Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly also made it to the podium in Baku for the first time in the 2021 season
By Yuri Coghe
The Azerbaijan GP saw three drivers step on the podium for the first time in the 2021 season.
Sergio Pérez, Sebastian Vettel and Pierre Gasly had a lot to celebrate in Baku, unlike top championship contenders Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton. The Dutchman crashed from the lead with five laps to go due to a puncture while the Briton finished 15th after making a mistake in the standing restart two laps later.
The two occasions culminated in Pérez claiming his first victory for Red Bull – the second of his career after storming through the grid at the 2020 Sakhir GP when he completed the first lap on the last place.
“We didn’t have the start of the season we were hoping for,” Pérez said in the post-race press conference. “I found my adaptation harder than expected but we have been working extremely hard since day one with the engineers back at the factory and yeah, finally we got a very good result for the team.”
“I’m extremely pleased with the result today. This definitely gives a big boost of confidence to myself and also to my team, to my side of the garage. We have such a rollercoaster through the seasons, it’s important to enjoy these moments.”
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The win allowed the Red Bull driver to move to third in the drivers’ championship and to tie Pedro Rodríguez as the Mexican driver with the most F1 wins.
“Getting your first win in Formula 1 is something unbelievable but getting a first win with a new family, with a new team, I feel like it gets you together more. Sharing these moments together is something extremely special,” he added. “I don’t have that many wins in my career but they all have been very special and today, I have to say the race throughout was flat out and very stressful mentally.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner praised Pérez’s performance in Azerbaijan – the team’s first win not counting Verstappen’s victories since Monaco 2018, when Daniel Ricciardo took the chequered flag.
“The way he was defending from Lewis and controlling that was a class act,” said Horner after the race. “To see him get that victory will be great for his confidence. It puts him up to third in the drivers’ championship now. He’s ahead of expectations.”
“It’s great to have both cars up there obviously. I think it’s an added string to our bow on a day that you lose your lead car that Checo’s right there to deliver the win. That’s exactly what we’ve been looking for.”
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Pérez has now achieved podium-finishes with four different teams (Sauber, Force India, Racing Point and Red Bull), a distinction Vettel also claimed by finishing second in Baku.
The German driver gave Aston Martin its first top3 finish, just like he had done in the past with Toro Rosso and Red Bull. The four-time world champion also had 55 podiums during his six seasons with Ferrari.
“I’m over the moon. I think for the team’s it’s great – a podium – we didn’t expect that when we came here,” Vettel said after the race. “On Friday, even though we were nowhere, it felt good, I was quite relaxed and yesterday (in qualifying) we didn’t quite get it, but today – even sweeter.”
“Obviously very happy for P2 and the team. I think it’s great for us. We had a very rough start to the season and we expected quite a bit more after such a strong year the team had last year. I can’t wait to get back and have a couple of drinks with the guys.”
Just like Pérez and Vettel, Gasly’s P3 was also a season-high finish. It was also his third career podium.
“The whole weekend we showed such a strong performance and it came a bit out of nowhere,” Gasly said in the post-race press conference. “We showed some very strong pace in Monaco. We were coming in Baku wondering whether we would be able to show a similar kind of performance. And from lap one I just felt very confident in the car, very comfortable.”
He now looks ahead to the French GP, his home race, set for the June 18-20 weekend.
“I really want to do well there in front of all the fans and spectators and, especially to go back there as a race winner will feel pretty special. So, you know, as much as we need to analyze and understand when things don’t go well.
“I think when it does really well, as this weekend, we showed some very, very strong pace all weekend. We need to understand why – because at the moment we don’t really have the answer. Obviously, surprises like this are more than welcome more often during the season but I think, more than anything, we need to understand where it came from.”