Red Bull team principal Christian Horner has pinpointed the single moment where he believes Sergio Perez’s 2023 season started to go downhill.
Ever since the end of the summer break, there has been increased scrutiny of Perez’s performance deficit. While Verstappen has won seven out of the eights grands prix held in that time, Perez secured only a single grand prix podium, at Monza.
During the recent triple-header of rounds in the Americas, Horner discussed the difficulty drivers face being Verstappen’s team mate and also why Perez’s form appeared to dip after the fourth round of the season.
“I think being Max Verstappen’s team mate is probably the hardest job in the pit lane,” Horner said. “He’s operating at such a high level and it’s relentless. So the mental aptitude that you need to be able to deal with that every time you see a piece of data, it’s like ‘wow how did he do that?’. That takes a certain strength of character to be able to deal with that.
“The form that he’s in and been in for the last three, four years, he’s just operating at such a high level that it would be tough for any driver on the grid.”
While driving skill is key to being fast, Horner says mental strength “is a huge element” for a driver being able to maximise the package they have. He believes Perez may have suffered a blow to his psyche after being beaten by Verstappen at the Miami Grand Prix, round five of the season.
“I think there was a decisive moment this year, which was probably in Miami, where Checo had if you like an open goal,” said Horner.
“He’d won two races in Azerbaijan and Saudi, and you could see his confidence was high. And I think that Max winning that race [in Miami], having been caught out by a red flag in qualifying, starting down in ninth [with Perez on pole], and that he took the lead within a very short period of time [with ten laps remaining], I think mentally that was quite a brutal one for Checo to deal with.
“And then on top of that, then came Monaco the next race, and then things compound. I think that Max is just relentless. He’s then just hitting aces every race from there onwards.”
Perez did the opposite of rebounding from his Miami defeat, as in Monaco he qualified last and finished a twice-lapped 16th while Verstappen won from pole position.
Horner thinks getting Perez back into the mental position he was in at the start of the campaign will unlock winning pace.
“If you see Checo’s performances in the first part of the year. Bahrain, very, very tight with Max, that the race in Saudi was a great race between the two of them, pushing each other really hard. Very fine margins. His race in Azerbaijan, winning the sprint and the grand prix there. Those are the kind of performances that we know he’s capable of. And I think it’s just getting him back into that mindframe and to get the most out of him, to get him back to those level of performances.”
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2023 Brazilian Grand Prix
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