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BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - APRIL 30: Second placed Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at Baku City Circuit on April 30, 2023 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

Verstappen: We can’t always be perfect all the time

BAKU, AZERBAIJAN - APRIL 30: Second placed Max Verstappen of the Netherlands and Oracle Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium during the F1 Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at Baku City Circuit on April 30, 2023 in Baku, Azerbaijan. (Photo by Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images)

It is no secret that Max Verstappen hates losing, yet after finishing second to Red Bull teammate Sergio Perez he was unusually humble and accepting of the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix result which might have been different had luck not deserted him on Sunday.

Shortly after the start, from second on the grid Verstappen took little time to take the lead from pole winner Charles Leclerc, the Red Bull #1 car breezing past the Ferrari to take the lead with four laps on the board. Soon Perez was past too, stalking Verstappen as he emerges as ‘enemy number one’ for the Dutchman’s Formula 1 treble title ambitions.

The World Champions, called Verstappen into the pits for a tyre change just as errant countryman Nyck de Vries triggered a Safety Car deployment when he pranged his AlphaTauri thus, for the restart, P1 for Max turned to P3, behind Perez in the lead and Leclerc second – the trio on fresh white band hard Pirelli tyres, as were the rest of the field at that point.

Speaking in parc ferme he reflected on second place: “Of course the safety car was unlucky. I tried to push again and stay close to get in the DRS zone. The balance was a struggle and it was hard to be consistent. I was playing around with tools but the last 10 laps were good. It was late but a lot of things have been learnt this race and a good team result overall.”

Max: We know it’s a long season

Again Leclerc was easy prey, shortly after the restart Max was back in P2 with the other RBR a second up the road, but Perez oozed: I am not going to be caught. And proceeded to deliver a Jeddah-style masterclass, of unflustered, controlled and extremely fast driving.

At that stage, the win for the race was all about the Bulls, triggering a relentless pursuit as the pair exchanged fastest laps for the most part of the race but Perez hung on in there and in fact upped the gap to three seconds at one point until the Blue cars crossed the finish line a couple of seconds apart. Jeddah again!

On his title battle with Red Bull teammate Perez, Verstappen ventured: “I don’t know, we know it’s a long season and a lot of things are learnt. Baku is different to Miami. Miami is different to a lot of races. We can’t always be perfect all the time. We were pushing that’s part of the street race.”

Verstappen remains top of the 2023 F1 World Championship drivers’ standings after four rounds, the gap now down to six points over Perez. The pair have two wins each, their fourth one-two of the season puts “Red Bull in another league” – the buzzwords emanating from their punch-drunk and floored rivals, up and down the paddock.