'Street fighter' Perez leads Red Bull sweep in Saudi Arabian GP
Red Bull's Sergio Perez flexed his street circuit muscles with dramatic effect on Sunday by storming to victory ahead of team-mate Max Verstappen at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
The 33-year-old Mexican came home 5.355 seconds clear of the defending double world champion as Red Bull reeled off a masterful one-two triumph, the Dutchman having stormed through the field from 15th on the grid.
Verstappen, however, clocked the fastest lap of the race on the final lap to retain his lead of the embryonic drivers' championship, snatching it back from Perez as they duelled at high speed.
It was Perez's fifth career win having previously triumphed in Monte Carlo and Singapore to earn his reputation as a 'street fighter'.
"It turned out to be tougher than expected," he said. "The safety car tried to take the victory from us again here, but not this year! The team did a great job. Now we must keep pushing."
Verstappen, who was eliminated from qualifying after a drive-shaft failure, said it had not been an easy race.
"It wasn't easy to get through the field," he said. "In the first sector at the start it was difficult and I was sliding around. We settled for second so it's a good recovery in the end."
Two-time world champion Fernando Alonso finished a stirring third on track for Aston Martin seemingly to claim a 100th podium finish on his record-extending 357th start.
But his podium was taken from him after the race when an investigation into an infringement of the rules when he served a five-second penalty at his pit-stop resulted in him receiving a further 10-second penalty.
George Russell rose to third for Mercedes and Alonso fell to fourth ahead of seven-time champion Lewis Hamilton in the second Mercedes.
The two Ferraris of Carlos Sainz and Charles Leclerc, who started 12th, finished sixth and seventh ahead of Esteban Ocon and his Alpine team-mate Pierre Gasly. Kevin Magnussen was 10th for Haas.
The race began under dazzling floodlights at the Jeddah Street Circuit in balmy conditions with an air temperature of 27 degrees, ideal for spectators, drivers and cars, and in front of a sell-out crowd.
- Alonso dream start -
It was Alonso who made the best start, albeit from an incorrect starting position too far to the left of his grid slot, as he surged past Perez to lead into turn one.
It looked like a dream start from the Spaniard, but he was unable to retain it for long and was passed by Perez at turn one at the start of lap four. By then, he had been given a five-second penalty for his starting spot error.
Behind them, Leclerc, on soft tyres, began his climb from 12th and reached seventh by lap eight as Verstappen climbed from 15th to 10th while Russell and Stroll settled into third and fourth.
After an unexceptional start, Hamilton, one of only two drivers on hard tyres while the majority took mediums, was warned for weaving on the straight.
By lap 11, Hamilton was eighth, trapped between Leclerc and Verstappen.
The Dutchman passed Hamilton on lap 12 while Perez reeled off another fastest lap to pull three seconds clear of Alonso.
On lap 18, yellow flags waved as Stroll obeyed a team order to stop his Aston Martin on the track – resulting in a full safety car deployment and a rush to pit for Perez, Alonso, Russell, Verstappen and Hamilton.
Despite attempting to serve his penalty during the pit stop, Alonso stayed second behind Perez. Hamilton, sixth, was the only front-runner on mediums while the rest took hards.
Verstappen, up to fourth, was the big winner from the safety car. When racing resumed on lap 21 with Perez powering clear again, Verstappen also showed great pace as he pressed Russell, breezing past him for third on lap 24, leaving the Briton to hold off his teammate Hamilton who was up to fifth.
The Dutchman then passed Alonso on the straight into lap 25 to take second. He had gone from 15th to second before half-distance. Thereafter, it was a Red Bull scrap to the flag.
With 10 laps remaining, Verstappen said his drive-shaft, which had caused his exit from qualifying on Saturday, was "running a bit rough".
He was pacified by the team as was Perez who complained of a "long brake pedal" before the final fast laps were completed.