“King of Baku”? Perez needs to prove Verstappen hasn’t taken his crown

2023 F1 season

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Moments after crossing the finishing line at the end of a long and challenging Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, Sergio Perez gave a frank assessment of his race weekend, in which he had recovered from a pit lane start to take fifth.

“Nothing worked really this weekend,” Perez admitted over team radio. “Let’s turn the page, understand the problems we had and come back strong.”

In reply, he received a vote of confidence from race engineer Hugh Bird looking ahead to the next round in Azerbaijan. “King of Baku,” Bird told his driver. “Bring it on.”

High praise indeed. But Perez has an impressive record at the unusual Baku City Circuit which blends some of the quickest straights on the calendar with sharp, narrow turns.

The Red Bull driver and veteran of over 230 grands prix has raced at 34 separate circuits in that time – but Baku stands out as the venue where he has enjoyed the most success. Across six races in Azerbaijan, Perez has scored 82 points – more than any other driver bar Sebastian Vettel – and never failed to reach Q3 in all six attempts in qualifying there.

Perhaps most notably, Perez has stood on the Baku podium four times in six races. That’s not only more times than he has appeared on any other podium in his Formula 1 career, he holds the record for having the most podium appearances in Azerbaijan of any driver.

But is Perez truly an Azerbaijan specialist, or have circumstances simply fallen his way around the super-fast street circuit? And is this strength something he can capitalise on in his championship fight with team mate Max Verstappen?


Grid: 7th – Finished: 3rd

Perez was fast from the moment he stepped off the plane in Baku seven years ago for the circuit’s debut on the F1 calendar, known for this first race only as the European Grand Prix.

He was third-fastest on Friday and qualified his Force India a stunning second on the grid the day after. But he didn’t get to start there: A crash at the tricky turn 15 at the end of final practice left him with a five-place grid penalty for a gearbox change, and he lined up seventh.

From there Perez passed Felipe Massa and Daniil Kvyat, then opted to extend his opening stint before pitting and moving up to fourth. He caught up to Kimi Raikkonen towards the end of the race and despite not needing to overtake the Ferrari driver, who had a five-second time penalty, Perez still muscled by on the last lap to take third place in style. It was his second podium finish in three races.

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Grid: 6th – Finished: Retired (Collision – L39)

The one bad result for Perez at Baku came in 2017, by which time Esteban Ocon had joined him at Force India. The pair had a series of clashes during their two seasons together and this race in Baku was arguably where their relationship began to unravel.

Perez’s weekend did not start well. He became one of the many victims of the castle chicane in the opening practice session, wrecking the right-hand side of his car. The team had his car fixed and ready for the evening session, which enabled him to catch up on his mileage.

In qualifying, Perez secured sixth on the grid, less than a tenth of a second quicker than his team mate who lined up directly behind him. The race which unfolded was a notoriously chaotic affair.

Perez gained third place on the opening lap and remained there after pitting under the first Safety Car. When the race resumed for the second restart, Perez lost a place to Massa and then a second to Ocon behind.

As they rounded turn two, the pair collided on the exit with Perez coming off the worst. The two pitted for repairs, Perez eventually retiring at the end of lap 39, while Ocon recovered to finish sixth.


Sergio Perez, Force India, Baku City Circuit, 2018
Grid: 8th – Finished: 3rd

In Perez’s third race weekend at Baku, he successful avoided wrecking his car on a Friday for the first time. He was as high as third-fastest in first practice, before heading into qualifying after being sixth in the final practice session.

As typical, a disrupted qualifying session denied Perez a fully clean run until the end of Q3, where he took eighth on the grid – his lowest starting position in Baku to date and one place behind team mate Ocon, less than a quarter-of-a-tenth slower at the chequered flag.

Perez avoided clashing with Ocon this time around but was hit by Sergey Sirotkin under braking for turn two, then tangled with Raikkonen and suffered damage. That prompted an early pit stop where he was handed a five-second time penalty for overtaking under the Safety Car on his way in. But despite the setbacks, he climbed gradually through the field with great pace and even overtook Sebastian Vettel’s Ferrari.

In the closing laps, leader Valtteri Bottas suffered a puncture which allowed Perez to pick up the final podium spot. He held off pressure from Vettel in the closing laps to his podium finish in Azerbaijan, an outcome which looked highly unlikely after his disastrous opening lap.

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Sergio Perez, Racing Point, Baku City Circuit, 2019
Grid: 5th – Finished: 6th

For once, a relatively unremarkable weekend in Baku for Perez. The opening hour of practice was effectively cancelled after the session was stopped due to a loose drain cover. Both Perez and Racing Point team mate Lance Stroll finished Friday outside of the top ten.

The team found more pace overnight, with Perez inside the top ten by the end of final practice. In qualifying, Perez turned on the jets. While Stroll was eliminated in Q1, Perez breezed into the top 10 shoot-out before securing an impressive fifth on the grid.

At the start, he leapt ahead of Max Verstappen to run fourth before being overtaken by both the Red Bull driver and Charles Leclerc’s Ferrari on the same lap. Perez ran in seventh place after pitting for mediums, picked up sixth when Lando Norris pitted in the later laps and secured the eight points at the chequered flag – his team’s best result at that early stage in the early season.

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Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Baku City Circuit, 2021
Grid: 6th – Finished: Winner

No race was held at Baku in the pandemic affected season of 2020, and when F1 returned to the street circuit in 2021 Perez was now in Red Bull’s colours, having been hired as Verstappen’s latest team mate at the end of the previous season.

Before the season began Perez estimated it would take him around six races to get fully up to speed in his new surroundings. Fittingly, race six was in Baku and Perez immediately looked comfortable by setting the fastest overall time on Friday, a tenth quicker than his championship-leading team mate.

Despite appearing to have strong pace, Perez could not make the most of it in qualifying. He made an error on his first Q3 run and could not complete his final lap after Leclerc’s crash meant the session was red-flagged.

From sixth on the grid, Perez took full advantage of his car’s speed, passing two cars on the opening lap and pitting later than those around him to move up to second behind his team mate. After a Safety Car intervention, he ran within range of his team mate in second place before Verstappen suffered an unexpected tyre failure with six laps remaining.

After a red flag, Perez had to sit on pole position for a standing start with two laps remaining. When the lights went out he looked at risk of losing the lead to Lewis Hamilton, but the Mercedes driver locked a brake and skidded down the escape road at turn one. Perez held on over the two remaining laps to cross the line and secure his second career victory and first with Red Bull.

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Grid: 2nd – Finished: 2nd

Heading to Baku for F1’s most recent visit, Perez was already on a high after signing a contract extension with Red Bull. To celebrate, he immediately set the quickest time in opening practice, and while Leclerc outpaced him in the second session he was still faster than Verstappen.

He headed into qualifying as the fastest man in final practice and cruised through to Q3 after being quickest in Q2. But in the final phase, Ferrari and Leclerc were just too quick and Perez had to settle for second – though he was the fastest Red Bull driver ahead of Verstappen.

In the race, however, Verstappen was clearly the quicker of the two. Despite Perez jumping into the lead for the early part of the race ahead of Leclerc, Verstappen gradually reeled him in and overtook on lap 15, Perez having been told not to defend from his team mate. After pitting, Perez could not keep up with Verstappen and slowly fell away, eventually taking second place and his fourth podium in Baku, 20 seconds adrift of the race winner.

Back to Baku

Perez has enjoyed a decent start to the 2023 season, lying second in the championship on 54 points, 15 behind his world champion team mate. A victory in Saudi Arabia ensured this is Perez’s best start to a season in his F1 career, although a frustrating Q1 elimination in Australia left him with work to do to score points after starting from the pit lane.

Perez has already won once on a street track this year
But over two Azerbaijan grands prix with Red Bull, Verstappen has been ahead both times – only his puncture in 2021 denied him a near-certain victory. As Verstappen appears to enjoy relentless pace no matter where in the world the calendar takes the sport, Perez has to make the most of his opportunities at venues where he appears to hold a particular strength.

Having dropped significant points to Verstappen and aware that he enjoys a major car advantage over the rest of the field in his Red Bull, Perez knows that he’ll need to re-establish himself as the true “King of Baku” if he is to have any chance of challenging Verstappen for the championship in 2023.

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Author information

Will Wood
Will has been a RaceFans contributor since 2012 during which time he has covered F1 test sessions, launch events and interviewed drivers. He mainly...

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20 comments on ““King of Baku”? Perez needs to prove Verstappen hasn’t taken his crown”

  1. I mean, in the only two representative races, 2021 and 2022, Verstappen had an easy time with Perez. So yeah, while it does appear he generally doesn’t perform poorly on the Baku streets, he’s still going to have to step it up even more or perhaps pray for another failure on Verstappen’s car if he wants to claim this particular crown.

  2. Michael (@freelittlebirds)
    24th April 2023, 13:37

    Maybe we’ll get a repeat of Ricciardo-Verstappen at Baku ;-)

  3. I like the “King of Baku” title, as it adds some extra prestige and significance to that Grand Prix, which happens to be F1’s best street race, and one of very few actual street races.
    I love Baku, Baku is amazing.

  4. I don’t think Max had any problem to get ahead in 2021 (tyre blowout) and 2022 to call him King of Baku is strange and Prince of Monaco is also such title dased on 1 race ….

  5. Had to be a fake monarchic title, obviously, with the Dictator of Baku long claimed by others.

    1. Lol. Nicely done

  6. I’m yet to see a clueless Verstappen beaten by Perez. If Perez is Baku king, maybe emperor would suit to Max? It’s a bit ridiculous to name king with so few victories as it is still very far from Senna for example who could be named king of Monaco because he won it like 6 times and usually trashed everyone else.

    1. There aren’t even any ‘victories’ (plural) as Pérez won the race in Baku just once.

      Even then that was mostly due to Pirelli and Hamilton’s “brake magic” mishap.

    2. I don’t even agree with senna being king of monaco, schumacher lost 2 wins to reliability (1993 and 2000) and one went to senna, otherwise he’d have 7 wins to 5, and maybe senna also lost at least a win to reliability, don’t remember, but definitely he also wasted a win in 1988. So even more so, I find it silly to call perez king of baku with only a win and especially when that win came with reliability issues for the one ahead…

      1. @esploratore1 you could potentially cite the 1985 Monaco GP as an example of Senna losing the race due to reliability, given he qualified on pole, was leading the race and was pulling away from Alboreto when his engine failed on lap 13. That said, it was also reported that Senna had accidentally over-revved his engine during the practice session on Sunday morning, so you could also argue that the failure was partially self-inflicted in that instance.

        It could also be commented that, arguably, fortune did play into Schumacher’s hands for the 2001 Monaco GP – Coulthard, who was due to start ahead of Schumacher, was forced to start from the back of the grid due to the ECU shutting down his engine, whilst Hakkinen, who was tailing Schumacher fairly closely in the opening laps, had to retire due to a fault with the steering system on his car.

  7. This seems like the latest contrived way to make something of this championship “battle”.

    Pérez was behind Verstappen in 2022, even behind Leclerc until his Ferrari expired.
    Pérez was behind Verstappen in 2021, until the latter’s Pirelli tyre collapsed.
    Pérez was never got close to challenging the three teams ahead in 2019.
    Pérez was running 7th in 2018, and overtook only one car from there to come 3rd because others ahead DNF’d.

  8. 3rd, retired, 3rd, 6th, 1st (because Hamilton pressed the wrong button) and 2nd = ‘King of Baku’?
    It’s so absurd, it’s not even worthy of a question mark. It’s ego fluff dreamt up by his race engineer, paid to boost Perez’s confidence, not appraise him in anything remotely resembling objective form.
    Can he win? If Verstappen messes up, sure.

  9. Lots of Perez hate here. Scoring the most points and podiums of all drivers is certainly a feat. And nobody won here twice. In 2018, he had a great recovery after Sirotkin’s kamikaze move on him. He was comfortable anyone ahead of anyone except the much quicker MB-RB-Ferrari cars, and overtook Vettel later on. In 2017, he was running 3rd before Ocon crashed into him. He lost another podium there. Even in 2019, he was the fastest of the non-MB/RB/Ferrari cars. Nobody came close to those teams between 2016 and 2019.

    In 2021, Perez was actually faster than Verstappen, but ordered to the pits earlier and his pitstop was very slow. Without that he could have taken the lead easily and with younger tyres. In 2022, he outqualified Verstappen too, but somehow, his race pace was weak, related to tyre heating.

    So yeah, Checo is the best driver in Baku, no matter how many Verstappen fans try to tarnish him.

    1. In 2021 Max was cruising home until his tire blew. Perez was never a threat during this race. So your memory is not very accurate.

      1. Let me repeat if for you, maybe giving it a second read will help you understand why Max was in front and “cruising”…

        In 2021, Perez was actually faster than Verstappen, but ordered to the pits earlier and his pitstop was very slow. Without that he could have taken the lead easily and with younger tyres.

        That extremely slow pit stop was very suspicious and to date makes no sense. I don’t believe in Karma, but heard others calling that day.

    2. Speaking for myself, I don’t hate Perez. I don’t rate him much as a driver for a top team, but not the same thing. What I do dislike intensely is meaningless hype. I can understand calling a driver ‘King of Baku’ after a race win, just as part of the exhiliration of the win, or King of some other circuit if they’ve won, say, 4+ times. But once because another driver messed up in bizarre fashion at the end of the race? It’s fake.

      Like Monaco, Baku is a rear-limited circuit that suits Perez’s corner handling better than other circuits. I still think that just makes him no more than a little closer to Verstappen on one of the latter’s (typical) good days.

  10. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
    25th April 2023, 9:18

    Perez wins by the mis-fortune of others and this article dubs him the king of Baku.

    Very similar to Ocon’s and Gasly’s wins. And every race before and since where the lead driver is strolling to a win and then doesn’t for some reason.

    Not King of the circuit just a fortuitous winner who accepts the prize as the person who crossed the line first.

    1. @andyfromsandy

      this article

      His race engineer.

      1. Andy (@andyfromsandy)
        26th April 2023, 8:38

        My apologies. I stand correct.

  11. Yeah I think most of people commenting here are world champions … at their couches. Perez is just an average guy from a less developed country that happens to be driving somehow competitively with the very best breed of drivers of the current generation (by the way never had seen before so many drivers being breeded to be champions since such young ages that must be like “conditioning”; maybe even more than talent) . That hurts to many people that try to undermine his achievements. Pay driver they say … whatever. Hats off for drivers like him that are more like an average guy like me than, the “lab made” champions.

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