds behind Perez, and with all the pit stops completed, it seemed likely that he would be able to close the gap and win the race, even without any interference from the team. However, the potential reliability issues with the car and the decision to settle for second place meant that Verstappen ultimately finished behind Perez.
Despite the odds, Perez was determined to win and had maintained a pace that was similar to Verstappen’s throughout the weekend, as he had done in Bahrain. He was focused and purposeful, knowing that there was a world title to be won. Even when Fernando Alonso beat him off the line, he remained unfazed.
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Alonso’s Aston Martin led the race for three laps before Perez made a straightforward DRS move, taking advantage of the Red Bull’s inherently lower drag and the wing-stalling device to be traveling 22mph faster at the crucial point. This allowed him to retake the lead and maintain it until the end of the race, even with Verstappen closing in behind him.
After retaking the lead from Alonso, Perez allowed him to follow for a while, conserving his tires before pulling away and eliminating any undercut threat as the pit stop window approached.
Meanwhile, Verstappen had a calm start to the race, making up only a couple of places and staying out of trouble, much like he had done in Hungary and Belgium last year when he started from poor grid positions.
Verstappen reported that the car was oversteering on entry, causing him to worry that something might be wrong. However, it was later discovered that the issue was simply caused by the turbulence from the traffic and the proximity to the walls. Verstappen then focused on making progress, overtaking the Haas drivers, Zhou Guanyu’s Alfa Romeo, and Pierre Gasly’s Alpine, with Charles Leclerc’s grid penalty set to put him next in line. He eventually pitted to exchange his soft tires for a set of hard ones.
Verstappen then set his sights on overtaking Hamilton and succeeded with a simple DRS pass, with Hamilton expressing his surprise at the speed difference. By lap 16 out of 50, Verstappen had moved up to fourth place, but was 22 seconds behind the leader and 9 seconds behind Russell in third.
However, a safety car was deployed on lap 25, thanks to Lance Stroll and race control. This allowed all drivers to pit for hard tires and brought the game on with three-fifths of the race still to go and Perez only a few seconds ahead of Verstappen. Verstappen had already moved up to second place by lap 25, and Perez was not willing to let him get any closer. With both drivers now on the robust hard tire, they engaged in a fierce battle for the lead.
Despite Verstappen’s best efforts, it took him 12 laps to reduce the gap from 5.4s to 4.3s, as Perez continued to push hard, trading fastest laps with Verstappen and leaving the rest of the field far behind.
On lap 38, Verstappen heard a high-pitched squealing noise from the rear and felt a different balance off-throttle, raising concerns of an imminent driveshaft failure. He radioed in his concerns, and the team analyzed the data, but nothing showed up. Verstappen was advised to bring the car home, but he decided to keep pushing and take the risk of a potential failure.
Soon, Perez also felt a vibration and a longer brake pedal, but they were given the OK after inspection. The battle between the two continued, and Perez made a pleading call to the team to avoid risking a non-finish. Verstappen’s engineer, Gianpiero Lambiase, repeated the same tactic as in Bahrain, asking Verstappen to hit a target time that was considerably slower than what he was doing, in a groundhog day reprise.
Despite Perez’s plea to the team, Verstappen continued to push hard, setting purple sector times and even receiving the occasional track limit warning, thanks to Perez’s relentless pace. Lambiase tried to slow Verstappen down with the same tactic as in Bahrain, asking him to hit a slower target time of 33.0 seconds. However, Verstappen ignored the instruction and continued pushing until he finally made a mental calculation with four laps to go and obeyed the order.
Perez continued to push hard until the end, and his victory was all but confirmed when Verstappen slowed down.
Despite obeying Lambiase’s instruction, Verstappen had one last worry to address, asking about the fastest lap of the race. His engineer responded that they were not concerned about it at the moment, but Verstappen was concerned because setting the fastest lap would give him the lead in the championship, which would otherwise have been Perez’s.
Verstappen set the fastest lap on the last lap of the race, securing the championship lead. Red Bull scored another 1-2 finish, but not without the pit wall experiencing even more jeopardy than in Bahrain.
Meanwhile, there was another race happening elsewhere, won on the road by Alonso, then provisionally by Russell, but ultimately awarded to Alonso by the stewards.
Alonso had received a 5-second penalty for lining himself up slightly offset on the grid, which he served during his pit stop under the safety car. However, evidence from the video assistant referee (VAR) suggested that the rear jack was in contact with the car before the 5 seconds had elapsed. As a result, a further penalty of 10 seconds was applied after the race but then rescinded following Aston Martin’s successful challenge in the right to review process.
This decision pushed Russell back to fourth place, followed by Hamilton, the Ferraris of Sainz and Leclerc, the Alpines of Ocon and Gasly, and Kevin Magnussen’s Haas. While the Aston Martin was the best of the rest, it was not significantly ahead of Mercedes or Ferrari on race day and was a long way behind the front-runners.
Perez and Verstappen battle for supremacy in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Perez and Verstappen battle for supremacy in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Perez and Verstappen battle for supremacy in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Perez and Verstappen battle for supremacy in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Perez and Verstappen battle for supremacy in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix Perez and Verstappen battle for supremacy in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix
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