Max Verstappen delivered for Christian Horner’s crisis-hit Red Bull team by winning the opening race of the Formula One season in Bahrain on Saturday.

The build-up to the first round of the campaign here in the Gulf Kingdom has totally been overshadowed by allegations whirling around Red Bull team principal Horner.

But Horner, who was joined by his wife Geri in a show of unity ahead of Saturday’s 57-lap race, can take temporary relief from seeing Verstappen lead a Red Bull one-two, with Sergio Perez second.

Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz took the chequered flag in third, one place ahead of team-mate Charles Leclerc with George Russell and Lewis Hamilton a disappointing fifth and seventh respectively for Mercedes. McLaren’s Lando Norris finished sixth.

During an extraordinary week in Bahrain, Horner was exonerated by Red Bull Racing parent’s company, Red Bull GmbH, on Wednesday following an internal probe into allegations of “inappropriate made by a female colleague.

Hundreds of WhatsApp messages appearing to be written by him were then leaked to the F1 world a day later.

Horner has remained defiant throughout and put on a show of unity with his Spice Girl wife Geri, as they strode hand-in-hand along the paddock one hour and 45 minutes before the lights went out.

Red Bull’s majority shareholder and Horner ally, Thai billionaire Chalerm Yoovidhya, joined the duo on the team’s terrace in another public show of support for Horner.

Horner planted a kiss on wife Geri before he headed to pit wall to watch his team blow away their rivals.

Verstappen has raced to the past three world championships and his crushing streak looks set to continue into 2024 following a commanding lights-to-flag win.

The Dutch driver saw off team-mate Perez’s challenge by 22.4 seconds to take his 18th win from the last 19 F1 races and, remarkably, his 36th victory since Hamilton last won a grand prix.

“Great start to the year, guys, a one-two finish, as well so fantastic,” said Verstappen over the team radio.

Horner replied: “As you say, Max, pole-position, one-two finish, fastest lap, a clean sweep. A brilliant way to start the year. Thanks very much.”

Such was Red Bull’s stranglehold on last season’s championship, that they were afforded the luxury of turning their attention to this year’s machine earlier than their competitors.

And revered designer Adrian Newey appears to have built a car which could take Verstappen to another stratosphere.

After holding off the challenge from Ferrari’s Leclerc on the run down to the opening corner, his victory never appeared in doubt. By the end of lap 11, Verstappen had already pulled 10 seconds clear.

Behind, Russell was on the move – taking second from Leclerc on the third lap in an encouraging start for the Mercedes man.

But that would be as good as it got for the Silver Arrows, with Perez moving ahead of Russell on the exit of Turn 4 on lap 14 before Sainz gazumped the British driver for third three laps later.

Hamilton started ninth and was making little early progress, complaining on lap 25 that his seat was broken.

He started to make his way through the field, getting past McLaren’s Oscar Piastri on lap 35 and then Fernando Alonso’s Aston Martin for seventh on lap 39.

But the seven-time world champion, who will join Ferrari next year, made no inroads into Norris ahead before Mercedes’ poor evening was dealt another blow when Leclerc took fourth off Russell with 11 laps to run.

Hamilton finished 50 seconds behind Verstappen.

For Verstappen, it was another emphatic display, with fireworks exploding into the night sky as he cemented his status as the overwhelming favourite to march to another title – despite Red Bull’s ongoing off-track turbulence.

Lando Norris saw off triple world champion Max Verstappen to take pole position for today’s sprint race in Brazil.

The British driver, 23, beat Verstappen to top spot by 0.061 seconds in Interlagos with Sergio Perez third.

George Russell and Lewis Hamilton will line up from fourth and fifth respectively for Mercedes.

Norris believed he could have taken pole for tomorrow’s 71-lap main event, but for a McLaren strategy blunder in Friday’s rain-hit qualifying session.

However, the young Briton made amends by delivering the quickest time for today’s 24-lap dash to the chequered flag.

Norris, who is seeking his first win in Formula One, said: “It felt like one of the worst laps I have done so I am a little bit surprised to be on pole.

“But I feel like we have made up for yesterday. I have no idea how the sprint will go, but the pace has been good this weekend and the car has been quick.”

Perez was a tenth back from Norris, while Russell finished 0.235 sec behind, with Hamilton 0.318 sec adrift.

Yuki Tsunoda qualified sixth ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Daniel Ricciardo.

Q1 ended early after Esteban Ocon crashed out following a collision with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso.

Ocon was on a hot lap, but briefly lost control of his Alpine though the left-hander at Turn 3, and thumped into Alonso.

The Spaniard was off the racing line, affording space for Ocon, but the Frenchman clipped Alonso’s Aston Martin which sent him into the tyre barrier at Curva do Sol.

“F****** idiot, Fernando,” said Ocon after he sustained significant damage to the rear of his machine.

Alonso limped back to the pits with front suspension damage leaving his mechanics scrambling to get his machine ready for Q2.

A 28-minute delay followed as the barrier was repaired but Alonso was unable to continue. He will start 15th.

The double world champion’s team-mate Lance Stroll qualified an impressive third for Sunday’s grand prix. But the Canadian will line up three places from the back for today’s sprint which gets under way at 3:30pm local time (6:30 pm GMT).

Christian Horner has left the door ajar for Daniel Ricciardo to replace Sergio Perez at Red Bull next season following the Mexican’s retirement at his home grand prix.

Perez’s race lasted just 14 seconds after he crashed into Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc at the opening bend.

The 33-year-old had to watch Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen romp to a record 16th win of the season, while Ricciardo – who has already stated his desire to return to Red Bull – out-performed his modest AlphaTauri machinery to finish seventh after qualifying fourth.

Although Horner said it is Red Bull’s “intention” to honour Perez’s contract for 2024, he refused to confirm that the Mexican would remain with the world champions beyond this term.

Perhaps tellingly, he was also effusive in his praise for Ricciardo, lauding the Australian’s display in just his fourth comeback race as “remarkable”. It is possible that the two drivers could trade seats in 2024.

“Sergio has an agreement with us for next year and our intention is for him to be in the car in 2024,” said Horner.

“We will give him all the support he needs to ensure he finishes second in the championship.

“It was great to see Daniel perform so well and it endorses our decision to bring him back. I thought he was outstanding this weekend and if it was not for the red flag, he would have finished further up the order.

“It was a remarkable performance and he is back to his old self. He is relaxed and confident.”

Perez went for glory at the opening corner – perhaps sensing this could be his final opportunity to win on home soil – but he misjudged the move and collided with Leclerc.

Lewis Hamilton took second to reduce the deficit to Perez to just 20 points in the race for runner-up in the championship.

“There is no prerequisite that if he doesn’t finish second, he is out of the team,” added Horner. “It is not as binary as that. You have to look at the circumstances.

“It was a tough moment for him in front of his home crowd and he was very emotional, but he wouldn’t be a racing driver if he didn’t go for the lead at his home race. It is a big loss for him in a car that was capable of being on the podium.

“He is a tough operator and that is why he is in the car, because mentally he has always been able to bounce back. He will brush himself down and turn it into motivation. He has the full support of the team.”

 

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Ricciardo won seven times for Red Bull before taking the surprise decision to move to Renault in 2019. He subsequently joined McLaren, but endured two poor years.

Ricciardo’s career looked to be over when he was dumped by the British team at the end of last season. But the 34-year-old has performed admirably – despite being absent for five races with a broken wrist – since being handed a second chance with Red Bull’s junior team. Indeed, his seventh place in Mexico was AlphaTauri’s best result of the year.

Ricciardo will be back in action at this weekend’s Brazilian Grand Prix – the first of three concluding rounds this season.

Charles Leclerc was subjected to boos by Sergio Perez’s disgruntled fans following his first-corner collision with the home favourite in Mexico.

Perez’s afternoon in front of his partisan supporters at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez was over after 14 seconds when he drove into Leclerc at the opening bend.

Perez was forced to retire with damage sustained in the accident, as Max Verstappen claimed his 16th win – a new record for a driver in a single season – with Lewis Hamilton second and Leclerc third.

But as Leclerc was interviewed by Jenson Button in the Foro Sol stadium – which holds 30,000 people – in the immediate aftermath of Sunday’s 71-lap race, the Ferrari driver was targeted by the locals.

“A lot of booing,” said Leclerc as he addressed the angry crowd. “Guys I had nowhere to go. I was a bit in between the Red Bulls and unfortunately I touched Sergio.

“It’s life. I damaged my car and unfortunately it ended the race of Sergio. Of course, I’m disappointed to end the race of Sergio like that but I really didn’t do it on purpose and I had nowhere to go.”

A record crowd of more than 400,000 spectators passed through the gates this weekend – with 130,000 here on race day – hoping to see Perez triumph or at least finish on the podium.

However, the 33-year-old, who hasn’t won a race since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix on April 30 and now faces further questions over his future at Red Bull, stood by his banzai move.

“To be honest, I feel I would have let the fans down more if I didn’t go for it,” said Perez.

“I saw the gap, I went for it. I decided to take a risk, I knew it was going to be very risky, and I ended up paying the price.

“I’ve had some really sad moments in my career, but this is up there, and as a race, the saddest one, because of the end result.

“But at the end of the day, this is just racing. I go home very sad, but I also go very proud of my team and of myself. We gave it our all. I knew that today a podium was not enough for me. I really wanted to go further.”

Max Verstappen completed a practice double for Sunday’s Mexican Grand Prix by edging out Lando Norris.

After leading the way in the first running at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City, Verstappen – who has won 15 of the 18 rounds so far – set the fastest time in the day’s concluding running.

The Red Bull driver finished 0.119 seconds clear of McLaren’s Norris, with Charles Leclerc a quarter of a second back in his Ferrari.

Home favourite Sergio Perez finished fifth, three tenths behind Red Bull team-mate Verstappen, while Lewis Hamilton took seventh for Mercedes, a third of a second down.

Verstappen has dominated this year, and wrapped up his third successive world championship in Qatar earlier this month.

And the Dutchman will head into the remainder of the weekend in the breathless Mexico City air as the man to beat.

The high-altitude venue, which sits 2,200 metres above sea level, can often throw up anomalies, and Valtteri Bottas was a surprised fourth for Alfa Romeo, with Daniel Ricciardo sixth in his AlphaTauri, just three tenths off the top.

Hamilton finished a close second to Verstappen in the United States a week ago before he was disqualified for running an illegal floor on his Mercedes.

But despite his post-race exclusion, Hamilton hoped his speed in Austin would enable him to challenge Verstappen here.

However, the seven-time world champion failed to challenge the top of the leaderboard on Friday, finishing 11th and seventh respectively in the two sessions.

George Russell, who sat out the opening running as Mercedes blooded academy driver Frederik Vesti, finished 10th, half-a-second behind Verstappen.

Earlier on Friday, Ollie Bearman made history by becoming the youngest British driver to take part in a Formula One weekend.

Bearman, 18, competing for American outfit Haas, ended his F1 debut in 15th, only 1.6 sec slower than Verstappen and three tenths adrift of Nico Hulkenberg – a veteran of 200 grands prix – in the other Haas.

Bearman also finished one place ahead of double world champion Fernando Alonso.

F1 teams must run a rookie driver at least twice during the season and Chelmsford-born Bearman was handed his chance to impress, breaking the British record previously held by Norris.

Norris was three months shy of his 19th birthday when he took part in practice for McLaren in Belgium in 2018 before he was promoted to a race seat the following season. Bearman turned 18 in May.

The teenager, a member of the Ferrari academy, has taken four victories in F1’s feeder series Formula Two and is sixth in the standings ahead of next month’s season finale in Abu Dhabi.

Max Verstappen has beefed up his personal security as he prepares for a hostile reception at Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez’s home race in Mexico.

Verstappen was jeered by Perez’s supporters at last weekend’s podium presentation in Austin as the triple world champion celebrated his 15th win of the season.

Chants of “Checo, Checo” – in support of Perez – were also audible during the Dutch national anthem.

A crowd of nearly 400,000 are expected at the high-altitude Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez over the course of the weekend, with practice starting on Friday and it is understood Verstappen will be flanked by multiple security guards in the paddock.

Perez’s fans are unhappy Verstappen did not help the Mexican secure second place in last season’s championship after he ignored a team order at the penultimate round in Brazil.

Perez has won only twice this season – his last victory in Azerbaijan on April 30 – with Verstappen racing to his third title in as many years.

The paddock in Mexico City has become one of the most manic on the calendar, with drivers mobbed as they make their way from the motorhome to the garage.

And Perez is also expected to have a bigger entourage than normal to cover-off his enthusiastic fanbase.

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner and the team’s motorsport advisor Dr Helmut Marko will also be accompanied by security guards.

Speaking after last weekend’s race in Austin, Horner said: “I don’t think Max is going to get the warmest reception in Mexico, but that is water off a duck’s back to him.

“One year you are the villain and the next year you are the hero.”

Perez heads into this weekend’s round 206 points behind Verstappen. However, he is 39 points clear of third-placed Lewis Hamilton, who was disqualified from second at the Circuit of the Americas for running an illegal floor on his Mercedes.

Mario Andretti has come to the defence of Sergio Perez, claiming that the Mexican is "very valuable" to Formula One champions Red Bull.

Despite being in the best car on the grid, Perez has struggled since last tasting victory at the Azerbaijani Grand Prix back in April.

While his team-mate Max Verstappen was crowned champion for a third successive year after the Qatar Grand Prix, Perez fell to a disappointing tenth-placed finish.

It continued his recent run of poor performances following a mistake-laden performance in Japan – in which he ultimately failed to finish – and an eighth-place finish in Singapore the week prior. 

Perez's contract with Red Bull runs until the end of the next season, but a host of other drivers have been linked with the seat to partner Verstappen.

However, the 1978 drivers' champion Andretti believes Perez still has the ability to partner the Dutch driver moving forward.

"He has shown moments of brilliance, there are times when Max had some issues, and he picked up the ball and ran with it, and he won some great races," he told Stats Perform.

"We've seen his speciality in street races, for instance. So he brings something very valuable to the table. 

"And I think, to me, from where I stand, as a driver, that's a perfect team. Actually, they don't get into each other's way."

Perez has admitted to being frustrated by his own performances, particularly after his display in Japan, and Andretti believes the 33-year-old needs to look inward and make the necessary adjustments to get back to his best.

"There may be setups or something not totally to his liking," he added. 

"But it's a matter of adjusting, for every driver, that's the whole trick, to be able to adjust and compensate for some of the things that don't always go your way."

While Perez and Verstappen have combined to retain the constructors' championship, the latter has emerged as the clear star and number one driver in the Red Bull team.

Other teams have opted not to keep both drivers on an equal footing, but Andretti is unsure if such a system breeds the “optimal” environment for success. 

"There are teams that have got two number ones, and that's fine. I don't know if that's the optimal situation. But nevertheless, that's the way it goes, nothing is defined," he ended.

"They should give equal attention, equal commitment and everything is equal opportunity. But it's really up to the individual to earn the position of number one."

Qualifying for Saturday’s sprint race in Qatar has been pushed back amid fears over the safety of the tyres.

The running had been due to start at 4pm local time (2pm BST), but it will be delayed by 20 minutes following revised track limits at the Lusail International Circuit.

The drivers will instead take part in an additional 10 minutes of practice at 4pm to familiarise themselves with the changes made to the track at Turns 12 and 13 prior to qualifying.

Formula One’s governing body, the FIA, said “a separation in the sidewall between the topping compound and the carcass cords” were discovered on the Pirelli tyres following yesterday’s one-hour running.

The FIA said the problem is likely to have been caused by a number of the high kerbs used at the circuit.

Additional analysis will take place following today’s 19-lap race, and further action – which will include three mandatory tyre stops – may be taken for Sunday’s grand prix which runs for 57 laps.

Max Verstappen will be crowned champion of the world for a third time if he finishes sixth or Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez fails to finish outside the top three in Saturday’s sprint.

Sergio Perez’s torrid run of form continued at the Hungarian Grand Prix after he crashed out of a rain-hit opening practice.

George Russell led the way in the wet conditions for Mercedes at the Hungaroring, 0.359 seconds clear of McLaren’s Oscar Piastri, with Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll third and Lando Norris fourth.

Only 13 of the 20-strong field posted a competitive lap, with championship leader Max Verstappen and seven-time world champion Lewis Hamilton not risking the possibility of damage.

The first one-hour running of the weekend was still dry, and barely a few minutes old, when Perez lost control of his Red Bull and ended up in the wall.

The Mexican put two wheels on the grass under braking for the fifth corner, sending him into a pirouette and into the tyre barrier.

Perez was unharmed in the accident but he sustained significant damage to the front of his machine.

Perez is under increasing pressure at Red Bull following five consecutive qualifying sessions in which he has failed to make it into Q3. On each of those occasions, Verstappen has scored pole position in the other Red Bull.

Indeed, Verstappen, who has won eight of the opening 10 rounds and six in succession, has already moved 99 points clear of his struggling team-mate.

Daniel Ricciardo’s comeback at Red Bull’s junior team AlphaTauri is also likely to be playing on Perez’s mind, with the Australian admitting he is daring to dream about the possibility of a return to the grid’s all-conquering team.

For now, Ricciardo has a dozen races to prove his credentials. However, the eight-time grand prix winner was among those who elected not to set a timed lap on Friday.

The red flags were deployed to deal with Perez’s stricken car and then the rain arrived. The slippery conditions caught out Carlos Sainz after he lost control of his Ferrari on the exit of turn three.

The Spaniard spun across the track and grazed the wall on the opposite side of the circuit before becoming stuck in the grass.

A second red flag was required as marshals assisted in helping Sainz return to the pits with front-wing damage on his scarlet machine.

Friday’s concluding session takes place at 5pm local time (4pm BST).

Max Verstappen said he was fortunate to avoid a high-speed shunt with Sergio Perez after accusing his Red Bull team-mate of forcing him off the road in Saturday’s sprint race at the Austrian Grand Prix.

Verstappen survived the early drama to win a chaotic 24-lap dash in damp conditions at Red Bull’s home race in Spielberg and extend his championship lead from 69 points to 70.

But despite racking up yet another victory on his probable gallop to a hat-trick of world championships, Verstappen expressed his disappointment with the conduct of Perez in the other Red Bull.

“The exit of Turn 1 was not really nice,” said Verstappen on his way back to the pits after he crossed the finish line 21 seconds clear of the Mexican.

“That could have been a big shunt so we need to have a chat about that because it was not OK.”

Verstappen was referencing the flashpoint between the Red Bull drivers which arrived after only a few hundred metres.

The Dutchman started from pole position, but he was unable to prevent a fast-starting Perez from muscling his way past on the run to the opening right hander.

Perez took the lead, but the Mexican then ran wide on the exit of the first bend allowing Verstappen the opportunity of a slingshot back past.

Verstappen drew alongside his team-mate, but he ran out of room, briefly dropping two wheels on the grass.

“He pushed me off, man,” yelled Verstappen over the radio. “What the f***.”

However, on the long drag to the third bend, Verstappen managed to maintain enough momentum to launch an aggressive move down the inside of Perez.

Verstappen, late on the brakes, ran deep into the right-hander, but he managed to make the move stick. And this time, it was Perez who felt aggrieved.

“What is wrong with Max, man?” he said. As Verstappen raced off into the distance, Perez then lost out to Nico Hulkenberg before eventually finding a way past the Haas driver.

The inquest started immediately after the flag dropped with Perez going over to Verstappen, while the world champion still had his crash helmet on.

The debrief continued into the weighing room as the team-mates spoke for a couple of minutes before revealing their verdicts.

“Max was angry that I went into Turn 2 but I did not see him,” said Perez.

“I had a very bad Turn 1 so I tried to protect [the lead] and once I realised he was there, I opened up the door and gave him the place back. It is all fine. We just spoke about it. The visibility was very bad out there.”

Verstappen was up next. “It was a hairy moment out of Turn 1,” he said. “When you get forced on to the grass it is very slippery but I managed to keep my car under control.”

Moments later, Verstappen headed to the official press conference for the top three finishers. Sitting alongside Perez, he moved to downplay the row.

“It might have compromised the result but it didn’t,” said Verstappen. “We don’t need to make this a big story.

“This is what happens sometimes. We talk about it. We clear it. And it is fine. That is how human beings work. Question, answer, solve it, done. You don’t need to write a whole article about it, I hope.”

Behind Verstappen and Perez, Carlos Sainz took third for Ferrari, while George Russell and Lewis Hamilton finished eighth and 10th for Mercedes. Lando Norris started third and ended a disappointing ninth.

Hamilton fought back from 18th on the grid after he had three qualifying laps deleted for exceeding track limits.

Russell started 15th but managed to make up seven places and take the final point after his roll of the dice to move to slick tyres – the first driver to do so – with nine laps to run paid off.

Saturday’s result has no bearing on Sunday’s 71-lap Grand Prix, with Verstappen on pole as he bids to land his seventh victory from the nine rounds so far.

Sergio Perez warned Max Verstappen he will fight to win the world championship after beating his Red Bull team-mate to victory in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The Mexican driver took advantage of an early safety car to pit for new tyres and leapfrog Verstappen before controlling the race to win for a second time this year.

Red Bull are the dominant force in Formula One and Perez’s Baku triumph was the team’s 14th win from their last 15 outings.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who finished third on Sunday, was 21 seconds behind. Lewis Hamilton, sixth for Mercedes, was an eye-watering 46 seconds down the road.

Such is the superiority of his Red Bull machine, Verstappen is still expected to cruise to his third title, but Perez’s victory here breathes fresh life into this year’s title battle.

Perez, who also won Saturday’s sprint race, is now just six points behind Verstappen in the standings after four rounds.

“It is a long year ahead, but I really believe I am in the fight,” said Perez, who dropped points last time out in Australia following a qualifying horror show.

“I wouldn’t say today’s race was my best ever, but it was just very good. I pushed from start to the end without mistakes. When you do that, you believe you can beat anyone so it is just about keeping it up throughout the season.

“I only regret the problems we had in Melbourne that made us lose a lot of points. Without that, I could have been closer in the championship.”

Perez was lauded by his race engineer, Hugh Bird, as the “King of the Streets” after he crossed the line 2.1 sec clear of Verstappen.

The 33-year-old’s victory was his second in Azerbaijan – no other driver has won in Baku more than once – while he has also taken the chequered flag at street venues in Jeddah in March, and Monaco and Singapore last year. Next Sunday’s Miami Grand Prix is also on a street course.

Verstappen would have expected to extend his title lead after blasting past pole-sitter Leclerc on the third lap. But his race fell apart when Nyck de Vries crashed out at the fourth corner.

Verstappen pulled in for new tyres but just moments later the safety car was deployed with De Vries’ broken AlphaTauri needing to be cleared.

With the field running at a controlled speed, Perez was able to stop for rubber and retain the lead.

Verstappen fell from first to third, later re-passing Leclerc, but never threatening to reel in his team-mate.

“I want to win this world championship as much as Max does but there is a lot of respect between us,” added Perez.

“We are very similar in the way we approach the sport so I do not believe our relationship will change.”

Verstappen added: “It is a very long season so it is all about consistency.

“Sergio has really been on it this year and performing well and that is great. He is feeling confident in the car.

“You need to acknowledge and appreciate when somebody has done a great job and that is what happened today. We will fight for the rest of the season.”

Like Verstappen, a pre-safety car change of tyres also cost Hamilton. The British driver dropped from fifth to 10th once the order had shuffled out.

He drove well to move up to sixth, pressing Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz to the flag – at one stage calling on his Mercedes team to provide him with “more power” – but he was unable to find a way past. Hamilton is pinning his hopes on a Mercedes upgrade, expected at Imola on May 21.

“This result is all we can ask for right now,” said the seven-time world champion. “Hopefully the upgrades will put us in the fight. We are counting down the days and weeks until then.”

Fernando Alonso finished fourth for Aston Martin, while George Russell, called a “d***head” by Verstappen following their first-lap collision in Saturday’s shortened race, came home in eighth.

McLaren’s Lando Norris claimed two points after he crossed the line in ninth.

Sergio Perez followed up his sprint race victory with a superb drive to triumph in Sunday's main event at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, which was marred by shambolic organisation on the final lap.

Perez was the quickest in Saturday's sprint and the Mexican held off Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen and Ferrari's Charles Leclerc to claim his second race win of the season.

However, the FIA and race organisers will have questions to answer after crew members and photographers were allowed onto the pit lane during the final lap, despite Esteban Ocon having not pitted.

The Alpine driver came in for his pit stop, but managed to slow down enough to avoid any incident.

Fortunately, there was no taking away from Perez's triumph, his second in Baku after 2021.

Leclerc held pole but two-time reigning Formula One champion Verstappen took the lead in the third lap, with Perez overtaking the Ferrari soon after.

Verstappen clipping the wall on Turn Four allowed Perez to close ground, and there was more bad news for the Dutchman when he pitted just before a safety car, which was brought out after Nyck De Vries spun off the track.

Perez took advantage by pitting during the safety car, and was back out in first place by the time racing resumed.

An investigation for a possible unsafe release yielded no penalty for Perez, who would not relinquish his lead and eventually won by over two seconds.

Behind him, Verstappen and Fernando Alonso tussled for the fastest lap, though it was George Russell who clinched it at the death after a late pit stop.

Leclerc, meanwhile, had to settle for third on a disappointing day for Ferrari.

Red Bull on the charge

Red Bull are the seventh team in F1 history to have won the first four races of a campaign, with the victories split evenly between Perez and Verstappen.

Indeed, Red Bull have now surpassed Mercedes as the team with the most wins in Baku.

Verstappen overtakes legendary Senna

One day short of the 29th anniversary of Ayrton Senna's death, Verstappen secured his 81st podium finish.

That is one more than the great Senna managed in his career, which was tragically cut short in 1994.

Sergio Perez breathed fresh life into this season’s world championship by beating Max Verstappen to victory in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

Perez took advantage of an early safety car to stop for new tyres and leapfrog Verstappen in the other Red Bull.

The Mexican controlled the remainder of the race to take the chequered flag 2.1 seconds clear of Verstappen.

Charles Leclerc, who started on pole position, finished third for Ferrari with Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso fourth. Lewis Hamilton finished sixth, two places ahead of Mercedes team-mate George Russell.

Perez’s win moves him to within six points of Verstappen in the drivers’ standings.

Leclerc started from the front but despite executing a perfect getaway to beat Verstappen to the opening corner, his lead lasted just three laps.

With the Drag Reduction System open in the back of Verstappen’s Red Bull, the Dutchman blasted by his Ferrari rival at 215mph on the main straight to take the lead.

Perez, third on the grid, followed his Red Bull team-mate through two laps later with the double world champion leading a one-two for the grid’s all-conquering team.

From there, Verstappen would have expected to claim his third win of the season, but the race fell away from him on lap 10 when Nyck de Vries crashed out at the fourth corner.

Verstappen immediately pulled in for new tyres but just moments later the safety car was deployed with De Vries’ broken AlphaTauri needing to be cleared.

With the field running at a controlled speed, Perez was able to stop for rubber and retain the lead. Verstappen fell from first to third, with Leclerc also benefitting from a free pit-stop.

An earlier change of tyres also cost Hamilton. The British driver dropped from fifth to 10th once the order had shuffled out.

When the safety car came in, Verstappen wasted no time in moving up to second after he dived underneath Leclerc’s Ferrari at Turn 3.

Alonso was also on the move, sneaking past Carlos Sainz, to take fourth with Hamilton making places, too. Tenth swiftly became eighth for the Mercedes man before he fought his way past team-mate Russell at the start of lap 15.

“Well that was a s*** re-start,” said Russell on the radio. “Sorry, guys.”

On lap 20, Hamilton was then up to sixth after Lance Stroll ran wide at the penultimate corner to allow the seven-time world champion a slingshot past.

Up front and Verstappen was failing to make any headway on his team-mate. And despite a brush with the barriers at Turn 15, Perez followed up his sprint triumph on Saturday with his second win of the campaign.

Hamilton pressed Sainz to the flag – at one stage calling on his Mercedes team to provide him with “more power” – but he was unable to find a way past the Ferrari driver.

Stroll finished seventh for Aston Martin while Russell, called a d***head by Verstappen following their first-lap collision in Saturday’s shortened race, came home in eighth and also posted the fastest lap. Lando Norris claimed two points after he crossed the line in ninth place.

Charles Leclerc will start on pole position for the Azerbaijan Grand Prix for the third season in a row after an impressive qualifying run on Friday.

Ferrari's Leclerc surprisingly outpaced the Red Bull pair of Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez, who will start second and third respectively in Baku.

The Monegasque driver kept up with Verstappen before putting in a time of one minute and 40.203 seconds to beat his opponent by 0.188s.

"I like city tracks in general," Leclerc told Sky Sports. "It's not only here but Singapore, Monaco, here, a track that I really enjoy. You can really play with the limits, more than on a normal track.

"The limit is a hard limit as it's the wall! You cannot overstep it, so it's about building up to be very close to the wall without ever touching it."

Friday's qualifying session determined the race order for Sunday’s Grand Prix, with another, standalone shorter qualifying session to take place on Saturday ahead of a 17-lap sprint event – the first of six this season.

However, Leclerc is in no doubt where his priorities lie, even though he admitted his Ferrari is unlikely to be able to compete across Sunday's 51 laps of the six-kilometre Baku City Circuit.

"It went well in the last three years, but we have another qualifying tomorrow, so it could be four poles in a row," Leclerc said. "But we have the race on Sunday, which is more important, but I believe we will struggle a bit more as I think Red Bull is still a step ahead."

Leclerc's team-mate Carlos Sainz will start in fourth on Sunday, with Mercedes' Lewis Hamilton in fifth and Fernando Alonso of Aston Martin sixth.

Hamilton's team-mate George Russell will start 11th after a surprise elimination in Q2 on Friday, while there were early crashes from Nyck de Vries (AlphaTauri) and Pierre Gasly (Alpine) as a hectic start to qualifying began with red flags, both hitting the barrier on turn three.

PROVISIONAL CLASSIFICATION

1. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) 1:40.203
2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull) +0.188
3. Sergio Perez (Red Bull) +0.292
4. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +0.813
5. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +0.974
6. Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +1.050
7. Lando Norris (McLaren) +1.078
8. Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +1.378
9. Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +1.408
10. Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +1.408

Ralf Schumacher has told Max Verstappen to either leave Formula 1 or accept the new Sprint Race weekend format, which will debut at the upcoming Azerbaijan Grand Prix.

The 'Sprint Shootout' gets introduced this weekend and will set the grid for Saturday's Sprint Race, which means the grid for Sunday's Grand Prix is now determined by Friday's qualifying. 

It leaves just one free practice session in Baku with FP2 and 3 being replaced, and is the first of six Sprint Race weekends in 2023 after only hosting three in 2021 and 2022.

This comes after Verstappen issued a 'quit threat' if F1 continues to make race weekend changes, but Schumacher believes the championship will thrive either way. 

"The past, the present and the future have shown or will show that Formula 1 is much bigger than any individual," he told Sky Sports Germany.

"Bernie Ecclestone is also gone, and without him Formula 1 wouldn't exist - and now it’s more successful than ever.

"So Verstappen should either pack his things and leave, or just accept it as it is. I understand his attitude because there are a lot of risks.

"But still, he gets paid to do it. If he wants to go, then he has to go. Formula 1 will not perish, as much I love him."

Guenther Steiner has hailed the changes saying it is what fans want, and believes F1 could eventually keep adding the format to more race weekends. 

"I don't know if we will do it every race weekend," the Haas team principal told Reuters. "Maybe do a few more or maybe do half of the calendar - the F1 promoter will know what to do.

"At the moment, there is more demand for races [than slots available] so how can you get more races in, more competition, more racing if we cannot do more than 24 events? So just make the event double count."

Will Baku finally have a repeat winner?

In six previous races at Baku, there has been a different winner each time. Nico Rosberg won its inaugural Grand Prix in 2016, before Daniel Ricciardo, Lewis Hamilton, Valtteri Bottas, Sergio Perez and defending winner Verstappen all stood on the top step.

With two of that six no longer in F1 and Bottas now in an Alfa Romeo, chances are only three of them are in with a shot of victory. However, given Red Bull have dominated the opening three races to this season, they will be odds-on favourite to win again on Sunday.

To many, the battle will be between Perez and Verstappen with the double world champion currently 15 points ahead of his team-mate in the standings. If Red Bull wins again, then that will extend Hamilton’s winless run to 27 - his worst in F1 - after Mercedes have struggled since the start of 2022.

However, Fernando Alonso has stood on the podium in each race this season. Therefore, should Red Bull encounter any problems then maybe the Aston Martin driver will extend Baku's record. 

Charles Leclerc faces worst ever start to F1 season

Charles Leclerc's retirement in Australia means he is the first Ferrari driver since Felipe Massa in 2009 to have two DNFs in the opening three races of a season. For the other round, Saudi Arabia, he only finished seventh which leaves Leclerc 10th in the championship on six points.

It is a stark contrast to this time 12 months ago, where the Ferrari driver was leading the championship by 34 points after winning two of the opening three races. Should he fail to score a point in Baku then that will make it Leclerc's worst start to an F1 season, despite driving for Alfa Romeo in his debut year.

Championship Standings

Drivers

Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 69Sergio Perez (Red Bull) 54Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) 45Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) 38Carlos Sainz Jr (Ferrari) 20

Constructors 

Red Bull 123Aston Martin 65Mercedes 56Ferrari 26McLaren 12 

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