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Sergio Pérez wins Saudi Arabia grand prix but Verstappen keeps title lead



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Two races into the new Formula One season the numbers are already adding up to an ominous portent of what is to come. With a one-two in the first round in Bahrain Red Bull repeated the feat once more at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix. This time it was Sergio Pérez who led his teammate and reigning world champion, Max Verstappen, home but by the time they took the flag both drivers had simply left the rest of the grid in an altogether different race.

Pérez won from pole position but Verstappen drove superbly to come through from 15th after he suffered a driveshaft problem in qualifying. Fernando Alonso finished a distant third for Aston Martin, his 100th F1 podium which saw-sawed in the balance afterwards amid no little farce.

The Spaniard was initially demoted to fourth after being given a 10-second time penalty post-race for incorrectly serving an in-race penalty, a decision then rescinded after a review submitted by Aston to the FIA ​​at gone midnight local time. When finally concluded it meant George Russell remained in fourth and Lewis Hamilton finished fifth, a glimmer of improvement for Mercedes after a trying first race of the season.

It was far from a thriller under the floodlights at the Jeddah Corniche circuit; rather more a showcase of what increasingly looks to be the indisputable advantage Red Bull holds. Some drivers have already posited the notion that Red Bull could take a clean sweep of the 23 races this season, a seemingly impossible target that remains an awfully long way off but which, on this form, they have the machinery at the very least to make a possibility.

Verstappen’s reaction was telling in acknowledging that it is almost certainly now a two-horse race. “I am not here to be second, so I am not happy,” he said. “I am fighting for a championship and, even if it is just between two cars, we have to make sure the cars are reliable.”

This was brutal stuff from Red Bull, a fighter at peak fitness, a lowering presence looming over their opponents and delivering blow after blow with effortless ease. Last season they took 17 wins from 22 races; this time they already look even more dominant. Quite how entertaining this proves when the championship enters its long mid-period in what is a long old season is questionable. No one likes a drum solo and absolutely no one likes an excessively long drum solo. Red Bull look in every position to hit some positively prog-rock levels of indulgence.

The Red Bull team principal, Christian Horner, acknowledged the job his team had done. “The team, all credit to them, they’ve built an incredible car,” he said. Horner hailed Pérez as having driven probably his best ever race and also Verstappen in executing a precision comeback drive. “He was patient,” he said. “He picked the cars off and then progressed through the field, so a phenomenal recovery for him.”

Fighting for the scraps Red Bull are leaving in their wake can only be demoralizing for their opponents so early in the season as they look for positives and hope for improvements. As the Mercedes team principal, Toto Wolff, observed when told he was P2 in the championship: “Yeah, the first loser.”

Hamilton’s assessment of the Red Bull was brutally honest and potentially worrying for F1. “I’ve definitely not seen a car so fast,” he said. “When we were fast we weren’t that fast – that is the fastest car I have seen, especially compared to the rest. Max came past me with some serious speed.”

Struggling all weekend, Hamilton was left clutching at straws flying in dirty air and looking hopefully into what seems to be the distant future. “I went forward, which is always the hope, but the strategy didn’t work out and the setup was a bit off,” said the seven-time world champion. “There’s lots of work to do but there are positives to take away from it.”

The mood was understandably different at the sharp end. Pérez badly wanted this victory as he seeks to make his case as a championship contender this season, rather than being relegated to playing second fiddle to Verstappen.

There was also redemption for the 33-year-old Mexican given he had taken pole for this race last year and was in a solid position to claim a win only to be unluckily undone with the timing of a safety car.

Verstappen, in turn, had a mountain to climb and duly scaled it with alacrity. The reigning champion has demonstrated form in scything through the field in the past, coming from 20th to second at Russia in 2021 and notably last year from 14th to win at Spa. However, given the treacherous nature of the Jeddah circuit, this achievement was especially impressive.

In truth it was never in doubt that one of the Red Bulls would take the flag. After Verstappen came through the field and pit stops, the safety car helped him move up to second behind Pérez and it was a done deal.

That Pérez showed grit in holding his lead from the Dutchman was impressive but what made the real impression were those numbers. Out front, alone in clean air, both cars were routinely a full second a lap quicker than the rest of the field. A crushing advantage that seems all but impossible for the rest of the field to overcome.

Meanwhile Ferrari struggled under the floodlights, with Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc ultimately finishing sixth and seventh respectively. Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly finished eighth and ninth respectively for Alpine, with Kevin Magnussen in 10th for Haas.

Sergio Pérez wins Saudi Arabia grand prix but Verstappen keeps title lead

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