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Formula 1

How Perez became biggest loser in Austria F1 qualifying mess

by Edd Straw
4 min read

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez was the big loser of the game of brinkmanship at the start of the final runs in sprint qualifying having had to do his final lap sandwiched between Alpine drivers Esteban Ocon and Pierre Gasly.

That's left him down in seventh place on the grid for the Austrian GP sprint race at a time when he desperately needed to end a run of tricky form.

While it might be expected that the short laptime in Austria - Max Verstappen’s pole position lap taking just 64.686s - makes this easier, the need for drivers to make gaps again caused problems for those who were towards the back of the queue.

The first seven drivers to start their laps were all in a reasonable space. The Mercedes drivers were the first to be released from the garage with around 2m57s remaining. Lewis Hamilton was the first to start his flying lap with 62s left before the chequered flag, with George Russell following 12 seconds later. Oscar Piastri followed 10s later (42s remaining), then Lando Norris (34s), Carlos Sainz (24s) and Verstappen (17s).

The size of those gaps highlights where the problem emerged as the cars were nose to tail in a queue in the pitexit and had to build gaps before joining the track.

That was bad news for those at the back – Ocon, Perez, Leclerc and Gasly. The Ferrari driver was removed from this thanks to the problem he suffered in the pitlane – although he did get going at the back of the queue but wasn’t able to start a lap before the chequered flag.

There was never going to be enough time for the final three drivers to be ideally-spaced, although this was made more difficult by Ocon creating a larger-than-needed gap to Verstappen.

He started his lap 13 seconds behind the last car, Verstappen, with just four seconds on the clock.

However, he did nothing wrong on his outlap, during which he was instructed to keep the pace up and hold position to avoid being passed by Perez. Even if he had been closer to Verstappen, say eight seconds behind, at least one of the cars behind him would still have been compromised.

Behind Perez was in a frustrating position. He was aware he was tight on time and had to push up close to Ocon in order to ensure he made it to the line in time without letting the chasing Gasly get past. He started his lap with three seconds remaining, but was frustrated with Ocon’s pace.

“I don’t know what Esteban was doing there,” said Perez. “He apparently had to drive really slowly and I did my final lap within half-a-second of him and basically there was no chance. It’s a shame because we were having more promising pace today and unfortunately we were not able to maximise it.”

Gasly had first started to inch out of the garage with 2m44s remaining. But such was the backing up at the pitexit that he was sat waiting to enter the queue in the fast lane for a significant amount of time. He was behind Leclerc, although the Ferrari’s problem didn’t actually cost him any time. The real problem was the sheer number of cars ahead.

Gasly attempted to put pressure on Perez at the exit, saying “what are these guys doing” and once he finally got out was told just to try and do a fast outlap with little expectation he would make it.

At the hairpin, he was told he was about 18s behind where he needed to be and told to push for the second half of the lap. However, he had Perez just ahead of him, who had Ocon ahead.

On the approach to the penultimate corner, Gasly said “what is Esteban doing” in reference to the size of gap his team-mate had built and crossed the line two seconds before the chequered flag, directly behind Ocon and Perez.

With Ocon on used softs, he was slower than he was on medium Pirellis in SQ2, which meant he inevitably ended up seventh. Perez, who was on fresh rubber, was eighth ahead of the frustrated Gasly - who at least wouldn't have been able to climb significantly higher given the Alpine was the fifth-fastest car and he had used softs.

These kinds of situations happen regularly now in F1 and illustrate the problem of cars being sent out of the garage late. And that's what caught out Red Bull, in Perez's case, and Alpine in Austria.

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