Red Bull should be able to find ways to make the characteristics of its RB18 Formula 1 car more to Sergio Perez’s liking after he claimed its development direction was “going away from me”, according to chief engineer Paul Monaghan.
Perez had a strong start to the season, stacking up well compared to team-mate Max Verstappen and winning the Monaco Grand Prix. He also led the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix from pole position before an ill-timed safety car was deployed just after he’d made his first pitstop, dropping him to fourth.
But from Canada in mid-June onwards, he has been less comfortable with the car as Red Bull has worked to get a stronger front-end. Initially, it had a more understeery balance, particularly in slower corners, as cars have tended towards under the new 2022 technical regulations and tyres.
While Verstappen favours a more ‘pointy’ car behaviour style with a more aggressive turn-in, this is also a development direction that unlocks more performance. Favouring it is therefore not consciously a move away from what Perez wants, but about extracting more pace.
A more pointy car, provided the rear end is controllable, will generally be quicker through and out of a corner than a more understeer-limited one given the driver can more proactively induce the required rotation.
Verstappen’s ability to make the most of a car with such characteristics, which many drivers struggle with, is one of his many strengths. But it does make life more difficult for Perez.
Asked by The Race about Perez’s comments, Monaghan said he had not heard them but laid out the development direction.
“We haven’t made a deliberate step to make the car less to his liking,” said Monaghan when asked about what Perez had said. “It’s not easy to make them go faster.
“Within a fairly constricted set of technical regulations and freedoms, if you find a way to put a bit of pace on, you will often take it if it’s within your financial limitations to apply it.
“So you then go through a process of your research tools, realisation at full size and then evaluation at full size. And if it looks like we’ve put some pace on the car, typically we will keep it on the basis that all your tools say your car will be faster.
“Now, it may be that in deploying the tools, it’s been maybe easier for Max to adopt them. Maybe his set-up is suited a bit more than Checo’s.
“But it’s not as if the car is fixed in terms of its parameters [so] that Checo can’t then revise the set-up to say it’s to his liking again. And it would be foolish of us to not then try and give Checo a method to get more out of it.
“We’re in the race for both titles and we need both cars ideally ahead of the Ferraris and the Mercedes. So we will do everything we can to put the two of them there.”
Perez has been working to get the set-up better suited to him in recent events, but has struggled to match Verstappen’s pace.
While rain-affected qualifying sessions have made it more difficult to assess the single-lap pace deficit, he has been off Verstappen’s pace in the races. He also never showed the turn of speed his team-mate did in Austria and has settled into more of a number two role.
But he still has aspirations of fighting for the championship, holding third place – 57 points behind Verstappen. That follows losing significant ground after retiring from the Austrian Grand Prix as a result of damage sustained when he clashed with George Russell on the opening lap, earning the Mercedes driver a penalty.
As Monaghan has pointed out, Red Bull needs to get the most from both drivers in order to maximise its title hopes.
But to do that, it must also make the car as quick as possible, which has worked against Perez. As Monaghan puts it, there should be ways “within the race engineer’s suite of tools and things we can change” to evolve his set-up and it would benefit the team to do so.
While it suits Red Bull to have Perez operating as a number two driver, it’s also beneficial to push the performance ceiling higher even if Verstappen is the only one comfortable with it. Then it’s down to Perez’s side of the garage to mitigate it with set-up.
“It should be within our capabilities to find something which is a little bit more to his liking,” said Monaghan.
“The balance between the drivers through a season will always ebb and flow. And if you look at it, Checo outqualified Max this year – that hasn’t happened for a while to any of Max’s team-mates.
“Max doesn’t want to rest on his laurels and neither does Checo and neither are we [doing so]. Our race is within our team, but they have got to remember that they both drive for the same team and our race is against our neighbours, who are both quite happy to see us behind them.
“So our fight is on many fronts, but one of them I wouldn’t regard as a contest. It’s more our challenge [to manage] and that’s [between] both our drivers and we’ll support them as best we can.”