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Perez heads Red Bull 1-2 in Baku


Anyone else (insert own adjective here, we'll go for amused) by Sky's profuse apology for Max Verstappen's language yesterday, then proceeding to spend the remaining hour of its post-Sprint coverage, eagerly pouring more and more gasoline on the fire.

Over the course of the hour every man and his dog was asked their opinion, indeed the only one missing was Charles Leclerc's track invading cat.

Finally, just four races into the season, Sky, like Netflix, had what it wanted, some controversy, and what better than a driver feud, especially one involving everyone's favourite pantomime villain and a good old British boy.

As all and sundry queued to share their opinion, Damon Hill was allowed to take another shot at Michael Schumacher, while Christian Horner suggested that Russell was lucky he still had his helmet on during the original confrontation, clearly feeling that the Mercedes driver had narrowly avoided the infamous Verstappen-slappen.

As for the Sprint, well, once again Max gave them a ready-made headline, though we prefer Alex Albon's comment.

"I'm on the fence with the sprint race if I'm honest," said the Williams driver, "it's rewarding the top four teams and they're already a step ahead of everyone else."

Fact is, you might have the best actors, the best director, the best effects and unlimited money, but if the basic concept isn't right, it won't work... ladies and gentlemen, we give you The Irishman.

While the Sprint points went to the usual suspects, it did at least give us a glimpse of what might unfold today, and we don't mean Max doing an Interlagos on Russell.

No, what we mean is tyres.

Here we were, a 17 laps race, a VSC and a Safety Car and the mediums couldn't go the distance.

No wonder Michelin is giving F1 the cold shoulder.

Again, we saw that the Ferrari's single-lap pace is awesome, but come the race, it is the Red Bull that reigns.

Both Mercedes looked strong, but in all honesty other than the tyre situation it was hard to get a genuine take on the pecking order due to the fact that it was a Sprint and clearly some drivers were not willing to take the sort of risks they might take today.

The big worry has to be at Aston Martin where the DRS issues continue. The Silverstone-based team never expected to do well here, and while Alonso did well to finish sixth yesterday, we do not expect this run of podiums to continue today.

Overnight changes to set-up mean that Hulkenberg will join Ocon is starting from the pitlane.

Whatever one's view of the Sprint, fact is we do agree with Christian Horner in that Baku is not a place to hold one. It is notorious for incidents and stoppages, and being a Monaco-like track in that it instantly punishes mistakes, means that those drivers not fully confident in the car beneath them are compromised.

Despite yesterday's evidence, Pirelli believes that a one-stopper should be the quickest strategy; starting on the medium before stopping for the hard between laps 13 and 18. A slower alternative is to start on softs and then switch to hards between laps eight and 13. However, drivers opting for this strategy would have to manage the hard compound carefully, considering the warmer temperatures.

Any two-stopper, which is slower on paper but may end up being used if the race is neutralised at any point, would optimally entail starting on the medium. The first option is to change to the medium again between laps 10 and 15, followed by a final stint on hard between laps 25 and 30.

To swap to hard at the first stop, this needs to be brought forward to between laps eight and 13, with the second stop coming between laps 27 and 33.

The pitlane opens and Stroll leads the way, followed by Tsunoda, Verstappen and pole-man Leclerc.

Russell is already complaining about traffic.

Air temperature is 25 degrees C, while the track temperature is 43 degrees. It is bright and sunny.

As a reminder, because qualifying was two days ago after all, Leclerc has pole, and starts ahead of Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Hamilton, Alonso, Norris, Tsunoda, Stroll, Piastri, Russell, Albon, Bottas, Sargeant, Zhou, Magnussen, Gasly and de Vries, with Ocon and Hulkenberg in the pitlane.

"It's Baku," says James Vowles, "I'd be surprised if we don't get multiple VSC, Safety Cars and things like that.

"The top four teams, five teams are exceptional so to break into the points you have to be perfect and hope things fall your way," he adds.

Despite the bright sunshine we are told that there is a 20% chance of rain.

All are starting on fresh mediums bar de Vries, Ocon and Hulkenberg who are on fresh hards.

They head off on the formation lap all getting away cleanly.

The grid forms. Verstappen pointing inwards towards Leclerc.

They're away. Strong start from VErstapepn and Perez, while Leclerc is a little slow off the line. However, the short run to Turn 1 means that the Mexican has nowhere to go and consequently falls behind his teammate as Leclerc has the advantage into the first corner.

In Turn 2, there's a slight tangle as Magnussen, Piastri and Albon battle for position, the Australian doing well to control his sandwiched car.

A strong start sees Stroll up two places, likewise Russell, while Magnussen is up 3.

Basically, and rare for this particular track, it's a clean opening lap.

At the end of Lap 1, it's: Leclerc, Verstappen, Perez, Sainz, Hamilton, Alonso, Stroll, Norris, Russell and Tsunoda.

"Front wing damage," reports Magnussen, who is running 13th, "I can't see it but I'm sure." "We'll keep looking," he is told, "but for now we're going to stay out. There is damage."

As DRS is enabled, Verstappen closes on the leading Ferrari.

Magnussen reports that he is currently able to hold position due to traffic, but fears he will lose out as the race develops.

At the start of Lap 4, Verstappen breezes past Leclerc on the pit straight to take the lead. With Perez just 0.4s behind the Mexican is likely to add to the Ferrari driver's misery.

In fifth, Hamilton posts a new fastest lap (47.602), however, next time around, now in clear air, Verstappen posts a 47.108.

At the start of Lap 6, Perez finally nails Leclerc, and sets about closing the 1.239s gap to his teammate.

It's claimed that when Verstappen passes the Ferrari he was 30 km/h quicker.

Stroll says he will not attack his teammate. "We are both playing the same game," he says.

Alonso reports that Hamilton's tyres are beginning to grain. "We will attack them," he says. Told that Stroll will not attack him, he replies: "Well, he can have a go."

At the end of Lap 6, Gasly pits and switches to the hards.

Next time around, Bottas and Albon pit, the Thai driver rejoining in 18th, ahead of Gasly and the Finn.

1.2s down on his teammate, Perez posts a new fastest lap (46.885). However, his teammate responds with a 46.801.

Tsunoda, Piastri and Sargeant all pit at the end of Lap 8, as Alonso closes on Hamilton.

Check out our Sunday gallery from Baku here.


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