Sergio Pérez’s Azerbaijan GP victory overshadowed by pit lane chaos investigation

Sergio Pérez’s Azerbaijan GP victory overshadowed by pit lane chaos investigation
Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez celebrate on the podium at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Ali Haider))

Formula One’s governing body promised an immediate review of procedures after mechanics and photographers were in the fast lane when Alpine’s Esteban Ocon pitted at the end of Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix (GP).

Sergio Pérez said he should be leading the Formula One championship and saw himself as a true title contender after beating Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen to victory in Azerbaijan on Sunday.

But his victory was overshadowed by a potentially fatal scene moments before the end of the race.

Formula One’s governing body promised an immediate review of procedures after mechanics and photographers were in the fast lane when Alpine’s Esteban Ocon pitted at the end of Sunday’s Azerbaijan GP.

Frenchman Ocon, who started in the pit lane, had left it until the very end to make his mandatory tyre change and spoke of his shock at the “scary moment”.

“Fortunately, nothing happened, but we must make sure these scenarios don’t happen again,” he said.

Sky Sports television commentators called the scenes, with a throng of people already in the pit lane as the car arrived, “an absolute shambles”.

The photographers were gathered in front of the “parc ferme” area in the pit lane where the top three finishers park up after the slowing down lap, while mechanics were celebrating on the pit wall.

Stewards said in a statement they had summoned representatives of the FIA after the “very dangerous” last-lap incident.

“We noted that it was not unusual for the representatives to allow such persons into the pit lane just before the end of the race, in the usual course of preparation for parc ferme and the podium ceremony,” they said.

“However, in this case, there was one driver that had to pit in the last lap and this created a very dangerous situation for those that were in the pit lane at the time. 

“We considered that it was fortunate that there were no serious consequences on account of what happened today.”

The stewards said the FIA must “take immediate steps” to reconsider procedures and protocols and ensure the situation did not happen again.

“The FIA representatives expressed their regret at what happened and assured us that they would do so in time for the next event,” the statement added. Race five of the season is in Miami on 7 May.

Race director Niels Wittich warned teams at the previous race in Australia that they risked punishment if personnel climbed pitwall fences to celebrate as their drivers took the chequered flag.

Second-placed Max Verstappen and teammate Sergio Pérez celebrate after the Azerbaijan F1 Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit. (Photo: Francois Nel / Getty Images)

Sergio Pérez of Red Bull Racing during the Azerbaijan F1 Grand Prix at Baku City Circuit on 30 April 2023. (Photo: Aziz Karimov / Getty Images)

Sergio Pérez is swamped by Red Bull team mechanics after winning the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. (Photo: Vince Mignott / MB Media / Getty Images)

Red Bull dominance

Pérez and Verstappen now have two wins apiece after four rounds of a record 23-race season, with Red Bull clearly in a league of their own.

Pérez is six points behind double world champion Verstappen due to finishing only fifth in Australia, a race the Dutch driver won, after problems in qualifying. 

“Having three kids at home, I wouldn’t be travelling around the world if I didn’t believe that I can be a world champion and I’m working towards that,” Pérez told Sky television after Red Bull’s third one-two of the season.

“There is so much you can talk outside the car, it’s important to deliver on the track and I think without the issues we had in qualifying in Melbourne we should be leading the championship.

“So definitely there is everything to believe that we can do well this year.”

Pérez won in Saudi Arabia and finished second in the Bahrain season opener.

Sunday’s win in Baku was helped by the safety car but he still made the most of the opportunity to become the first driver to win there twice. 

“We are just pushing each other massively and I think this year is about not making those mistakes,” said Pérez, who also won the first sprint race of the season on Saturday in Baku.

“I am fighting for it,” the Mexican said of the championship. “But I also know it’s a long road ahead.”

While the number one on Verstappen’s car reflects a de facto status within the team, Pérez is keeping him in his sights with his best start to a season.

The Mexican has yet to win more than twice in a season, while Verstappen is a 37-times winner, but has clearly raised his game.

“I think we delivered under pressure massively because every single session was so critical in this (sprint weekend) format,” said Pérez. “It was really important to deliver when it mattered.

“Yesterday we executed a perfect short race and today once again we executed a tremendous race.”

Team boss Christian Horner said the Mexican, who has had all but one of his six career wins on street circuits, had been “sensational”.

“He’s always been outstanding at this track,” he added. “He absolutely excels here. He got a little lucky with the safety car today but then he converted that and pulled a gap and he had the pace and really controlled the race.

“A phenomenal drive by him all weekend.”

Third-placed Charles Leclerc of Ferrari admitted his car didn’t have the pace to match the Red Bulls. (Photo: Rudy Carezzevoli / Getty Images)

Lonely third

Ferrari are still too slow to win and third place behind the Red Bulls in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix was the best they could have hoped for, Charles Leclerc said after securing his team’s first podium appearance of the Formula One season.

Leclerc started from pole position, and had finished second in the Saturday sprint from the same grid slot, but was unable to stay ahead for more than three laps.

“That was the absolute maximum I could do today, or that we could do as a team,” said the Monégasque, who finished 21 seconds behind race winner Sergio Pérez in what he said was his “loneliest ever” race.

“[The] strategy was really good, everything was really good but we just don’t have enough pace in the car today to fight with the Red Bulls.

“And also Aston Martin seems to have a stronger race car than we do. It was a good effort to stay in front of Fernando [Alonso] but at the end it’s like this. The reality is we have a lot of work to do to be back for the win.” Reuters/DM


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