Nonostante un quasi eliminazione nel Q1: Perez di nuovo primo inseguitore di Verstappen

( – Saturday briefly appeared as if the qualifying demons from last year were catching up with Sergio Perez: The Mexican barely survived Q1 by just 48 thousandths and was the last of the 15 drivers to make it to the second part of the time trial.

“It was just a very messy start to qualifying, very intense,” Perez reports. “I almost got knocked out in Q1 because I had traffic with a Williams and had to abort my lap.” Alex Albon blocked Perez in the long first corner, forcing the Red Bull driver to veer off into the runoff area. The stewards saw no reason to act on this.

Nevertheless, Perez was under significant pressure afterward. “I had to come back to the box and then I was just out of position. Unfortunately, the wind also changed, making it important to be out at the right time to adapt to these new conditions,” said Team Principal Christian Horner. “In hindsight, we should have taken a new set of tires because the track evolved quickly,” Horner apologizes. “One could say it worked out perfectly – but we were somewhat lucky to have made the jump with him.”

Fortunately, after the near miss, the day got significantly better for Perez. “Q2 was a bit more straightforward, I was able to get a feel for the balance, and we made good progress throughout the session. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to beat Max in the end. But overall, it’s a great team result because the track has changed quite a bit.”

Especially the mentioned wind was a major factor: “Since this is a track with quite low grip, it has more of an impact than in other places,” Perez said, reacting continuously with his engineer during the session. “We made a lot of changes to the car to adapt to these conditions.”

Marko spills the beans

However, Motorsport Advisor Helmut Marko revealed on ServusTV that the stress during this hectic phase also affected Perez. “Remarkable was Hugh (Bird), Perez’s engineer. Perez asked, ‘What front wing does Max have?’ And he said, ‘Whatever Max does, what do you need?’ Then there was a bit of a pause, but he accepted it and said he needed a bit more front end. That was the wing adjustment.”

Overall, Marko commended his number 2 driver: “The fact that ‘Checo’ has driven here to second place is also pleasing and proves that he is having his strongest season to date this year. This is obviously very important for the future.” Perez is currently negotiating with Red Bull for a new contract, and performances like the one on Saturday help.

“You always want to have the best people on the team, but with this performance from ‘Checo’,” Marko said, “nearly everything speaks in his favor right now.”

The Grazer also has some food for thought about the Mexican’s collaboration with team leader Verstappen: “Another very important factor is that the harmony is there. The two get along well and have relatively similar settings, which makes the whole technical work easier because the data is more comparable.”

Horner: The press is wrong about Perez

Team Principal Horner also had warm words for Perez: “He is an important part of the team,” the Brit said. “He feels comfortable in the team and knows that he will be without a contract at the end of the season, so he is driving for his future.” What impressed Horner was how Perez is responding to this pressure.

Enough reason for the team boss to also criticize the media a little: “You guys tend to write him off, but he’s doing a great job. He came into this season with a new mindset, he’s relaxed and driving really well.” Horner is convinced: “His confidence is growing and hopefully he can turn that into another good result tomorrow.”

Perez himself is motivated in that regard: “There is everything to gain tomorrow. From here, we can fight and definitely have a strong rhythm,” he says two weeks after Suzuka, looking ahead to the next starting position in the front row. “Today (in the sprint) we showed that we have a good long-run pace, so I’m looking forward to tomorrow.”