Sergio Perez claims F1 chiefs ‘will get drivers to fight each other’

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Red Bull driver Sergio Perez joked that it won’t be long before F1 bosses put a ring in the middle of the track and ask drivers to fight each other after the sport’s new sprint shootout made its debut in Azerbaijan on Saturday, with fans left to stew over a fast and furious format.

Perez has historically performed strongly in Baku, with one of his five career Grand Prix victories coming on the exciting street circuit. He continued his solid record on Saturday, clinching second place behind Charles Leclerc, which puts him ahead of Max Verstappen, in qualifying for the sprint later in the day.

It marked the first edition of the sprint shootout, which decides the starting order for the shortened race on Saturday. After a newly-approved rule change, the result will effectively have no bearing on Sunday’s Grand Prix.

Since its introduction in 2021, the Saturday sprint decided the starting order for the main event, but it is now a separate contest that still gives drivers the chance to fight for valuable championship points.

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After clinching second spot, Perez delivered his verdict to Sky Sports and joked that a full-scale royal rumble could be in the works. “The track was very different,” explained the Mexican.

“Getting a good lap on the softs was pretty challenging. It turned into a tricky session in the end. Having a cleaner run on my lap would have helped me but [Ferrari] are just a bit stronger than us over one lap. Hopefully we’re able to beat them on race pace this afternoon.

“That will be the target this afternoon and for tomorrow. The new format was fast and furious, it won’t be long before they put a ring in the middle of the track and get drivers to fight each other.”

The rule changes haven’t gone down well unanimously in the paddock, with Verstappen in particular voicing his concerns over making what was an already-jam-packed weekend even busier. He warned the sport’s authorities that he will not stick around for long if further changes are made.

Mercedes star George Russell has taken a more positive outlook on the introduction of the sprint shootout, but hopes that more full-throttle action will not detract from the magic of Sunday’s Grand Prix.

“Having action every day is exciting,” the Brit told Sky Sports. “I hope it doesn’t dillute the excitement on Sunday for the fans. It’s more fun for us because we’re driving flat out more often but we need to listen to what the fans at home think.”

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