Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff believes Sergio Perez struggled in 2023 because he was unable to get Pirelli’s tyres into the “sweet spot”, something the Austrian thinks only Max Verstappen was able to do on a consistent basis.
Perez started this year at the top of his game, as he won two of the opening four races, resulting in him being labelled as Verstappen’s only title rival.
However, the 33-year-old’s chances of winning the Drivers’ Championship soon diminished, as he went on a shocking run of results.
Perez finished towards the back of the field in Monaco after crashing out in Q1, before failing to finish on the rostrum in Barcelona and Montreal.
He then found some form, as he salvaged podium finishes in Austria, Hungary, Belgium and Italy.
This made many believe that Perez was back to his best; however, he then went onto endure a miserable weekend in Singapore before retiring at the following event in Japan.
Qatar was another dreadful weekend for the Red Bull driver, whose season was summed up by him retiring from his home race on the opening lap.
Perez’s big issue in 2023 was qualifying, as he often found himself eliminated in Q2.
He just struggled to get the most out of the RB19 over one-lap, something which Wolff clearly thinks is down to Pirelli’s rubber.
Several drivers were unable to consistently get the maximum performance out of the tyres, with Verstappen having been the only driver to seemingly always get them firing on all cylinders.
The Dutchman claimed pole position 12 times in 2023, whilst in the races he was often able to make his opening stint last longer than anyone else.
Perez was often significant slower than Verstappen, something Wolff is certain isn’t down to a lack of ability but more down to a lack of understanding how to get the tyres into the right window.
“It’s difficult to comprehend that good drivers in various teams have these oscillations of performance,” Wolff said, via quotes by The Mirror. “You’ve seen this with [Carlos] Sainz and [Charles] Leclerc, you’ve seen it with George and Lewis, Oscar [Piastri] and Lando [Norris].
“The obvious one is Perez and Verstappen. Perez is not a second slower than Max. So, what is that? We have seen it swinging in both directions.
“So, fundamentally, I think it’s all around the tyre grip. If you are able to have the car in a sweet spot, a stable platform that you start the work with at the beginning of the weekend, then you can extract performance.
“I think if you’re not [in that sweet spot], there’s just no performance. You’re falling off the cliff, literally. So, I have no explanation for that. I think the only one this year who has understood how to drive these tyres is Max.”