Why Perez has to become another Mr Saturday

In Monaco, Sergio Perez enjoyed perhaps his best drive to date since he joined the Red Bull Formula 1 team, climbing from ninth on the grid to fourth at the flag.

Why Perez has to become another Mr Saturday

It was a superb performance from the Mexican, who managed his tyres in the opening laps and, after going long, was able to deploy sufficient pace to jump three cars after his pitstop.

However, it was also a question of what might have been had he qualified closer to teammate Max Verstappen, rather than seven places behind the Dutchman.

Qualifying remains an Achilles Heel for Perez in 2021 as he continues to find his way with the RB16B. Second on the grid in round two at Imola suggested early progress, but subsequently he has struggled.

In Monaco, things looked promising after he got through Q2 in fifth place, but when it mattered in Q3, things unravelled.

"It was a disaster," he explained. "We were making good progress through qualifying, and in Q2, we did a good step. But the track was cooling down, and we changed our approach into Q3, run one, and I had no front end at all.

"They were very cold, the tyres. And then on the second attempt, the lap was going well until I hit a lot of traffic. And I basically lost a lot of lap time going through that.

"I certainly should have improved what I did in Q2 by a tenth or two. So that will be a 10.8, so probably P6. Not a lot better, but it is what it is."

Instead, he found himself stranded in ninth, a frustrating 0.997s away from his teammate.

On Sunday, a non-start for Charles Leclerc gifted Perez a place, and after getting round Ste Devote safely in eighth it was a question of being patient and playing the long game.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Erik Junius

The team knew the only way to make progress would be to run further than those ahead and then bang in some quick laps, and to make it work Perez had to employ his famous tyre management skills and extend the life of his softs as much as possible.

Sitting behind Sebastian Vettel in the opening stint he did just that, dropping back and leaving a gap that he could close at will when he needed to.

"Tyres are looking good at this stage, just keep the life for when we need it," he was told by engineer Hugh Bird as the pitstops approached.

Of the guys he was racing Hamilton in sixth was the first to stop on lap 29, followed by Pierre Gasly on lap 30 and Vettel on lap 31. Perez then received the message, "OK Free air, let's enjoy it."

It was now his old softs versus the new hards of those who had pitted. He banged in a superb lap in 1m14.552s (at the time the fastest by anyone) and then did a 1m14.670s. He was now some two seconds faster than the pace he had been running at shortly before.

Asking, "how is it?," he was told by Bird: "This pace is good, took three-tenths out of Seb in sector one, five-tenths in sector two."

On lap 33 Red Bull brought leader Verstappen in – a move that ensured that he was out of Perez's way just as the Mexican needed to bang in those quick laps. As Max emerged from the pit lane, Perez swept past to claim the lead, albeit briefly.

"How are the tyres?," he was asked by Bird. "I'm losing the a bit the rear left," he responded.

That was a trigger for the stop. He was called in at the end of lap 34, having gone three laps longer than Vettel, and he emerged from the pits safely ahead of the German's Aston Martin – and two other cars that he had been racing. The retirement of Bottas provided another boost.

He soon received the news: "OK Checo, good job, currently sitting P4, we've got the jump on Vettel, Gasly and Hamilton."

After digesting the info over the next couple of corners, he asked, "Who's next?"

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Photo by: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport Images

Perhaps wary that Perez was getting a little ahead of himself, given that Lando Norris was some eight seconds up the road, Bird tried to calm things down: "Just manage the fuel from here, let's have a bit of lift and coast, got Vettel behind at two seconds."

In fact over the final 44 laps after his stop Perez successfully closed down on Norris. Getting past relied on a mistake from the McLaren man, but none came, and at the flag the gap was just over a second.

After the post-flag chat with Horner, Bird summed up the drive: "You did a great job of saving the tyres for when we needed them, made it work when we got the clear air from Vettel."

It was a great race for Perez, and his fourth place helped to ensure that Red Bull took the lead of the constructors' championship. However, he was keeping his feet on the ground.

"I'm pleased with the result," he said. "I think when we go to Abu Dhabi, nobody will remember this race. It's all about the championship. It's such a long championship that minimising the bad days and coming out strong of a bad day is going to be key.

"And today, we managed to do that. And it just shows that the pace is there on Sunday, I just have to sort out my Saturday."

Perez admitted that there was still some frustration about his starting position given the speed he was able to show in the race.

"I think it's just a part of my adaptation, like you see with other drivers. It's a very unique season in that regard. Drivers changing teams, normally in the past, hasn't been such a big thing.

"But this year, with so many variables out there, it has made it harder." 

He conceded that Imola was something of a false dawn in terms of qualifying form, and that he hasn't been able to match that since.

"Yeah, to be honest, considering that at Imola I managed to put it on the second row, in my second race, already in such a difficult track. But the progression hasn't come on Saturdays. It's just the variables. Whenever there is a little variable I'm not fully at home with the car yet, but I can see light at the end of the tunnel."

Azerbaijan is next, a one-off track where anything can happen, and where Perez finished third in 2018.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Baku is not a typical track, and thus what will be more useful for Perez's learning curve will be the three-race run in France and Austria, especially with two events in a row at the latter venue.

"I think that will be very, very, very important going to more places, especially Austria. Doing two weekends at a Grand Prix that would really speed up my learning."

On the positive side the team is fully behind him, but he knows better than anyone that he has to start scoring better. Thus far he's earned two fourths and two fifths – sadly the strong qualifying performance at Imola spiralled into a frustrating 11th – but it's not enough.

After Monaco Red Bull leads Mercedes by 149 to 148 in the constructors' championship, and Perez has to make a consistently bigger contribution.

"I think he's finding Saturdays harder than Sundays," said Horner after the flag. "His race pace has generally been very, very strong. So I think Saturdays, we need to work with him to help him to get comfortable, but that will come.

"You can see the majority of drivers, probably with the exception of Carlos [Sainz] that have changed teams this year, it's taken them a while to get up to speed. I think the tyres are more tricky as well this year, that throws in another dynamic. But he's getting there, and a performance like today helps that.

"Checo has driven some great races this year. In Bahrain, he was very strong. His race pace last race in Barcelona was very strong. His race pace in Portimao was good.

"So there's no there's no doubt about that, he's just got to qualify in position, and then he'll be a factor."

shares
comments

Related video

Allison: Mercedes F1 must find out why Monaco is Achilles’ heel
Previous article

Allison: Mercedes F1 must find out why Monaco is Achilles’ heel

Next article

Why time isn't up on Monaco's place on the F1 calendar

Why time isn't up on Monaco's place on the F1 calendar
Load comments
How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison Prime

How getting sacked from Benetton made Mercedes' Allison

He’s had a hand in world championship-winning Formula 1 cars for Benetton, Renault and Mercedes, and was also a cog in the Schumacher-Ferrari axis. Having recently ‘moved upstairs’ as Mercedes chief technical officer, James Allison tells Stuart Codling about his career path and why being axed by Benetton was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback Prime

The remarkable qualities that propelled Kubica’s F1 comeback

It’s easy to look at Robert Kubica’s second Formula 1 career and feel a sense of sadness that he didn’t reach the heights for which he seemed destined. But as Ben Anderson discovered, performance and results are almost meaningless in this context – something more fundamental and incredible happened…

Formula 1
Nov 27, 2021
The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren Prime

The humbling changes Ricciardo made to deliver for McLaren

From being lapped by his own teammate in Monaco to winning at Monza, it’s been a tumultuous first season at McLaren for Daniel Ricciardo. But, as he tells STUART CODLING, there’s more to the story of his turnaround than having a lovely summer holiday during Formula 1's summer break...

Formula 1
Nov 26, 2021
The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title Prime

The potential benefits of losing the F1 constructors' title

As the battle continues to rage over the F1 2021 drivers' championship, teams up and down the grid are turning their attentions to the prize money attributed to each position in the constructors' standings. But F1's sliding scale rules governing wind tunnel and CFD use will soften the blow for those who miss out on the top places

Formula 1
Nov 25, 2021
The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher Prime

The invisible enemy that's made Hamilton's title charge tougher

After winning his past few Formula 1 titles as a canter, Lewis Hamilton currently trails Max Verstappen by eight points heading into the final double-header of 2021. Although Red Bull has been his biggest on-track challenge, Hamilton feels that he has just as much to grapple with away from the circuit

Formula 1
Nov 24, 2021
Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay Prime

Why F1's inconvenient penalties have to stay

OPINION: Quibbles over the length of time taken by Formula 1's stewards over decisions are entirely valid. But however inconvenient it is, there can be no questioning the importance of having clearly defined rules that everyone understands and can stick to. Recent events have shown that ambiguity could have big consequences

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax Prime

The mistakes Red Bull cannot afford to repeat in F1 2021's title fight climax

OPINION: Red Bull has had Formula 1’s fastest package for most of 2021, but in several of the title run-in events it has wasted the RB16B’s potential. It cannot afford to do so again with Lewis Hamilton motoring back towards Max Verstappen in the drivers’ standings with two rounds remaining

Formula 1
Nov 23, 2021
Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings Prime

Qatar Grand Prix driver ratings

Qatar was a virtual unknown for most as Formula 1 made its inaugural visit to the Gulf state, and tyre management quickly emerged as an even more critical factor than normal. Perhaps then it should come as no surprise that two of the championship's elder statesmen produced standout drives

Formula 1
Nov 22, 2021