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Formula 1

Perez must start being what Red Bull ‘desperately’ needs

by Scott Mitchell-Malm
5 min read

This weekend’s Monaco Grand Prix is a race in which Sergio Perez must prove he can be what Red Bull “desperately needs”.

While Max Verstappen heads to Monte Carlo facing internal and external expectations of victories, Perez is arguably under even more pressure.

With four race weekends now under his belt, the grace period for Perez’s Red Bull adaptation is coming to an end – as emphasised by team principal Christian Horner’s remarks after the Spanish Grand Prix, where it was clear Perez’s struggles had hurt Red Bull’s victory bid.

“It’s coming together for him,” Horner insisted. “He had an off day [in qualifying], he was compromised in the race behind Daniel [Ricciardo] and he didn’t manage to make the headway at a track that was so difficult to pass.

“Of course, we desperately need him to be in that gap so that Mercedes don’t have the strategic options that they had.

“But I’m convinced that that will come for Checo as he finds more confidence and time in the car.”

F1 Grand Prix Of Spain Sergio Perez Red Bull

Horner’s comments indicate that while Red Bull has not lost patience with Perez, there is now increased urgency to address his form.

That starts this weekend in Monaco, a daunting challenge for a driver to be chasing a result, perhaps, but a brilliant venue for a Red Bull driver to be in that position.

“I’m really looking massively forward to Monaco, especially with this car,” says Perez.

“We have a shot at winning the race. So hopefully we are able to be strong.

“It’s all about qualifying. Qualifying will be key.”

For Perez to win, he’ll need to be on the podium. For Perez to be on the podium, he’ll need to be in contention at the front of a grand prix for the first time this season. So far, he’s been (at best) a distant observer of the lead battle.

Essentially, he’s been little more than every second Red Bull driver since Ricciardo left after the 2018 season.

Max Verstappen Daniel Ricciardo Red Bull F1

Pierre Gasly was replaced mid-season in 2019 partly because Red Bull felt his struggles were costing it a chance of beating Ferrari to second in the constructors’ championship, but his successor Alex Albon ultimately failed to evolve into the support act Red Bull hoped he’d be and his shortcomings were exposed through the 2020 season.

Red Bull finally looked outside its own driver pool for a solution and signed Perez, but he was unfortunate to join the team in a year he’d have just one-and-a-half days in the Red Bull in pre-season testing.

That has compromised his adaptation to both a new team and a very different car to the one he drove last year.

Perez has so far been unable to offer Verstappen the kind of support he was signed to provide.

In Bahrain, Perez’s poor qualifying meant Red Bull would not have had a second car in the lead fight even if his car hadn’t shut down on the formation lap and prompted a pitlane start.

Verstappen was left isolated against the threat from Mercedes, which had freedom on strategy and used that to win track position with Lewis Hamilton.

Perez outqualified Verstappen at Imola after Verstappen’s error but felt he should have won pole himself, then suffered a miserable race in which he went off twice and finished outside the points – stopping Red Bull taking the lead in the constructors’ championship.

Sergio Perez Imola F1 Red Bull

In Portugal, Perez had a cleaner weekend and finished fourth. He fell away from the lead group early on while he recovered a position lost to McLaren’s Lando Norris, but that ultimately cost nothing strategically.

That was not the case in Spain, where once again Perez’s absence from the lead group meant Mercedes had strategic flexibility. It could afford to switch Hamilton to a two-stop strategy because there was a gap on-track that would not have existed had Perez not qualified eighth and spent his race recovering.

“I don’t think the Red Bull was particular or did something weird that made it tricky to drive. Maybe they just need a bit more time. Or I’m just really awesome!” :: Daniel Ricciardo

“If Perez was up there, maybe you see some more differences,” says McLaren’s Norris – newly-rewarded with a McLaren contract extension – of the lead battle.

“It’s not easy for Lewis but it maybe wouldn’t look as easy as it does.”

It’s fair to give a driver a few races to settle into a new environment, especially this season when most of the grid is very familiar with their carried-over 2020 cars and there was less time than ever to adjust in pre-season.

And despite the protestations of those who rush to insist this is already that Red Bull favours Verstappen so much that nobody can occupy that second seat anymore, Perez is offering more than his predecessors. It’s just not enough still.

Sergio Perez Red Bull F1

Ricciardo, as the last driver to offer what Red Bull needs and as a team-mate of Verstappen’s for almost three seasons, is best-placed of any external party to judge, and he shoots down the theory that some kind of Verstappen special status has made life impossible for a second driver there.

“Specifically that last year [in 2018], I had a lot of issues,” Ricciardo says. “But I never once thought Max was getting something that I wasn’t getting so I’m very, very crystal clear that it’s not a case of that. Or at least I never felt that.

“The car, having driven a Renault and a McLaren, I don’t think the car was particular or did something weird that made it tricky to drive. But maybe they just need a bit more time. Or I’m just really awesome!”

The underlying point is clear: while the Red Bull has probably changed since Ricciardo’s exit, there’s still little reason to believe it’s something that only Verstappen should be able to drive quickly.

Albon and Gasly had challenges in terms of their own abilities, personalities and circumstances, and Perez faces his own. He can still overcome those and start delivering, but he needs to do that now.

Otherwise, the risk for Red Bull is that by the time Perez gets to the level he believes he can reach, there will already be substantial damage done to the team’s constructors’ championship hopes and Verstappen’s own title bid.

There is still an awfully long way to go in this season. A positive result this weekend is important for Perez to start repaying Red Bull’s faith.

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