Another Red Bull 1-2 continues the 2023 F1 season, but with the drivers inverted. Sergio Perez held at the front even as Max Verstappen held onto the championship lead in second with an additional point for fastest lap, while a post-race 10 second penalty for Fernando Alonso denied the veteran a second season podium.
A fifth win for Sergio Perez in his F1 career came on Sunday evening in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in a race where the Mexican reminded the world of motorsport of his credentials in the burgeoning 2023 season. This followed a strong qualifying that left him in pole position, as well as an early challenge from Alonso from the start of the race.
Saturday’s qualifying probably left as bad a taste in Verstappen’s mouth as the stomach bug that had delayed his arrival in Jeddah in the week – his teammate on top and technical trouble leaving the Dutchman in 15th place. The dominance of the Red Bull was on display from FP1, as was that of the Aston Martin, thereby proving that the performance of the previous week was no flash of the pan. Charles Leclerc’s exceptional second place position in Q3 was erased by a ten-place grid penalty for a replaced gearbox. While Lewis Hamilton had continued to extoll the lack of virtue in his team and his car, George Russell quietly qualified in third, five places ahead of Hamilton. Even as Lando Norris failed to exit Q1, and the rest of the midfield jostled competitively - the most tantalising thought from Saturday remained – could Fernando Alonso take advantage on Sunday evening? Fernando's last win in Formula 1 was at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2013, and the stories were beginning to write themselves.
He certainly did take advantage as the lights went out in the dark Saudi evening for the start of the race, pouncing on Perez’ poor start and surging into first position. Uncharacteristically quickly for the stewards, a rapid 5 second penalty was slapped down on Alonso for his starting position, and Perez successfully passed him before that penalty could be served nonetheless. McLaren’s woes, even more affecting after a positive free practice, continued as both Piastri and Norris were forced into early stops and faded into the noise of the wider race.
It was imperative for Verstappen to make a good start, where his position near the back of the pack would make any kind of impact, piece of debris or mistake potentially fatal. This was successfully avoided, and Verstappen made steady but not superb progress through the opening laps of the race. As he continued to push forward, this writer couldn’t help but look back to his previous comebacks with a sense of inevitability -from 14th to 1st in Spa last year, from the back to 2nd in Russia 2021. As a safety car was introduced following Lance Stroll’s retirement from the race having started in fifth, this feeling grew even stronger as Verstappen was given licence to easily stalk the remaining pack ahead from 4th. In doing so, he avoided battles between the two Mercedes, both of which were impressing in race pace contrary to the pre-race predictions, as well as the anonymous Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Leclerc who failed to properly get to grips with the race. Sergio Perez, who had held onto the lead from Alonso, was imperious in this second stint of the race following the safety car, holding Verstappen at arm’s length as he passed Alonso for second.
The grouping of the midfield was again close and aggressive, with racing right up until the final lap, Kevin Magnussen notably getting Haas’ first points of the season as he pushed past Yuki Tsunoda for 10th place. Alpha Tauri and McLaren are now the only teams not to score points. Post-race drama ensued, as Fernando Alonso received a second time penalty that pushed him off the podium after he had already stood on it, the reason for which is still unknown at time of writing. George Russell and Mercedes will take this stroke of fortune gladly. Reflecting on this win and what it means for the season ahead, the question for Perez remains that that has hung over much of his career – can he turn this drive into a consistent, sustained fight at the top? The continued Red Bull dominance will surely provide him with a chance to establish one.
1. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)
3. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin)
4. George Russell (Mercedes)
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)
6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)
7. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)
8. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)
9. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)
10. Kevin Magnussen (Haas)
11. Yuki Tsunoda (Alpha Tauri)
12. Nico Hulkenberg (Haas)
13. Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo)
14. Nyck de Vries (Alpha Tauri)
15. Oscar Piastri (McLaren)
16. Logan Sargeant (Williams)
17. Lando Norris (McLaren)
18. Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo)
Alex Albon (Williams), Lance Stroll (Aston Martin)