Sergio Perez has blamed his fourth-placed finish at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix purely on misfortune as a Safety Car cost him his third career win.
After 218 previous race entries in the pinnacle of motorsport, Perez took his maiden pole position in the most dramatic of circumstances at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, pipping Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc to the fastest time at the very end.
He was comfortably dominating proceedings in the first half of the race on Sunday, and pitted from the Mediums onto the Hards, which easily had the longevity to make it to the end of the race.
However, a crash for Nicholas Latifi at the final corner triggered the deployment of the Safety Car, knocking the Mexican off top spot as Leclerc, team-mate Max Verstappen and Ferrari’s Carlos Sainz were all afforded “cheap” stops.
The 32-year-old’s woes were compounded when he squeezed back ahead of Sainz as the Spaniard exited the pits, but he was deemed to have made the move after he had already rejoined the racetrack under Safety Car conditions, so was forced to hand him the place back on the restart.
Perez had everything under control before Latifi found the barrier, and laments that a huge slice of misfortune ultimately cost him victory.
“Just bad luck, bad timing. I felt I had the race pretty much under control and [then] came this incident from Latifi and basically it hurt me,” he said after the race.
“It just came at the wrong point of the race for me. As a driver, there is nothing you could do. We have everything in place, plenty of margin for the undercut and unfortunately we couldn’t execute what we should today.”
Both Sainz and Verstappen testified that they struggled to get new tyres into an optimal working range as qualifying went on, and Perez encountered the same issues in the second stage of the race in Jeddah.
“I think we did everything throughout the weekend perfectly. At the end behind Carlos, I think the car wasn’t as good as it was on the first stint,” he explained.
“We did some adjustment going on to the hard compound, which probably hurt us a bit. And then, at the end, it was catching him up. Unfortunately we had the yellow flag and then he pulled away.”
The undercut proved particularly powerful in Bahrain the previous weekend, and this was what the 32-year-old was aiming for at the Jeddah Corniche Circuit by stopping before the three drivers behind him.
However, he does not agree that his stop was a particularly early on, as they had planned for a stint that, due to the residual grip on the Hards, would not have put a massive strain on them.
“I don’t think it was an early stop. I think they would have to have stopped a lap earlier. So I think it was the right lap to box,” he added.
“The hards can go forever, so it was just about getting out of that medium tyre. It wasn’t early.”
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner acknowledges that a driver can be a beneficiary of the Safety Car one week and a victim the next, so Perez’s loss of track position was just the way the cookie crumbled on Sunday.
“We pitted on the lap that we discussed pre-race and then, bang, a Safety Car,” he said.
“And as we know with Safety Cars, sometimes they work for you, sometimes they work against you. And it was very unlucky for him today.”
Running with car number 11, it was 11 years to the day on race day in Jeddah since Perez had made his F1 debut with Sauber.
Having taken his maiden pole the day before, the stars looked aligned for him to claim his third career victory, but it wasn’t to be.
“Desperately disappointing for Checo because what an incredible lap yesterday to get that pole,” Horner added.
“He then converted that into the lead. He was controlling the race beautifully.”
Verstappen would eventually win the race after an exciting battle with Leclerc, and his success was the 21st of his career, and the 76th in Red Bull’s history.