Sergio Perez’s Formula 1 victory in Bahrain at the end of last year was an emotional high for Formula 1.
Perez is a popular driver in the sport and has shown his potential in the course of the last 10 years, despite a troubled year in 2013 when he was signed by McLaren to replace Lewis Hamilton. He was dropped after that season and replaced by Kevin Magnussen, Perez stayed on in Formula 1 with less successful teams and his win in Bahrain was his first, and to day only, win in the series in 11 seasons.
Perez has new life this season after Being signed by Red Bull, and was a dream come true for Perez and a second chance with a top team.
The Bahrain Grand Prix back on March 28 was a disappointment. Perez qualified 11th and then had his car shut down as he was on the final parade lap before the race. He managed to get the Red Bull car going again, but had to start from the pits, driving through the field to finish fifth.
It was a decent recovery, but not great result. He hopes to do much better this weekend in Imola, Italy, at the F1 Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
“We saved a couple of points for the team,” Perez says, looking back. “It was very important to get those in the pocket, and also got those kilometers logged, because every kilometer counts.
“Looking into the data, I’m making big steps and I know where I’m lacking lap time. I can see where I can improve. You don’t have a straightforward race when you start from the back. You’re always on a very different strategy to your teammate, which is a good reference to have, and you’re driving a very different race to everyone else.
“You’re having to manage the tires a lot more than you really want to and you’re spending a lot of time in traffic, so it’s not ideal. In the end, though, those points are very important and making the most of a bad day is what’s going to make our championship a successful one.”
Perez is happy to admit that there is a lot to learn and more performance to be found.
“It is going well with such a short, limited amount of testing that we had,” he says. “We normally have three days of testing, but we only had a day and a half and when you consider the amount of aero stuff that we have to do, it’s very little time in the car. Every kilometer is making a difference.
Working with Max Verstappen is, of course, a challenge but also a chance to learn more.
“As a teammate you obviously get to know him closer, to see how he works and see what he does inside and outside the car,” Perez says. “As a rival, you just see him on track and that’s it. You can see that Max is a very talented driver and very natural as well. He is a very good reference.”
But Perez says that people shouldn’t expect too much.
“For me, at the moment, it’s just very important that I get on top of the car and that I really feel comfortable,” he says. “Right now, I’m just having to think a lot what’s going on with the car. I made huge steps understanding the car in Bahrain. We’re making progress and we have a very competitive car so we want them both towards the front.”
Sergio is enjoying being in the team.
“As soon as you arrive at Red Bull, you know why they have been so successful, from Christian (Horner), Adrian (Newey) and Dr Marko, the whole team and how it’s structured. It’s very powerful and they can really do great things, so it’s a massive opportunity for me. The other aspect of the Red Bull culture is how relaxed people are while working so hard.
“It is really something when you come from the outside and experience it. You realize why the team is so successful and also the mentality that they have. They don’t have to be extremely strict to focus, they can be relaxed, but also delivering to the maximum levels. It’s something that Red Bull does very uniquely in the sport.”
Helmut Marko is famous for being brutal in his assessments of drivers but in Bahrain he was quite positive about Perez.
“During qualifying, we should have put him on the soft tire in the second session, that was our mistake,” he explained. “We put him on the medium tires.”
Marko believes that if he had qualified fourth or fifth on medium tires he could have battled Valtteri Bottas for third place and a podium on his Red Bull debut. Perez has a lot to prove, but one thing that did impress the team has Perez’s cool head when dealing with his car cutting out on the parade lap.
Before his win last year, Perez looked like he was not going to get a drive in 2021, but one result can make a big difference. Perez is hoping that this year will allow him back on the top step on the podium.
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