Sergio Perez has opened up on the difficulties of taming the Red Bull car in 2021, and said he looks forward to stepping up his development this year.
Perez joined the Milton Keynes-based team from Racing Point ahead of last season to replace the departing Alex Albon, whose two podiums were not enough to mitigate what had been an extremely disappointing 2020 for the Thai-Brit.
The Mexican was walking into a team that had been ruthless with its drivers previously, as Pierre Gasly and Daniil Kvyat experienced having been dropped partway through 2019 and 2016 respectively.
The 31-year-old found himself out-qualified 20 times in 22 races by Dutch team-mate Max Verstappen, who was an average of half a second quicker per lap.
His qualifying pace is something that Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko has highlighted as an area for improvement in 2022, but the Austrian praised his driver’s ability to perform on Sundays having scored five podiums and taken victory in Azerbaijan in 2021.
Despite having just won his first race with fourth-placed Constructors’ Championship team Racing Point at the Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020, Perez was very much going from a midfield outfit to a top team last year.
He has previously revealed that he needed time to learn “how to drive” the car, and has now spoken on the difficulties of acclimatising himself to Red Bull.
“I think it has been a really challenging year from my side, arriving into such a different team, [with] such a different philosophy,” he told RacingNews365.com.
“There are teams in Formula 1 that are closer to each other in terms of driving, in terms of setting up cars, the way you look after the tyres, and here I came to a team that was 100 per cent different – it had very little similarities to what I’ve done in Formula 1 in the past.”
The Mexican said he essentially had to re-learn the nuances of driving an F1 car, but feels immense satisfaction when he gets it into its optimal operating window.
“Basically, I had to start from zero, learn new techniques of setting up the car, of driving the car, and it’s been a great challenge. I think it has put me into another level as a driver, [in] that I had to learn a different way of driving.
“The car is unbelievable when it’s at its right window. [But] it’s very, very challenging to get the tyres and to get the car in that sweet spot – it’s not been easy.
“It has a certain technique, like every Formula 1 car, if they have a very small window where they operate, and this is the same.”
Ultimately, the former Sauber and McLaren driver indicates that patience is needed when stepping into a new car.
“To find the sweet spot, I think it takes time, and I think [with] the Red Bull more than any other car in the paddock, due to the characteristics of how you have to drive the car.”
Not only was the two-time race winner climbing into a new chassis, but he was racing with Honda power for the first time in his career when he joined the Milton Keynes squad.
He achieved three podiums in 2012 with the the Ferrari-powered Sauber team, and has raced with Mercedes power since his McLaren days in 2013.
He would then join Force India at the beginning of the hybrid era, and had only experienced the Brixworth-made power unit between 2014 and 2020.
Perez outlines the key differences between the engines.
“It’s completely different. The way you apply the power into the Honda is such a different one to the Mercedes,” he explained.
“It’s been also a very good experience. As a driver, you want to go through very different scenarios of engines, of cars, of tyres and so on, and this has definitely opened up my window a lot.”
The Mexican suggests that driver errors are not necessarily more frequent when driving for a top team, but rather the mistakes are more conspicuous.
“When you come to a team that is already fighting for the title, you see all the mistakes [from a driver], and probably if you’re in a team that is under the radar a bit more, you don’t see those mistakes as often,” he affirmed.
The 31-year-old is aiming to take learnings from his debut year with Red Bull to improve further next season.
“I think it’s just part of the process. But I look forward to take another gear for next year, now that I’m fully adapted with Red Bull,” he said.
Being one of the more experienced drivers on the grid, Perez did not have any concerns about meeting the same fate as Albon, Gasly or Kvyat before him, indicating that he is past the stage of sweating over where he will be racing next year.
“No, I wasn’t worried at all. At this stage of my career, it’s hard to get worried about not getting a seat,” he stated.
However, he received reassurances from advisor Dr Helmut Marko and team principal Christian Horner that he would be in the car in 2022.
“I think we matched really well, really quickly, within the Red Bull family. And very early on, Helmut and Christian told me to not look anywhere else, because they wanted to carry on with me,” added the Mexican.
Perez scored points on 16 occasions last year on his way to a fourth-placed Drivers’ Championship finish, as his Red Bull team missed out on their fifth Constructors’ Championship to Mercedes.
He did, however, play an integral role in helping Verstappen seal his first world championship by holding off Mercedes’ Sir Lewis Hamilton in Turkey and in the season finale in Abu Dhabi.