Friday, April 12, 2024

Mexico’s Sergio ‘Checo’ Pérez wins F1 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Mexican race car driver Sergio “Checo” Pérez won the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Sunday for his fifth career Formula One triumph and his third in the last two seasons.

In 2022, the 33-year-old Guadalajara native won the Monaco Grand Prix in May and the Singapore Grand Prix in October, finishing the season in second place in the points standings behind Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen.

Sergio "Checo" Perez racing his Red Bull car in Saudi Arabia
The Mexican pilot pulled off a dominant display throughout the Grand Prix. (@redbullracing/Twitter)

Pérez started Sunday’s race in the pole position after winning the qualifying rounds on Saturday, giving him the top starting spot on the Jeddah street circuit for a second straight year — the only two poles of his career.

At the start of the race, he briefly fell behind Fernando Alonso – who scored his 100th podium finish – at the very first turn, but a five-second penalty to the Spaniard for an incorrect starting grid position (which he served during a pit stop) allowed Pérez to reclaim the lead on the fourth of 50 laps — and never look back.

Alonso was briefly handed a further 10-second time penalty for irregularities during his original pit stop, although this penalty was overturned on appeal from his Aston Martin team, ensuring that he kept his 3rd place.

Red Bull teammate Verstappen, who had mechanical issues during qualifying, fought his way back from 15th place at the start to finish in second place, giving the team a 1-2 finish in what is shaping up to be another runaway for the reigning Formula One champions.

Fernando Alonso celebrates 3rd place in Saudi Arabia by leaping from his vehicle
Fernando Alonso scored his 100th career podium, despite a time penalty during the race. (@AstonMartinF1/Twitter)

“Nice job, guys — an excellent result for the team,” said Pérez, who finished about 5 seconds ahead of Verstappen.

In the season-opening Bahrain Grand Prix on March 5, Verstappen of the Netherlands was first and Pérez second.

Formula One has a competition structure that involves 10 teams, with two drivers per team. Driver success is often heavily dependent on the quality of their car, which differs from team to team.

Verstappen is chasing a third straight championship and isn’t worried if it comes down to a fight between him and Pérez. Last season, the two men combined to win 17 of 23 races (including a record 15 wins by the Dutchman).

“The best one will finish in front,” he said.

For his part, Pérez feels he has yet to peak.

“I’m not sure it’s my best weekend with the team,” he said. “Melbourne will be even better,” he added, looking ahead to the next race in Australia on April 2.

Red Bull has now finished 1-2 in three consecutive races, including last year’s finale.

“Let’s keep it up,” Pérez said. “Let’s keep pushing.”

Pérez nearly ended the day joint first in the championship, but Verstappen stole the fastest lap – worth 1 point – at the last moment, denying his teammate the chance to lead the title battle for the very first time. Verstappen now has 44 points to Peréz’s 43.

The race was held on a 6.2 kilometer (3.8-mile) circuit beside the Red Sea, the quickest street track in F1, with average speeds exceeding 250 kmh (160 mph).

“It was tougher than expected,”  Pérez said about the course. Last year, despite having the pole position, he finished in fourth place. “It’s a great start to the season. The most important thing is that we have the fastest car.”

Last year, Pérez raced in the Mexico City Grand Prix on Oct. 30, with hopes high that he could win on home turf. He qualified for fourth in the starting grid and finished third behind Verstappen and British racer Lewis Hamilton.

With reports from CNN.com, Associated Press, Animal Politico and Forbes

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