Sergio Perez and Lewis Hamilton had a short-but-sweet battle for the final podium position in the Australian GP, but the Mexican believes the racing could have been even better with the fourth DRS zone in place.

The Red Bull driver went on to finish the first race in Melbourne since 2019, when he drove for the Racing Point team, in P2. Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc looked untouchable throughout, bar a slightly sluggish safety car restart, and finished the race over 20 seconds ahead of Perez – the biggest gap a Ferrari has had to a non-Ferrari at the end of a race since 2002.

Fellow Red Bull driver Max Verstappen retired from the Grand Prix with a suspected fluid leak which cost the reigning drivers’ champion a likely podium finish, promoting Mercedes’ George Russell to the P3 spot – who had also benefited from pitting during the safety car period.

Formula 1 had introduced a fourth DRS zone to the heavily revised and re-profiled Albert Park circuit, which crucially included the removal of the old Turns 9 and 10 chicane to make way for a gentle right and left kink taken at full throttle. However, before FP3 on Saturday, the FIA chose to remove the zone on this section of the circuit for safety reasons.

Some of the drivers post-race made it clear that the removal of the DRS zone hurt the racing spectacle, none more so than Perez. He did however manage to make his way past Hamilton into the fast chicane just before a convenient safety car thwarted the Mercedes driver’s attempt to re-pass.

“It was a shame they took the DRS out because I think the racing could have been a bit better with it,” explained Perez. “But yeah, [the battle with Lewis] was nice. I think it’s always nice to battle Lewis. It’s always very hard racing with him – but fair.”

Later on in the race, Perez slid off the circuit at the second-to-last corner and onto the grass – a corner where teammate Verstappen also seemed to struggle on occasion in the Red Bull. The assumption would be that this could be a shortcoming of the car or the setup that was utilised in Australia.

“I think it is part of our issue. I think Sector Three is really weak for us,” claimed Perez. “And we have to do a lot of compromises for that, which really affect us throughout the circuit. So yeah, it shows in that corner particularly… We are very sensitive, and it’s really easy to get it wrong.”

The charging Perez also passed Russell, who eventually secured his first podium of the season, in a portion of the race where the British driver had been asked to manage his tyres and cede the position if necessary.

“It’s difficult when we’re in a podium spot and I want to do everything I can to keep the faster car behind, but ultimately we needed to manage that tyre and the management was worse, or the front left tyre was worse in the last corner,” said Russell.

“And I can’t manage it through there because it will just open it up to Checo behind, especially with their straight line speed. So I really wanted to push it further but I recognised that we probably would have just fell off a cliff if I went even harder. And the Red Bull was just too quick for us.”

Russell also came across teammate Lewis Hamilton, who approached the team’s new recruit from behind, threatening the P3 position in the latter stages. Hamilton was seemingly not happy with where he’d ended up in the race, after starting and lapping ahead of Russell until the pit stops, but clarified that his angry radio message was directed at overheating rather than track position.

“Obviously I knew Lewis wasn’t going to make it easy for me,” exclaimed Russell. “He never gives up and he was pushing flat out until the end, but I think it was well managed and was always able to stay out of the DRS detection, so yeah, once Checo got past it was pretty cruised until the end.”

The story was written by Danny Herbert

Here’s Sergio Perez passing Lewis Hamilton:

Here’s Christian Horner on fuel issue