Sergio Perez speaks about how he feels his first F1 season with Red Bull has gone and what he attributes to his up and down form.
When it was announced at the back end of 2020 that Perez was being replaced by Sebastian Vettel at the Racing Point to become Aston Martin for 2021, it seemed likely that one of the most talented drivers on the grid would be dropped from the sport very unfairly.
But Red Bull came knocking during the winter after their own prodigies Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon failed to find form alongside Max Verstappen in the two years prior to Perez’s arrival. Everything happens for a reason, from no seat for 2021 to a seat with what would be the best car on the grid.
But from Day 1 it was evident the pressure would be on for Perez at Red Bull as he found himself housing one of the most pressurised seats on the grid. Red Bull were running out of patience having seen two of their own and two very talented drivers fail to live up to expectation.
The team now went down a different path and opted for the experience of Perez to fight alongside Verstappen. The Mexican ended up having a solid season, comfortably eclipsing the achievements of his predecessors yet still not blowing everyone away.
Five podiums and a victory was a good effort from the Mexican and earnt him a second year with the team for 2022. He had patches of good form at the start and the end but in the middle of the season, it looked to get away from him a little and he was starting to go down the path of Gasly and Albon.
But credit to Perez who recovered the season nicely and help aid Verstappen to his debut title with some clever driving. “There were things, very small things that transformed our weekend,” he said to written media. “Our all-round season would be looking a lot different than it is now. But yeah, just trying things, working hard, and yeah, I think right now I finally understand how to drive the car and exploit the maximum.
“That’s why the results have been a lot better.” Small things can dramatically hamper or help a race weekend and Perez found this out this year as he experimented with his Red Bull to get it to the place he wanted. It took time but the main thing is, by the end of the season, he got there.
Surprisingly and unknown to most, the switch from Mercedes power with Racing Point in 2020 to Honda in 2021, played a major role in adjusting to the new car. “Even as a driver, you underestimate these things until you live them, and experience them,” said Perez. “But driving a different power unit, it’s a completely different task.
“Like driving a completely different philosophy of car with the high rake versus lower rake… it’s a completely different task and the way you approach things are just extremely different. You have to learn new techniques. Basically, what I used to do, nothing really worked.
“So it would be the same, for example, if Max went to Mercedes, they are very different, they produce very similar lap times but the way they get the lap time is extremely different,” summed up Perez. One of the main reasons that the second seat at Red Bull is so tough is because Verstappen is your teammate.
He’s been at the team since 2016 so not only is he well and truly embedded in the team and the car but he’s one of the best drivers on the grid, so your benchmark is incredibly high as his teammate. When Perez was asked where he loses out most to Verstappen during a lap he responded with, “every circuit is different, there are some circuits where I’m more competitive than others so it’s very much down to circuit-specific rather than certain corners”. Perez was reluctant to identify the strengths Verstappen has over him.
The 2021 season saw a raft of drivers make moves into new cars. Carlos Sainz to Ferrari, Fernando Alonso to Alpine and Daniel Ricciardo to McLaren. All had differing experiences and levels of success in their new machinery, but it seemed to be Ricciardo and Perez who struggled most. “I think I’m still there,” he started.
“It will sound weird, but I like time, I think the limit I’m on, I’m testing the limit especially with the amount of practise in the car. Because every circuit is different, so it just means such a different car I went to probably made it a bit harder. But yeah, I think I’m not the same here. We’ve seen other very good drivers struggle to get on top of their cars.”
The good news for Perez is that he’s not alone in struggling to get to grips with his car. Perez’s first season at Red Bull was not a disaster, he did a solid job but could have done more given he was in the best car on the grid.
But it was interesting listening to him open up on the struggles and specifics of getting used to a new car and makes fans and viewers more empathetic towards the situation. Either way Perez has laid a good foundation to build from for 2022 and will be aiming to close to gap to Verstappen and keep himself in that seat for the foreseeable.
The story was written by Ollie Pattas
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