Sergio Perez’s battle to adapt to the Red Bull RB16B with limited running has been a big talking point of the season so far, but he’s made it emphatically clear that he knows he must avoid an error one of his predecessors, Pierre Gasly, made in 2019.
One of Red Bull’s frustrations with Gasly during his half-season with the team two years ago was that he was endlessly chasing a set-up sweet-spot that wasn’t achievable.
This included struggling to find the global compromise for the lap, as well as falling into a style that too often meant the car was under-rotated, leading to problems on the power in the exit phase owing to having more steering lock applied than Max Verstappen.
But speaking ahead of the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at Imola, Perez stressed that he has no intention of diverging too far from Verstappen’s approach. He also warned it would be “very silly” to get lost in that way.
“In general, it’s understanding how the car works and to have that confidence with the car,” said Perez when asked by The Race where the big areas of improvement are. “I made huge steps in Bahrain in understanding the car.
“It will be very silly to get lost and start chasing one direction that doesn’t make the car go faster. We have a pretty good reference in Max, the way he’s driving the car and which issues he’s chasing.
“So I think that’s a key area, try not to go too far apart. He has a pretty good baseline in terms of how to extract the maximum out of the car, so we need to be in that operating area as much as possible.”
Gasly’s set-up troubles were not his only problem, with the AlphaTauri driver pointing to other concerns, but were a source of friction with the team.
After finishing a lap behind winner Verstappen in the 2019 Austrian Grand Prix, the ninth race of his Red Bull stint, the team cut back on Gasly’s set-up freedom and demanded he stay close to his team-mate’s approach. After a further three races, he was axed.
Perez’s Red Bull debut in last month’s Bahrain Grand Prix was a mixed bag, failing to make it to Q3 having attempted two runs using the medium-compound Pirellis in Q2. He then had to start from the pits, but put in a strong race drive to come through to fifth place.
He refers to there being many areas where he and Red Bull can improve at Imola after the steep learning curve of that first race weekend with just a day-and-a-half of pre-season running.
“Missing out in Q2 wasn’t ideal because every kilometre I do with a car and I definitely find progress,” said Perez.
“It was important to do the race, we were close to missing it with the car turning off and we had to start the race from the pitlane. It was important to get those kilometres and we’re making good progress.
“We had the time to analyse and go through the data and we can already see a lot of areas that we can improve on and look forward to Imola. It’s going to be a very different circuit as well, so that will only help to understand the car better.”
While Perez still has the most ground to make up on single-lap pace after his qualifying struggles, he did reveal that he suffered from a problem during Q2 that cost him time.
He had gone into the second run in Q2 confident enough of setting a good enough laptime for the top 10 given he declined the chance to switch to softs instead. He insists that his approach won’t change given the need to optimise the strategy.
“We could have diverted the strategy at the end of run one [in Q2] but I was pretty confident because I lost three tenths just in one corner by doing a mistake.
“We had a little issue there in the brakes that we only found later and now we understand what went wrong. Without that issue, we definitely should have been through.
“It was the right thing to do. To exploit the maximum results, you have to be on the best possible strategy. And if that means taking some risks, we had to take them.”