Red Bull was dominant in Saudi Arabia as Sergio Perez won from pole ahead of teammate Max Verstappen.
Perez jumped out to a five-second lead over Fernando Alonso after a restart and Verstappen didn’t have a chance to close the gap after he got past Alonso. Verstappen started the race in 15th because of a driveshaft issue during qualifying Saturday. He climbed his way through the field in the opening laps before he got a huge break when a safety car was called for Lance Stroll’s stopped car on lap 18 of the 50-lap race.
Verstappen hadn’t pitted before Stroll’s car stopped and was able to get a free pit stop under the safety car and catch up to Perez, Alonso and George Russell ahead of him during the caution flag. He quickly moved past Russell and Alonso, but by the time he got past Alonso, Perez was too far off in the distance.
Alonso finished an incredibly distant third and was subsequently relegated to fourth before he was reinstated to third. At one point, both Perez and Verstappen were turning laps a second faster than Alonso. The Aston Martin driver was more than 15 seconds behind Verstappen at the end of the race.
Russell finished fourth ahead of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton in fifth. Hamilton was the only driver in the top 10 that started on hard compound tires and switched to mediums during the safety car. Hamilton came out of the pits behind Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz and easily dispatched Sainz after the restart.
Russell was briefly promoted to third ahead of Alonso after the race after F1 stewards ruled that Alonso didn't properly serve his five-second penalty during his pit stop. Alonso was penalized five seconds for not being lined up properly in his starting position before the race and the team touched the car with the jack during the five-second penalty.
The penalty for failing to serve the first penalty properly is 10 seconds and it dropped Alonso to fourth since Russell finished just over five seconds behind. But Aston Martin appealed the penalty and won on the grounds that there was no clear rule defining that the jack couldn't touch the car during a penalty.
Sainz finished ahead of his teammate Charles Leclerc in seventh. The Ferrari cars finished the race on hard tires like everyone else in the top 10 outside of Hamilton and simply didn’t have the pace of the Mercedes cars ahead of them. Esteban Ocon was eighth, his Alpine teammate Pierre Gasly was ninth and Haas’ Kevin Magnussen scored the final points-paying position.
Perez has five career wins
The win is Perez’s fifth career victory in Formula 1 and all five of those wins have come in the last four seasons. He scored the first win of his career with Racing Point in 2020 in Bahrain and then won his first race for Red Bull in Azerbaijan in 2021.
Perez won twice in 2022 as he finished second in the standings to Verstappen. Sunday’s win in Saudi Arabia is the first time he’s won a race with Verstappen in second, though Verstappen still has the lead in the points standings after getting the point for the fastest lap of the race on the final lap.
At the moment, it looks like Perez will be the only driver who can challenge Verstappen for the 2023 title unless Red Bull’s rivals play some serious catchup. Just like a week ago in Bahrain when Verstappen won ahead of Perez, there was no doubt who had the fastest cars in Saudi Arabia.
McLaren struggles again
While Mercedes and Ferrari will wish they were closer to Red Bull, there’s no doubt which team has had the worst start to the season. McLaren had another terrible race on Sunday as both Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris had to pit early in the race because of damaged front wings.
Piastri started eighth but made contact with another driver on the first lap. Norris started 19th after he crashed in qualifying on Saturday. Both drivers ended up finishing 15th or worse as the McLaren cars had very little race pace.