The side of Red Bull switch Perez underrated
Sergio Perez underperformed in his first year with Red Bull. By his own admission, he “expected more” from a Formula 1 season in which teammate Max Verstappen won the world championship.
There were many complicating factors around Red Bull’s switch from Perez and many of them are well understood: 1.5 days of pre-season testing, a very different car philosophy, the fact that Red Bull is Verstappen’s team and the unenviable benchmark he sets.
What about the engine change from Mercedes to Honda? It’s something Perez says is on the list of things that “even as a driver you underestimate until you experience them.”
“Driving a different motor unit is a completely different task,” he says.
“Driving a completely different car philosophy with higher rake versus lower rate is a completely different task.
“The way you approach things is hugely different and you have to learn new techniques. Basically what I used to do, nothing really worked.
“It would be the same if Max went to Mercedes, for example. They are very different. They produce very similar lap times, but the way they get the lap time is hugely different.
The change of team and car will obviously be an integral part of this challenge. While Perez tends to focus on the fact that a high-performance car such as the Red Bull is something “I haven’t driven my whole career”, all the tools to maximize the performance of this car are foreign. during a change like this.
And Perez is right to concede that the driving force is underrated.
Differential mapping has become such a dark art in F1 and understanding the dynamic effects of all these parameters is vital. They vary from team to team, even when moving within the same engine group.
A power unit change will no doubt contribute to the complication as it interacts with the power delivery, especially in the middle and exit of the corner. This means that the characteristics of the power unit have an impact on this.
Braking shapes are also team specific and a power unit’s braking and harvesting characteristics interact with this.
And then there are the simpler things — on the surface, at least — like shifting and muscle memory to know when to shift. The power curves and the way the energy recovery system intervenes are probably very different.
Just as muscle memory is key to braking and cornering techniques, timing an upshift to maximize the power curve or the effect on tire life if you don’t shorten gears properly will have a measurable difference in lap performance and time on an assigned task.
Especially considering that Perez had only driven one type of V6 turbo-hybrid power unit in F1, so he changed with seven years of Mercedes knowledge embedded in his brain – then piled into the season with a day and a half to try to replace that.
So while Perez had the ability to learn how to restart his car without assistance after his engine cut out on the formation lap in Bahrain, for example, the finer details that are real performance differentiators (even at a tiny level) are not so easy to absorb.
This contributed to the clear upward trend in performance and results that Perez enjoyed in the second half.
“Now I finally understood how to drive a car, how to exploit it to the fullest,” he says.
“And that’s why the results were much better.”
Three of Perez’s five podium finishes have come in the last seven Grands Prix. He just missed another in Qatar after a bizarrely poor qualifying result, was an unfortunate victim of Saudi Arabia’s restart madness and retired comfortably third in Abu Dhabi – where he played a leading role in upsetting Lewis Hamilton in Verstappen’s quest for victory. the title.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Perez could have finished each of the last eight races of 2021 in the top four and at least half of them should have been podiums. That’s a marked improvement on the five top-four results he achieved in the first 14 Grands Prix.
The thing is that while Perez has never been truly stunning even at his best in 2021 and his main limitation against Verstappen will be his underlying level of ability rather than the nuances of a Honda power unit, there was clear evidence that Perez was operating to a better standard once he became well acquainted with his machines.
“It was a slow adaptation,” he admits, “but to a very different car, a very different engine.
“There was a lot to learn with a new team, without any wholesale testing. Before the first race, I did a day and a half. I hadn’t done anything before the first race.
“But overall I think the season has been promising. Of course, I would have hoped for more, but that’s the way it is. And I keep pushing.
“We’ve had positive days, negative days, but we’ll only get stronger. We already have a baseline that we can work from. So that makes a huge difference.
“I already know the people, I already know who to ask what and how to get the most out of each individual around me.
“So it’s a very different picture.”