Little-known Sergio Perez skill praised: “It was amazing, back then…”

A crucial trait of Sergio Perez’s has been remembered despite his reputation taking “a hammering” this year.
Race winner Sergio Perez (MEX) Racing Point F1 Team celebrates in parc
Race winner Sergio Perez (MEX) Racing Point F1 Team celebrates in parc

Perez clung onto P2 in the 2023 F1 drivers’ standings despite fears he would fail to finish behind Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen.

After months of speculation that he could be ditched from his 2024 seat, Perez is finally set to return in the tricky role as Verstappen’s teammate.

“I think his reputation has taken a hammering,” Bernie Collins, his former strategist at Force India, told the Beyond the Grid podcast. 

“And I think when we went into the start of the year, he was very strong and I was surprised at how strong he was against Max. 

“I 100% have a soft spot for Checo, because Checo for many years was the person scoring points in the team doing things like the Russia 2015 strategy, doing what was asked of him.”

Perez shone by finishing on the podium in Russia eight years ago after a masterclass in tyre management.

Collins continued: “He was very easy to work with in terms of going through the analysis afterwards. 

“He was very easy to work if you had a bad qualifying, because he would immediately turn it around and be good for the race. 

“He’s not the driver that Max is. Max is a much stronger driver. He's probably not the strategist that Sebastian was, because Sebastian is a much stronger strategist. 

“But he was very good at the tyre management stuff and he worked very well with his old engineer, Tim, on improving his qualifying.

“At one stage he was very poor in qualifying, which was definitely his weakness, so he worked at improving that. 

“I would say Sebastian is probably the best driver I've worked with, but Checo in that team with the pit wall group that we had, that’s not that much different today, did a lot of good things with that car.”

Perez’s ability to move on arguably contrasts with the slump that he found himself in during this year, when his future at Red Bull was in doubt.

“It was amazing back then,” Collins remembered about their Force India days.

“There was at least one point where you have a bad qualifying for whatever reason. I would always come into the office a bit deflated, like ‘that's not what we expected, we wanted much more, it's going to be a difficult race’, whatever the case may be. 

“And very often, Checo would be in there already going ‘right, what are we going to do in the race? We’re starting P18’ or whatever it was. 

“I was like, ‘I've not even got over the negativity yet, and you're already asking me how we're going to fix it’.

“You've obviously not simulated a P18 start or whatever. I always felt that, particularly his family around him, he had a very strong emotional resilience at that stage. 

“Obviously, it's very different when you're the driver that’s scoring the most points. It’s a very different situation to Red Bull.”

Race winner Sergio Perez (MEX) Racing Point F1 Team celebrates on the
Race winner Sergio Perez (MEX) Racing Point F1 Team celebrates on the

Perez’s first F1 grand prix victory was three years ago in Sakhir with Collins as his strategist at Racing Point.

From starting in fifth, he was soon at the back of the grid after a clash with Charles Leclerc.

“That was an interesting race because we did Bahrain the week before. The garages haven't moved, the pit walls haven't moved, your hotel hasn't changed, All these things haven't changed,” Collins said. 

“But the track is now very different. The pit straight looks the same, turn one looks to see him, but the track is very, very different requirements.

“The first weekend's high degradation, the second week is low deg. The first weekend's very easy to overtake because of the high deg, second weekend isn't. 

“The first weekend is multiple stops, the second weekend isn't. You need to get everyone aligned that this is a very different race – it’s not a normal Bahrain anymore.

“A lot of people, I think, were still thinking of multiple stops, still thinking of, you know, in the final Safety Car that they should box and put on new tyres. Well, we were thinking the deg’s quite low, whatever.

“We were forced to start on a soft tyre. That was a regulation then, because we qualified so well.

“But we always work out where we would start on if we had free choice. We knew that the soft wasn't the quickest tyre – the medium was the quickest tyre.

“We knew that a medium/hard one-stop was going to be much quicker than the soft/hard one-stop that we were on. We knew all of that before we went into the race.

“On Lap 1, when Checo crashed, everyone’s trying to figure out if the car's damaged, if we need to do a pit stop, what we need to do, when we need to do it. 

“Actually, the information coming back from the car was fine. We didn't need to do a pit stop – but we did a pit stop for the medium tyre, because we knew it was the fastest strategy.

“Chris, Checo’s engineer at the time. turned to me and goes, ‘are you really sure about this?’ It’s the easiest decision I've ever had to make on the pit wall. I was so confident it was the right thing to do.

“Because we knew that the degradation on the soft would mean it was not the quickest tyre. And we were last and there was a Safety Car anyway, so we had nothing to lose by making that decision.

“I think there was very little time to have full buy-in from Checo. We always work out what our ‘bail-out’ tyre would be if we had to do a pit stop. 

“So if we had to do pit stop, we knew it was going to be a medium, that was already decided. So the only decision was, we don't need a pit stop. 

“We don't need a front wing, we don’t need any of these things. It was still 100% the right thing to do.

“The car was quick and Checo was quick. So it's not just down to that strategy decision, but it would have been much more difficult without that strategy decision. And then the next strategy decision being, at that final Safety Car, not to do a pit stop when lots of other people did a pit stop.”

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