The Devil’s In The Data: What Perez Could Bring To Red Bull
In the low-grip tightrope act that was the 2020 Turkish Grand Prix, Sergio Perez reminded the world why he is still a driver any team would do well to pursue.
Not that the world needed reminding, despite somewhat of a chequered season for the Racing Point man.
Having stopped for Intermediates on Lap 10, Perez nursed his tyres to the line to claim a well-deserved 2nd place finish. This was Checo’s first podium since the 2018 Azerbaijan Grand Prix.
This was yet another great drive by the Mexican, who is still without a seat for the 2021 season. There is a notable space still unfilled for next year though, the second Red Bull seat. Here’s why we believe Perez needs to replace Albon.
Why Perez is the man Red Bull need
Turkey was an impressive drive, a masterclass in both patience and focus, enabled by a unique ability few can match. If Red Bull are on the lookout for a new driver, Perez is certainly the man to have.
While Nico Hulkenberg is perhaps more capable of chasing Verstappen on a Saturday afternoon, Perez more than makes up for it on Sunday.
READ MORE: DANIIL KVYAT: NOT DONE YET
The pair were teammates at Force India between 2014-2016 and it was
nip and tuck between them. Hulkenberg dominated their first campaign together (96 points to Perez’s 59), before Perez struck back, becoming Force India’s main breadwinner in their final two years as teammates.
A Delicate Touch
Sergio Perez can save his tyres probably better than anybody else on the Formula 1 grid. This is an opinion shared by Racing Point Technical Director Andrew Green:
“Once Checo gets into rhythm on a Sunday afternoon, he’s absolutely one of the best. I think he’s one of the few drivers who really excelled on tyre management and being able to read the car.”
This ability to stretch the life out of any given set of tyres has allowed Perez to rack up a total of nine podiums in his ten years in the sport. These were all in midfield cars that had no real business being in the top three.
READ MORE: F1 2020: THE YEAR OF THE HONEYBADGER
By comparison, Hulkenberg is yet to stand on even its lowest rung. Bad
luck has certainly played its part in the German’s case (Monaco 2016 being one such example), but Hulkenberg has also thrown away a number of chances himself (Brazil 2012, Germany 2019).
The Gain For Red Bull
For Red Bull, signing Sergio Perez could mean the return of that crucial second Chess piece. With a driver that can go long and keep the tyres alive, Red Bull are granted greater tactical options, a luxury they haven’t had since the departure of Daniel Riccardo at the end of 2018.
With no rear gunner for Verstappen, Red Bull have been fighting Mercedes with one arm tied behind their back.
It certainly cost Verstappen victory in last year’s Hungarian Grand Prix, when a gap that should have been occupied by a Red Bull awarded Mercedes the opportunity of stopping Hamilton for fresh Mediums to hunt down Verstappen.
Having two cars in play again will undoubtedly make things easier for the team and allow them to pick up more points on Sundays.
The Benefit For Verstappen
The importance of tyre management in F1 cannot be overstated. Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton’s recent duels have showcased this. It’s allowed Hamilton to take a second stab at the Bottas on-track later in the race.
Being able to successfully manage the tyres grants driver and team greater tactical options, such as making fewer pitstops, or extending a stint to gain a tyre advantage over rivals.
READ MORE: THE PROBLEM WITH WRC COVERAGE
In a sport where success is so dependent on the quality of the machinery available, it is one of the few areas where a driver can really make the difference.
Perez has revealed that much of his tyre-whispering ability he attributes to lessons learnt in his first two years in Formula 1 driving alongside Kamui Kobayashi at Sauber.
“He was really amazing. I learned a lot from him on how to work with the tyres. He has a good experience with the Japanese, they are always good on tyres. That was good for me to learn from him.”
Such an admittance from Perez seems to suggest that he hasn’t always been such a tyre maestro – that in fact, his ability to manage the tyres is as much learned skill as natural ability.
If this is the case, could Perez do for Verstappen what Kobayashi did for him?
It’s not so much a question of whether Verstappen needs the help, though. It’s more a question of whether having Perez in the team can push him even further.
Jenson Button has also singled out Perez’s remarkable ability to protect the rear tyres in traction zones. The 2009 World Champion also added that Perez was the teammate that surprised him the most in his 17-year career:
“Certain circuits didn’t work for him, circuits that had front-limitation didn’t work for him, but circuits that had rear-limitation, like Bahrain, worked very well for him and he was extremely quick.”
How Verstappen could adapt
Even if Perez isn’t forthcoming with any secrets he might have, Verstappen will always have his data to sift through.
It is not yet clear what Red Bull will do. Maybe Albon will do enough in the three remaining races to hold on to his seat. The team appear to be fully behind their Thai driver, insisting that his future is very much in his hands.
Yet, as always in Formula 1, rumours/whispers continue to circulate.
What is clear, though, is that if Verstappen is to take on the now greatest driver of all time in the prime of his career, he is going to need every possible advantage he can get.
Sergio Perez might be able to provide one such advantage.