Oracle Red Bull underlines performance advantage
Despite Fernando Alonso’s best efforts at the wheel of his Aston Martin, pole man Sergio Perez had seldom been presented with a better opportunity to win a Grand Prix for Oracle Red Bull Racing, and he duly delivered.
Though some expected the World Champion Max Verstappen to come from 15th to win the race – reminiscent of his performance in Belgium last year when he won from 14th on the grid – the Dutchman finished P2, over 5 seconds behind his Mexican teammate. Even a fortuitous safety car failed to give Verstappen the chance to catch Perez, the Mexican making it clear this race was his.
The dynamic between Verstappen and Perez is an interesting one. While the World Champion is de facto no.1 in the team and the quicker of the two, Mexico’s star is no pushover. Perez is renowned for his ability to nurse tyres and cars, and he has a penchant for street circuits, accumulating wins in Baku 2021, Monaco 2022, Singapore 2022 and now the 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.
“I didn’t have a great start but after I got back around Fernando, I was able to create a good gap between the rest of the field and me,” said Perez after his win. “It was a new race after the safety car though and I’m happy I was able to build a gap again and then keep it, even when Max was pushing at the end. Everyone back in Milton Keynes and here at the track have built such a fantastic car for us this season.”
Given Red Bull’s dominance over the other teams, the battle between Verstappen and Perez could be the only action at the front this year, particularly if Mercedes and Ferrari fail to perform.
In a race report entitled Monotonous Sunday for the Scuderia, Ferrari Team Principal Frédéric Vasseur said, “There is still a long way to go this season and we will continue to fight. We are fully committed to maximising our package and further developing the SF-23 for the coming rounds.”
After two races, the Italian team is 4th in the Constructors Championship, with performance issues, powertrain reliability and people problems much in the sportlight. Charles Leclerc may well be tiring of season-upon-season of dashed hopes, leaving Vasseur with the significant task of pulling Maranello into shape and getting everyone to focus on unlocking the performance they need to leap ahead of a troubled Mercedes and strong Aston Martin.
Considering Mercedes’ public plight, it is important to note they share 38 points with Aston Martin. One team’s disappointment is another team’s major improvement, it seems - such is the competitive mindset in Brackley, Mercedes’ home base. Relative to most, the W14 is good; relative to Red Bull and Aston Martin, Mercedes are some way behind. But it’s important the team does not lose sight of that relativity because, if they can develop the W14 and edge ahead of Aston Martin, 2nd place in the WCC is not beyond the realms of possibility if Ferrari continue to trip up and Aston Martin continue to rely on only one of their drivers to deliver the goods.
While Alonso has achieved two podiums, Stroll suffered an energy recovery issue in Saudi Arabia and placed P6 in Bahrain, scoring only 8 of the team’s 38 points. If inconsistency continues, Mercedes could certainly take advantage. Never has it been more important for Stroll to demonstrate his ability alongside veteran teammate Alonso.