After the Seattle Kraken eliminated the Colorado Avalanche on Sunday night, the NHL released the schedule for the first two games of the four Round 2 series in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Another Formula 1 Grand Prix, another 1-2 finish for Red Bull.
Sergio Perez took the checkered flag Sunday at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix with teammate and championship points leader Max Verstappen coming in second place.
Pole-sitter Charles Leclerc of Ferrari finished third to earn his first podium of the season.
From the drama in the Sprint race to the near disaster at the finish of the Grand Prix, here are some takeaways:
Perez reaffirms ‘street fighter’ status
Perez earned his second victory of the season and became the first multiple-winner in the six-year history of the Baku street circuit. In fact, all five of Perez’s victories since joining Red Bull in 2021 have come on street tracks. Whether or not you believe in big and small degrees of coincidences, that’s quite a coincidence.
Adding more fuel, Perez claimed victory in Saturday’s Sprint as well to finish the weekend with a whopping 33 points.
Luck played a part in allowing Perez to inherit P1 as Verstappen pitted at the end of Lap 10 and then the safety car came out to slow down the field when he made his stop. Still, Perez managed to maintain the lead through the remainder of the Grand Prix and crossed the line with a two-second advantage over his teammate.
Still no stoppin’ Perez and Verstappen
Leclerc securing pole position offered a glimmer of hope that this weekend could be different. (Narrator: It was not different.)
Instead, it was the third time through four GPs that we had a 1-2 Red Bull finish.
Verstappen was already topping out at 320 km/h without DRS. Once the extra boost was enabled, Leclerc could only watch as the double-defending world champion breezed by right at the start of Lap 4.
Even Perez passed with relative ease just a couple of laps later and sooner than he had a day prior during the Sprint.
Verstappen breezed by Leclerc once more, sans DRS, after the restart too.
Although Leclerc finished on the podium, the Monegasque driver was a distant third — roughly 19 seconds behind Verstappen.
Leclerc has now scored pole position 19 times in his career but has only been able to convert four of those opportunities into wins.
Ferrari have proven they can outpace Red Bull on one lap, they just have to figure out how to extrapolate that over 50 more.
Superstar (Fernando’s Version)
For the first time this season, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso didn’t finish third as the two-time world champion fell short of the podium in fourth place. Alonso came oh-so-close and was less than a second behind Leclerc.
Although the team experienced DRS issues Friday, Alonso was able to qualify sixth and gained positions on Mercedes driver Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz of Ferrari during the Grand Prix.
Teammate Lance Stroll, who finished seventh, also ended up two places ahead of his starting position on the grid despite clipping the wall at Turn 5 — the same spot Nyck de Vries tagged and led to his early retirement.
The Montreal driver Stroll has scored points in three of the four GPs this season as he continues his pace for a career year.
Based on the radio clips heard during the broadcast, Alonso and Stroll appear to be getting along nicely as first-year teammates. Stroll made it clear early on that he wasn’t going to attack while Alonso later relayed brake balancing tips. Teamwork makes the dream work, right?
McLaren continues positive trend
The upgrade package McLaren had targeted for Azerbaijan couldn’t come soon enough with the team struggling out of the gate in 2023. Neither Lando Norris nor Oscar Piastri scored points in the first two GPs, but they started to turn the corner with a double points finish in Australia.
McLaren continued that trend in a positive direction in Azerbaijan. Norris, who finished in P9, had the unfortunate timing of exiting the pits behind Alpine’s Esteban Ocon and Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg, who both started from pit lane on hard tires and weren’t expected to make their scheduled stops until near the end. Norris languished behind until he was finally able to pass Hulkenberg on Lap 46 of 51, while Ocon conceded his spot on the final lap.
Piastri just missed out on points by finishing P11 but it was a valiant effort from the rookie driver as he was also battling an illness all weekend.
Alpine and the near-miss in pit lane
Spinning their wheels in the opposite direction though is Alpine. The French team had another weekend with neither driver finishing in the points, although at least this time they finished the Grand Prix rather than taking each other out.
Pierre Gasly had a miserable weekend from start to finish as his car caught fire during Friday’s practice (requiring a new gearbox and power unit) and then crashed during qualifying. Plus he required an extra pit stop during the Grand Prix. All in all, Gasly finished 14th.
Meanwhile, Ocon had qualified 12th but was forced to start from the pit lane due to his team changing his suspension setup under parc fermé. That allowed Alpine to roll the dice and go off-strategy by starting on the hard tires and hope for a late yellow flag when they would finally have to pit.
That never came and Ocon stretched his scheduled stop until the very end but avoided a nightmare scenario en route to finishing 15th. Photographers, crew members and even the FIA’s own personnel got ahead of themselves and rushed pit lane in anticipation of Perez’s victory and it’s a miracle no one got hurt.
“Scary moment at the end there in the pit-lane,” Ocon wrote on Twitter. “Glad no one was hurt but we must ensure things like that don’t happen again.”
What’s the deal with Sprint races?
Azerbaijan was our first taste of a Sprint race in 2023 with Saturday’s offering separate from qualifying and awarding points to the top eight finishers.
At 17 laps in length, it was short enough not to require pit stops but long enough for a window into what to expect under race conditions. One thing we quickly learned was the soft tire compound wouldn’t hold up and that likely affected strategies for the actual Grand Prix.
The Sprint race also provided a bit of spicy drama. George Russell and Verstappen tangled on the track and the Mercedes punctured a hole into the side pod of the Red Bull car, leading to a confrontation between the drivers afterward.
Perhaps the Azerbaijan street course isn’t ideal for the Sprint format though as some of the tight confines leave little margin for error. Anyone who has played the F1 video games knows how tricky it can be to navigate through Turn 8 in particular and one small slip up can send you straight into the unforgiving barriers, which not only ruins your Sprint but any critical damage could also carry over into the Grand Prix.
The Miami Grand Prix is up next Sunday, sans Sprint, with the format not returning until the Austrian Grand Prix in July.