It was a superb performance from the Mexican, who managed his tires in the early laps and, after riding for a long time, was able to put up enough gait to jump three cars after his pit stop.

However, it was also about what could have been had he qualified closer to teammate Max Verstappen, rather than seven places behind the Dutchman.

Qualifying remains an Achilles heel for Perez in 2021 as he continues to find his way with the RB16B. The second on the grid in the second round at Imola suggested quick progress, but subsequently struggled.

In Monaco things looked bright after his fifth place in Q2, but when it mattered in Q3 things turned out.

“It was a disaster,” he explained. “We made good progress during qualifying, and in Q2 we made a good step. But the track was getting colder, and we changed our approach to Q3, first run, and I had no front-end.

“They were very cold, the tires. And then on the second attempt the round was going fine until I encountered a lot of traffic. And basically I wasted a lot of lap time through it.

“I definitely should have improved what I did in Q2 by a tenth or two. So it will be a 10.8, so probably P6. Not much better, but that’s what it is.”

Instead, he found himself stuck in ninth, frustrating 0.997s from his teammate.

On Sunday, a no-start from Charles Leclerc gave Perez a place, and after safely rounding Ste Dévote in eighth position, it was all about being patient and playing the long game.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo by: Erik Junius

The team knew that the only way to progress would be to run further than their predecessors and then do a few quick laps, and for that to work Perez had to use his famous tire management skills and extend life. of its apps as much as possible. .

Sitting behind Sebastian Vettel in the first stint is exactly what he did, stepping back and leaving a space he could fill at will when he needed it.

“The tires are nice at this point, just keep life alive when we need it,” engineer Hugh Bird told him as the pit stops approached.

Of the guys he was racing, Hamilton in sixth was the first to stop on lap 29, followed by Pierre Gasly on lap 30 and Vettel on lap 31. Perez then received the message: “OK Free air, enjoy it.”

It was now his old softs against the new hardships of those who had opposed. He did a superb lap in 1m14.552s (at the time the fastest of all) then did a 1m14.670s. He was now about two seconds faster than the pace he had run a short time ago.

Asking him “how are you?” Bird said, “This pace is good, took three tenths off Seb in sector one, five tenths in sector two.”

On lap 33, Red Bull brought in leader Verstappen – a move that ensured he was out of Perez’s way, just like the Mexican needed to strike in those quick laps. As Max emerged from the pit lane, Perez stepped in to take the lead, albeit briefly.

“How are the tires?” Bird asked him. “I’m losing the left rear a bit,” he replied.

It was a trigger for the shutdown. He was called up at the end of lap 34, having completed three more laps than Vettel, and he came out of the pits safely in front of the German’s Aston Martin – and two other cars he had driven. Bottas’ retirement provided another boost.

He quickly got the news: “OK Checo, good job, currently P4, we have the jump on Vettel, Gasly and Hamilton.”

After digesting the information in the next two corners, he asked, “Who’s next?”

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B, Antonio Giovinazzi, Alfa Romeo Racing C41

Photo By: Glenn Dunbar / Motorsport images

Perhaps wary of Perez getting a bit ahead of himself, given that Lando Norris was about eight seconds down the road, Bird tried to calm things down: “Just manage the fuel from here, let’s take a little lift and hill, got Vettel behind by two seconds. “

In fact, in the last 44 laps after his stoppage, Perez managed to close on Norris. The pass was based on a McLaren man error, but none came, and at the flag the gap was just over a second.

After the post-flag discussion between Perez and Horner, Bird summed up the ride: “You did a great job saving tires for when we needed them, you got it running when we looked. pure from Vettel. “

It was a great race for Perez, and his fourth place saw Red Bull take the lead in the constructors’ championship. However, he kept his feet on the ground.

“I am satisfied with the result,” he said. “I think when we go to Abu Dhabi nobody will remember this race. It’s all about the championship. It’s such a long championship that minimizing bad days and coming out strong from a bad day will be key.

“And today we managed to do it. And it just shows that the rhythm is there on Sunday, I just have to settle my Saturday. “

Perez admitted there was still some frustration with his starting position considering how fast he was able to show in the race.

“I think it’s just part of my adaptation, as you see with other drivers. It’s a very unique season in that regard. Drivers change teams, normally in the past, did not been such a big thing. “

“But this year, with so many variables, it made it more difficult.”

He admitted that Imola was sort of a false dawn in terms of qualifying form, and he hasn’t been able to match that since.

“Yeah, to be honest, considering that at Imola I managed to put him on the second row, in my second race, already on such a difficult track. But the progression didn’t come on Saturday. are just the variables. it’s a bit variable I’m not completely comfortable with the car yet, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. “

Azerbaijan is next, a one-time track where anything can happen and where Perez finished third in 2018.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB16B

Photo By: Steven Tee / Motorsport images

Baku is not a typical track, and so what will be more useful for Perez’s learning curve will be the three race race in France and Austria, especially with two consecutive events at the latter site.

“I think it will be very, very, very important to go to more places, especially Austria. Doing two weekends at a Grand Prix that would really speed up my learning.”

On the positive side, the team is completely behind him, but he knows better than anyone that he needs to start scoring better. So far he’s won both quarters and two-fifths – unfortunately, the strong qualifying performance at Imola escalated into a frustrating 11th – but that’s not enough.

After Monaco, Red Bull leads Mercedes from 149 to 148 in the constructors’ championship, and Perez must make an ever greater contribution.

“I think he finds Saturdays more difficult than Sundays,” Horner said after the flag. His race pace has generally been very, very strong. So I think on Saturday we have to work with him to help him get comfortable, but it will come.

“You can see the majority of the pilots, probably with the exception of Carlos [Sainz] who changed teams this year, it took them a while to get up to speed. I think the tires are also more delicate this year, it creates another dynamic. But it gets there, and a performance like today’s contributes to it.

“Checo had great races this year. In Bahrain he was very strong. His race pace in the last race in Barcelona was very strong. His race pace in Portimao was good.”

“So there is no doubt about it, he just has to qualify in position, and then he will be a factor.”

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