Stunned Pérez hails best laps of F1 career

Sergio Pérez finished third in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix. (Reuters pic)

BAKU: Mexican Sergio Pérez said he put in the best laps of his Formula One career to get Force India back on the podium on Sunday.

The 28-year-old finished third in a chaotic Azerbaijan Grand Prix for his best finish since he occupied the same place in the inaugural race at the Baku street circuit in 2016.

“I think today I did the best two laps of my whole career,” Pérez declared after a roller-coaster afternoon that started when he was shunted from behind by Russian rookie Sergey Sirotkin’s Williams on the opening lap.

That left him with a broken front wing, after hitting Ferrari’s Kimi Räikkönen, and forced him to pit for immediate repairs.

Pérez was also dealt a five-second penalty for a breach of safety car conditions, but still came from the back to beat Ferrari’s title challenger Sebastian Vettel to the lowest step of the podium thanks to safety car interludes.

“The last two laps with Sebastian behind, with cold tires, it was so difficult,” Pérez said.

“I was on the super-soft tyre. I had to keep a very strong rhythm, trying to keep close to Räikkönen, to make sure that Sebastian didn’t get close enough, and in the end we did a real…I’m speechless.”

Before Sunday, Force India, fourth overall last season, had scored one point and were languishing near the bottom with Williams.

In one race, thanks to Pérez’s haul of 15 points, they leapt from ninth to sixth.

Pérez said the result was the fruit of many things coming together, but he had no illusions about Force India’s true status.

“I think our battle is not here, to be honest, it’s the midfield and finally we got plenty of points today with this podium, that we can close up the gap to the cars ahead, to the Renaults,” he said.

“I think we were definitely the fourth-best team this weekend.”

While Pérez enjoyed his eighth career podium finish, French teammate Esteban Ocon retired on the opening lap after a collision with Räikkönen.

“I have to say that between the two of them, at the end of the first lap I was feeling rather disappointed. I thought we were in for another difficult day,” Force India deputy principal Bob Fernley said.