Perez wins F1 sprint in Azerbaijan, Verstappen confronts Russell following contact

Second placed Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc, left, of Monaco, third placed Red Bull driver Max Verstappen, right, of the Netherlands and first placed Red Bull driver Sergio Perez of Mexico celebrate after the sprint race at the Baku circuit in Baku, Azerbaijan, Saturday, April 29, 2023. The Formula One Grand Prix will be held on Sunday April 30, 2023. (Darko Bandic/AP)

BAKU, Azerbaijan (AP) — Max Verstappen confronted George Russell in the pit lane following a collision as his teammate Sergio Pérez won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix sprint race on Saturday.

Red Bull remains the team to beat in Formula One, with Pérez first and Verstappen third in the sprint, but Verstappen was unhappy after Russell left a hole in his car’s sidepod in the collision, hampering Verstappen’s chances of taking second from Charles Leclerc of resurgent Ferrari.

Verstappen walked up to Mercedes driver Russell in the pit lane and seemed to suggest he would be similarly uncompromising when racing Russell in future following the first-lap collision.

“Mate, we all have no grip, we all need to leave a little bit of space,” Verstappen told Russell, who said his car lacked grip and locked up a tire.

“Then expect next time the same, you know,” Verstappen added as Russell walked away, and appeared to aim an expletive at the British driver.

Verstappen lost third place in the incident, but recovered it later at a safety car restart. Russell told British broadcaster Sky Sports he believed he had the right to pressure Verstappen for the position because he was on the inside of the corner and said he was surprised the Red Bull driver tried to hold on while on the outside.

Leclerc started on pole — as he will for the grand prix on Sunday — but was overtaken by Pérez just before the halfway point of the 17-lap sprint on the long seafront straight. The Mexican driver cruised to the win, which cuts his deficit to leader Verstappen in the standings by two points to 13.

Leclerc held on to second, as Verstappen closed in on the final lap, to give Ferrari its first top-three finish of 2023 following a dismal start to the season. Leclerc more than doubled his points tally for the season to 13 after two retirements and a seventh-place finish from the first three races.

“One thing for sure, it shows how bad the first three races were,” he said. “We deserve much more points than what I have now in the championship.”

Red Bull has won all three grands prix, with Verstappen winning the opener in Bahrain and then in Australia, after Pérez came first in Saudi Arabia.

The safety car was called out because Yuki Tsunoda slid into the wall, leaving behind a tire and debris from his AlphaTauri.

American driver Logan Sargeant was withdrawn from the sprint by Williams after the team couldn’t repair crash damage in time. He qualified 15th for the sprint after crashing into a barrier in the first session of the shootout.

For the first time, there was a shortened “shootout” qualifying session for the sprint race, in addition to a standard qualifying session on Friday for Sunday’s grand prix. Leclerc qualified on pole for both races despite hitting the wall late in the Saturday “shootout.”

It was the first time that an F1 sprint did not set the grid for the main race. F1 stopped doing that in an attempt to encourage drivers to take more risks for sprint points, something many drivers have welcomed.

Verstappen criticized the format, saying he was “bored” during the second qualifying session and disliked the “hectic” schedule.

“It’s just not proper racing. It’s more like gambling,” he said.

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