Daniel Ricciardo was smiling under the hood as he was confused why Sergio Perez Perez pitted in F1 Emilia Romagna GP as the Mexican was left helpless.
It was undoubtedly one of many surprises in the F1 Emilia Romagna GP on Sunday: Racing Point’s Perez’s late pit stop. Having first pitted around Lap 30, the Mexican had seemed on course for a podium after the retirement of Red Bull’s Max Verstappen.
Under the subsequent safety car, however, the Racing Point driver dove for the pits once more, conceding track position and prioritising tyre strategy despite the difficulty of overtaking at the Italian F1 circuit of Imola.
Perez was unhappy with the decision, and said as much on the radio at the race’s conclusion. “You think we learned from Kimi, how difficult it was to overtake? Another podium that we give away,” he said. Neither of these remarks elicited a direct response from his race engineer.
His opinion remained unchanged after he had stepped out of the car, as he labelled the consequences of the call “painful”. He would finish sixth after the challenge of battling through the cars ahead proved an insurmountable one, where he was overtaken by Daniil Kvyat, as Charles Leclerc managed to keep Perez at bay.
“I don’t know, looking at it, it didn’t make sense at that time as the call was very late,” said Perez to TV media. “It is always easy to take the right decision after the race, but overtaking was extremely difficult. Team must have reasons but just a painful day because we had the podium in the pocket.
“It is hard to digest, they are disappointed as I am, we are a team, we lose and win together,” he stated, before adding that he essentially ‘gave the podium’ to Renault’s Ricciardo, who had trailed him. “In hindsight, it was a wrong call. It was a fantastic day, I think from all the negatives, we can take positives.
“The first stint was tremendous, great strategy, great team calls from the team, we put ourselves in the position to get the podium but at the same it was a painful end, also in the championship as we basically gave the podium away to Ricciardo,” summed up Perez. The Mexican was to gain seven positions from his starting place of 11th, had he finished third.
A hold-up from Haas’ Kevin Magnussen in the middle of the grand prix, allowed Perez to get away on his first stint as he returned to the track ahead of the six-car pack after his first stop. Ricciardo, meanwhile, was happy to accept the final podium position, though he himself was perplexed by Perez’s decision to pit.
“We were running P5 with roughly 15 laps to go, I think, and then there was the issue with Max, so that brought out the Safety Car,” said Ricciardo. “So I guess that put me in fourth on track, and then Pérez pitted which, yeah, obviously I was smiling about because I was ‘well, that’s given me third on track’ and I knew hanging on with the Hard on the restart was going to be tricky but I was more than happy to fight for it at the end.
“Track position’s obviously very important around here, so yeah, I think both myself and the team were very willing to keep me out on track. We held on. I was honestly surprised that [Perez] boxed. He was quicker than us today, and that’s the truth. I was like, ‘If he stays out [on the] same tyres [as us], he should hold on and hold on to third’.
“The team asked how my tyres were and I said I was happy, so I think that was enough to keep me out. I was more happy to go out swinging and if Perez came through and passed me that’s what we would have been. Definitely the right call. [But] I was surprised to see Kvyat. I had no idea where he was all race and I saw him, he came and we held off. Third, second podium in three races – awesome,” Ricciardo summed up.
The podium allowed Renault to be third now with 135 points, where McLaren and Racing Point are just one point behind, tied on 134. The team nonetheless defended the decision, as Andrew Green warned of the challenges they could have faced upon the restart had they stayed out, as he explained that the car’s specific set-up might have been prohibitive.
“The race was going our way completely,” said Green to media including Racefans.net, Motorsport Network, AMuS, BBC and more. “Up until the safety car Checo manoeuvred himself, with great pace, up to fourth. He overtook the pack by going longer on the medium tyres, he drove really well, the car was really strong, we were very happy with where it was going. And the worst possible scenario was a safety car.
“That was not really how we were geared up, unfortunately. It was always going to be a difficult decision, that one. So the safest thing to do and we thought that the most logical thing to do was to swap him for a set of the new softer tyres, so that we didn’t have to worry about that. We thought other people might do the same, but a lot depends on how they were set up for the race.
“And I think it probably just showed where our race pace was, because we’d set the car up to look after the tyres and be kind and not overheat them. So we were always going to struggle behind the safety car in that situation,” Green explained.
Here’s the shoey moment between Lewis Hamilton and Daniel Ricciardo