Sergio Perez defended his pole position, whilst Max Verstappen produced a thrilling comeback drive from 15th place at the Saudi Arabia Grand Prix on Sunday, but Charles Leclerc could only manage seventh.
Perez lost his first place at the first corner, as Fernando Alonso, who joined him on the front row, took the inside line. However, the Spaniard had committed a rudimentary error and received a five-second penalty after failing to start in the correct grid position.
Ultimately, that penalty was of little consequence in the race for second. Perez made the pass to retake the lead on lap four, and never looked like losing it. Meanwhile, Leclerc, starting in 12th due to a penalty incurred for a power unit change, was cutting his way through the field nicely on the soft tyre.
Leclerc loses rhythm
Leclerc reached P7 after an overtake on Lewis Hamilton before making the change to the hard tyre. It was at this point that the Monégasque became unstuck. The Ferrari driver had pitted just one lap before a safety car, which was brought out due to a technical failure on Lance Stroll’s Aston Martin. All of his competitors profited from pitting under the safety car, with Hamilton getting the jump.
Leclerc was then stuck behind teammate Carlos Sainz, with neither Ferrari finding rhythm on the hard tyres. An audibly frustrated Leclerc made no further progress, finishing seventh, one place behind his teammate.
Verstappen close to a miraculous comeback
Verstappen’s rise through the field had a sense of inevitability about it. Everything went perfectly for the reigning world champion in the opening half of the race. His progress was steady during his opening stint, and the safety car couldn’t have come at a better time.
Alonso was no match for Verstappen’s Red Bull, and the only question was whether he could catch his teammate up front. The Dutchman, who seemingly struggled with some minor technical issues after Saturday’s withdrawal from qualifying, couldn’t make inroads into Perez’s lead, but did take the extra point for fastest lap, which coupled with his second position, allows him to remain at the top of the standings.
He was behind eventual winner Perez but in front of Alonso, however, the Aston Martin driver was hauled off the podium, receiving a 10-second time penalty related to his previous infringement, promoting George Russell to third. Alonso did, however, finish ahead of Hamilton, as well as the two Ferraris.
At this stage of the season, Red Bull are unrivalled, and that looks set to remain the case with the grid heading to Melbourne, Australia in a fortnight’s time.
Photo from Scuderia Ferrari press office