Formula 1: Sergio Perez deserves less disrespect after Baku

Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images)
Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images) /

The safety car timing may have played to Sergio Perez’s advantage, but he certainly did not “luck” into his Formula 1 victory on the streets of Baku.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez secured his second victory in the last three Formula 1 races on Sunday at Baku City Circuit. Not only has he already managed to match his career-high single-season win total, but he became the first two-time winner of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix since the race was added to the schedule back in 2016.

Perez closed the gap to teammate and two-time reigning world champion Max Verstappen from 15 to six points over the course of the weekend, which also saw him win Saturday’s standalone sprint race around the 20-turn, 3.73-mile (6.003-kilometer) temporary Baku, Azerbaijan street circuit.

After a disappointing third place result in the sprint race during which contact with George Russell’s Mercedes created a hole in the side of Verstappen’s RB19, the points leader looked poised to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the second consecutive year.

Nevertheless, Perez, who quickly followed Verstappen in getting around Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc after Leclerc started from the pole position, got himself back to within striking distance.

When AlphaTauri’s Nyck de Vries went off the track after hitting the wall, there was speculation that, given the placement of the AT04, a safety car could be on its way out.

With Max Verstappen coming down the front straightaway, Red Bull made the quick decision to call him into the pits.

Since Perez had made his way into DRS range, the Milton Keynes-based team could not call him into the pits as well, given that the margin was too slim for a double stack.

But the safety car didn’t come out until Verstappen was already serviced and sent back out in sixth place, and so the five drivers ahead of him had inherited the opportunity to lose far less time in the pits.

By the time the pit cycle was complete and the race had restarted, Perez was leading with Leclerc in second place and Verstappen behind him in third.

Verstappen again made quick work of Leclerc, but he never got to within DRS range of Perez throughout the rest of the event. It seemed that every time he did take a tenth or two out of his teammate’s gap, Perez responded with an extra tenth in the other direction.

While the timing of the safety car may have ultimately taken Verstappen out of the picture, Sergio Perez’s sixth career Formula 1 win was not just down to luck.

Had Perez not been able to fight back to within Verstappen’s DRS range in that first stint, it’s entirely possible, if not overwhelmingly likely, that he too would have pit before the safety car had come out, since the team could have pulled off a double stack.

Based on the timing of the safety car, that would have made Leclerc the leader on the restart, with Verstappen in second place and Perez in third, since pitting early turned out not to be the right call. Before long, both would have passed Leclerc once more, with Verstappen again being the leader.

It was ultimately Perez keeping himself close to Verstappen, something that Verstappen was never able to do after the restart, which put him in position to have a chance to win this race.

And despite not completely running away with it, that is exactly what he did.

There’s nothing wrong with being lucky. Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. But while the safety car certainly didn’t hurt Perez, the claim that his win was one merely caused by “luck” doesn’t hold water.

There is no doubt that, had Verstappen stayed ahead of Perez, it certainly would have been hard for Perez to get around Verstappen, given the fact that passing in this race was about as common as it is in an Army-Navy football game. So Verstappen probably still would have been the odds-on favorite to win.

But once Perez got to the lead, he was never under threat from his teammate, a stark contrast from the early portion of the race when he was the one trailing and closing the gap. He held on for the entire race and definitely earned this one, and he is deserving of more credit than many are giving him.

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Perez is set to go for back-to-back wins and the championship lead for the first time in his Formula 1 career this Sunday, May 7 at Miami International Autodrome. The Miami Grand Prix is set to be broadcast live on ESPN beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET. If you have not already done so, begin a free trial of FuboTV now!