Double Formula 1 world champion Mika Hakkinen reckons Sergio Perez was the best overall performer during the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, not Sir Lewis Hamilton.
Perez started the race in Baku second behind Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc after out-qualifying team-mate Max Verstappen for the third time this year.
The Mexican then took the lead into Turn One with a brilliant start, and pulled a gap of just over two seconds while Verstappen endeavoured to find a way past Leclerc.
Carlos Sainz would then retire from the race on lap nine due to a hydraulic failure in his Ferrari, bringing out the Virtual Safety Car as he came to a halt at Turn Four.
While Red Bull appeared to outsmart Ferrari on strategy in Monaco, it was the Scuderia that had the upper hand in Baku, pitting Leclerc under the caution to give him a cheap stop, and this would allow him to get back ahead of the Red Bulls when they pitted.
Before the stops, Verstappen caught and passed his team-mate, who was told “no fighting” over the radio, indicative of the fact that Red Bull still want to have an element of control in the title battle.
Truth be told though, the Dutchman was clearly the faster driver, and he would eventually pull out a 20-second gap over Perez, after they had both taken advantage of another engine failure that put Leclerc out of the race.
Hamilton recovered from intense back pain due to “porpoising” to finish fourth behind team-mate George Russell, who claimed his third podium of the year, and he was given Driver of the Day with 14 percent of the votes.
Owing to Perez’s team play though, Hakkinen suggests that Perez was the best driver in Azerbaijan on Sunday.
“For me, Checo was the MVP in the Azerbaijan GP,” he tweeted.
“Max has to thank him for the win. Red Bull Racing really has the benefit of two strong winners in their team, while Scuderia Ferrari is suffering with Sainz having a lot of poor luck as well as unable to match the pace of Leclerc.”
Red Bull’s shocking reliability in the first part of the year seems to have been adopted by Ferrari, who have been warned by Hakkinen to pick it up quickly if they are to remain title contenders.
“Both Charles and Carlos retiring with technical failures was a disaster for Ferrari. If there is a particular problem it needs to be solved urgently, since we are only three GPs away from the mid-point of the Season,” added the Finn.
In his Unibet blog, the 20-time race winner with McLaren praises the job the Mexican is doing at Red Bull, and affirms that the Red Bull pair is currently a more solid unit than Ferrari due to the misfortune of Sainz.
“The other point is that Checo (Perez) is doing a really fantastic job of supporting Max at Red Bull. After his win in Monaco he came to Baku and was quickest in two of the practice sessions, and ahead of Max in all of them,” stated Hakkinen.
“To then qualify second behind Charles and take the lead at the start shows just how much confidence Checo has in himself and the car.
“Max has Checo to thank for the win, in my opinion, not only in accepting the team’s strategy but also in having a 5 second pit stop at a key moment in the race.
“Red Bull really does have the benefit of two strong winners in their team, while Ferrari is suffering with Carlos Sainz Jr having a lot of poor luck as well as unable to match the pace of Charles.”
Perez now has second in the Drivers’ Championship after his 19 points in Baku took him ahead of Leclerc, and he is 21 points behind team-mate and reigning champion Verstappen.