Red Bull's dominance of the 2023 Formula 1 season continued in Baku, with Sergio Perez taking the flag from Max Verstappen to make it four wins from four for the drinks-backed outfit.
Though Charles Leclerc had taken pole position for Sunday's race, he was powerless to resist Verstappen and Perez, who quickly breezed past the Ferrari driver, despite the Monegasque showing strong one-lap pace by taking both pole positions on offer over the weekend.
Though Charles Leclerc had used Ferrari's superior one lap performance to take both pole positions across the weekend, he was unable to keep both Red Bulls behind in the race on Sunday. He did claim third in the Grand Prix on Ferrari's smoothest weekend of the season for their best result of the campaign.
Despite positivity about the signs of improvement from the Scuderia, Italian media argued that even a "top-class" driver like Leclerc was not able to take a sustained fight to Red Bull over the race distance.
"Another double for Red Bull. Perez showed that he is a street circuit specialist and reduces the gap with Verstappen to six points. The Dutchman paid the price for a pit stop at the wrong time. Even a top-class Leclerc is not enough to beat the Red Bull drivers," sighed the Gazzetta dello Sport, Italy's largest sports newspaper, who likened the Red Bull duo to famous dominant teams of F1's past, and hailed Perez's upturn in form.
"Verstappen and Perez are dominating F1 like [Ayrton] Senna and [Alain] Prost and [Lewis] Hamilton and [Nico] Rosberg. It's been a perfect weekend for Perez, just like Jeddah, but it's still hard to imagine Verstappen's leadership position at Red Bull being up for debate. Perez is delivering this year, however, and is trying to do something about the hierarchy, right in front of Christian Horner and Helmut Marko.
"The Red Bulls made sure that Leclerc was a spectator. Afterwards, he didn't look like a driver who was happy with his first podium finish of the year. Ferrari are doing better, but they are still facing a huge task. In the coming races, important updates must be made."
The Gazzetta also noted that Adrian Newey's ability to produce a dominant car has contributed to Red Bull's dominance: "The human factor is not enough when you fight Newey, Leclerc can say. He brought magic in qualifying and fought hard in the race. If only the Ferrari would help him a little...
"Perez feels comfortable within the walls and has grown after beating Verstappen. If he manages to repeat this, he can really become a title contender. Verstappen, in turn, seemed a bit less efficient than usual last weekend."
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'A 10 for Perez!'
Other Italian media focused on how Perez had shone on the streets of Baku. "A 10 for Perez," read the headline in the Corriere della Sera. "That figure normally goes to Verstappen. Maybe it can still be a title fight."
"The Mexican was strong on both Saturday and Sunday and showed how good he is on street circuits. Even more, it seemed that he showed that he no longer wants to play a supporting role," added the Corriere, who also expressed hope for some improvements at Ferrari.
"The upcoming updates may bring something to Ferrari, so that they can write a different story in a complicated Formula 1 Championship in which they are not performing as well as expected."
The Corriere dello Sport also hailed Perez's performance: "Checo was great! He took advantage of a pit stop at the wrong time for the Dutchman. That's how you do it.
"Verstappen still remains the leader, but only by six points. The score is now 2-2 against his phenomenal teammate. Bravissimo!"
Balve Bains is joined by RacingNews365.com Editorial Director Dieter Rencken and Asia Correspondent Michael Butterworth to dissect the key talking points from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix.