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Formula 1 Austrian GP

What Perez is struggling with in the Red Bull F1 car

The Mexican thinks he has found answers for his extreme balance struggles in the Red Bull RB20 Formula 1 car

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB20

History threatens to repeat itself for Sergio Perez, but the struggling Red Bull driver believes he is starting to find answers for his car handling issues.

While nobody is expecting Perez to run team-mate Max Verstappen very close, the gaps in recent qualifying sessions and races are well beyond the Mexican veteran's true pace.

But that performance is going to have to be found quickly, because McLaren has now properly closed the gap, and Ferrari and Mercedes are following hot on Red Bull's heels too. That means any operational weaknesses - whether it be car or driver-related - will now be relentlessly punished by the competition.

Perez's struggles aren't new, as he went through a similar rough patch this time last year before rallying towards the end of the 2023 campaign.

Just like last year, when Perez took pole, Miami was the last race he seemed at ease in the Red Bull, qualifying just two tenths off Verstappen.

But as Red Bull encountered a tougher run of bumpy circuits that exposed the RB20's main weakness, Perez was unable to drive around the issues as well as the Dutchman, qualifying 11th, 16th, and 16th across Imola, Monaco and Montreal.

Year Average gap to Verstappen in qualifying Average gap to Verstappen in races
2021 0.564 0.535
2022 0.290 0.234
2023 0.621 0.451
2024 (so far) 0.609 0.471

Spain was a return to form for Red Bull on a more benign circuit, but the 34-year-old still only qualified eighth, which became 11th on the grid after a lingering grid penalty.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, in Parc Ferme

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing, in Parc Ferme

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

And while he has recently secured a contract extension, which has taken some pressure off, he will still need to up his game, and fast.

Perez believes the Barcelona weekend has given him enough answers to do so and to explain why he struggled so much to keep his car balanced across different corner types and speeds, which is the holy grail of this generation of cars.

"I think I have understood a lot of things that happened over the weekend during the race," Perez said after finishing a minute behind winner Verstappen, having beaten the midfield Alpines to eighth.

"The balance was quite off on the soft tyres, so linked to the qualifying issues we had. We can come back strong.

"The problem I have at the moment is that I can't balance the car for all the speeds. I am struggling quite a bit in the medium to low-speed corners to be able to have the stability I need with the rotation [of the front tyres]."

In an attempt to solve those issues Perez and his side of the garage experimented heavily with the set-up between FP1 and FP2, with him admitting afterwards that those trials had gone too far.

"We did some aggressive changes for the weekend, which I don't think worked, so we will review those," he added.

"We basically explored the car from FP1 to FP2, more than [winter] testing probably. We have never swung around so many things on set-up.

"We were a bit desperate to try and find a balance, so we need to review all of that, but I see the light out of the tunnel."

Deficit to team-mate Average gap in qualifying Average gap in races
Perez on Verstappen 0.61 0.47
Hamilton on Russell 0.17 0.04
Sainz on Leclerc 0.09 0.04
Piastri on Norris 0.13 0.35
Stroll on Alonso 0.20 0.29
Ocon on Gasly 0.04 0.08
Sargeant on Albon 0.56 0.40
Ricciardo on Tsunoda 0.25 0.12
Zhou on Bottas 0.51 0.06
Magnussen on Hulkenberg 0.33 0.29
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Barcelona being part of a triple-header, which also includes this weekend's sprint event in Austria, offers Perez a chance to quickly move on and accelerate his learning, although it can also snowball in a negative way with limited time for practice or analysis.

"It is the best [thing] you can have, because you take this experience as a learning curve and run to the next one," he said bullishly.

"There will be other challenges, it is a long season ahead. It is important to be able to keep our head down."

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