F1 – How Sergio Pérez can (more) influence the title race
Red Bull’s teammate Max Verstappen is cultivating his racing science to have more weight in the title race.
One year ago, Sergio Pérez had just won his first Formula 1 Grand Prix in Sakhir (Bahrain), but did not have a contract for the following season. Today, he probably drives the best single-seater in the world, but does not (yet?) compare with his teammate, Max Verstappen. It must be said that the Mexican often escapes logical correlations. “Checo” comes from the small middle class of Guadalajara but he was spotted from karting by the multibillionaire Carlos Slim. Mediocre during his first stint in a top team (1), he is also capable of feats behind the wheel of passable single-seaters. The 31-year-old driver still hasn’t cleared the haze around his actual level.
However, the strengths are well identified. The most convincing laudator is undoubtedly the engineer Andrew Green, who rubbed shoulders with Pérez for seven seasons at Force India and then Racing Point: “ Tire management level, he is one of the two or three best drivers on the field, he confided a few months ago to the podcast Beyond the grid. He feels what the tire is doing, what it needs. His control of the accelerator out of a corner is simply remarkable. It’s as if he had an anti-skating system integrated into his right foot ”.
Adept of classic trajectories – he is « in line » early on exiting a turn – the man who whispers in the ears of the tires relativizes the scope of his style in his economical use of the Pirelli: “You cannot say that my driving corresponds to the tire. Sometimes the grip limitation comes from the tires, sometimes from the car. The key is above all to be able to adapt according to circumstances and conditions ”. Temperature, graining, user window, hard, soft… This language was also taught to him by another master of gum: his first teammate in Formula 1, Kamui Kobayashi (2). The two men then collected podiums thanks to clever offbeat strategies.
=> Hamilton talks about his Mercedes and his duel with Verstappen
And then there is the art of being in the right place at the right time. “It’s something I’ve always had,” the driver explained to the same audio show, referring to his German debut in Formula BMW. Or his years in GP2, where he scrambled with a few movers like Nico Hülkenberg, Romain Grosjean or Pastor Maldonado. His roughness in close combat – typical of his generation – was transformed into dexterity in the peloton. When to resist? When to double? When should you take care of the car and bide your time? The statistics highlight the good habits of the Mexican: Sergio Pérez wins an average of 1.88 places between the five red lights going out and the checkered flag. Among the active drivers with more than 50 Grands Prix on the clock, only Fernando Alonso (2.56), Lance Stroll (2.30) and Carlos Sainz (1.94) are more opportunistic.
But there are two ways to read this number. For optimists, this underscores the excellent performance of number 11 on Sunday. For those who see the glass half empty, it especially emphasizes poor performance in qualifying. Since his arrival at Red Bull, the results have been edifying. 9 pole positions in 2021 for Verstappen, zero for Pérez. Less well placed on the grid, the Mexican has to go further upstream in the race.
But beware of hasty comparisons. Being Max Verstappen’s teammate is difficult, as can witness Pierre Gasly or Alexander Albon, kicked out of the top team over the past three years. Bottle-fed by the influential Dr. Helmut Marko, the Dutchman logically gets more attention at the Milton Keynes plant. The RB16B – like its predecessors – is also adapted to its handling, naturally sovereign in slow turns and at ease in a sharp single-seater generating a lot of downforce. It’s not easy to adapt when you have a more academic driving style and when you are « new ».
Hence the dilemma of Sergio Pérez during this season 1 at Red Bull. Should you blend into the Verstappen mold by imitating its style and settings? Or should the car be adapted to its own characteristics? “I think the answer is a bit between the two,” explains the Mexican to Auto Moto. Max knows how to get the most out of the car and has more experience than me with this car. It works for him. It is therefore essential for me to understand how it operates ”. But a few days after our interview, the driver admitted to our colleagues from The Race taking more liberties than at the start of the season: “I have done more races with the car and I know my group of engineers a little better. . We are now trying to do things a little more our way ”.
In the fall of this first season, this separation from the “Verstappen line” seems to be bearing its first fruits. After a sad summer, Sergio Pérez landed three consecutive podiums in Istanbul, Austin and Mexico. Above all, he battled with Lewis Hamilton in the Turkish rain as well as under the sun of his national Grand Prix. In front of his home crowd, he even weighed on Mercedes’ strategy by forcing the Briton to anticipate his pit stop. Then Pérez pushed the seven-time world champion to overheat his new Pirelli by staying on track 11 more laps.
This is exactly the type of trap that Christian Horner, the boss of Red Bull Racing, wanted to set by recruiting a mature driver outside the walls (3). By regularly scrambling the tactics of the main competing team, the Guadalajara man can become even more valuable to the purple team. In 2022, Mercedes will play the card of the speed limit, by allying George Russell to Lewis Hamilton, at the cost of a potential internal rivalry. By extending the Mexican for twelve months, Red Bull opts for complementarity with Verstappen. What if Checo’s best asset was to play Sergio Pérez?
(1) Recruited from McLaren, he failed to rise to the level of Jenson Button.
(2) At Sauber, in 2011 and 2012.
(3) Sergio Pérez is the first driver recruited by the team outside the Red Bull Academy since Mark Webber at the end of 2006. Sergio Pérez was a member of the Ferrari Academy, of which he was a member until 2012.
- 2e in GP2 in 2010
- 2011: 16e, 14 points (Sauber-Ferrari)
- 2012: 10e, 66 points, 3 podiums (Sauber-Ferrari)
- 2013: 11e, 49 points (McLaren-Mercedes)
- 2014: 10e, 59 points, 1 podium (Force India-Mercedes)
- 2015: 9e, 78 points, 1 podium (Force India-Mercedes)
- 2016: 7e, 101 points, 2 podiums (Force India-Mercedes)
- 2017: 7e, 100 points (Force India-Mercedes)
- 2018: 8e, 62 points, 1 podium (Force India-Mercedes)
- 2019: 10e, 52 points (Racing Point-Mercedes)
- 2020: 4e, 125 points, 1 victory (Racing Point-Mercedes)
- 2021: 4e, 203 points, 1 victory (Red Bull-Honda)
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