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How do Perez’s struggles compare to Verstappen’s other F1 team-mates?


Sergio Perez’s Red Bull performances are under scrutiny once more amid his latest Formula 1 slump, but how do his struggles compare to Max Verstappen’s previous team-mates?

From qualifying less than a tenth off Verstappen on a true drivers’ circuit like Suzuka, Sergio Perez is back on the struggle bus once more with deficits to his team-mate that are becoming a huge point of concern for Red Bull as rival teams are starting to pose a much bigger challenge.

Perez was brought into the fold in 2021 to finally find a new consistent wingman to Verstappen, who would bank podiums – and wins on his day – to help the team conquer the constructors’ world championship as well as the drivers’ titles.

By moving for the Mexican F1 veteran of 10 years, Red Bull chose reliable experience over the inconsistent promise of youngsters like Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, who were both thrown into the deep end but struggled to stay afloat at the start of their F1 careers.

The choice for Perez initially seemed to pay off, but while Verstappen has managed to master Red Bull’s machinery, Perez has found it harder to extract the maximum out of its peaky cars, often struggling to find a comfortable balance in free practice which leaves him on the back foot for the rest of the weekend.

The 2024 season promised to shape up differently, with Perez doing exactly what Red Bull wanted by claiming three runner-up spots to Verstappen to start the year, which helped him earn a contract extension until 2026. But since Miami, Perez’s old mid-season slump has returned and he hasn’t found the podium since.

Max Verstappen faced his toughest challenge from Daniel Ricciardo in 2018

Last weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix was another low point for Perez, qualifying eighth and finishing seventh in between the two Haas cars. Inevitably, Perez has copped plenty of flak for his performances, so how do they stack up to his predecessors as Verstappen’s team-mate?

Average qualifying gap between Verstappen and his team-mates

Team-mate

Average qualifying gap

Daniel Ricciardo, 2016

0.049 faster than VER

Daniel Ricciardo, 2017

0.065 slower than VER

Daniel Ricciardo, 2018

0.107 slower than VER

Pierre Gasly, 2019

0.592 slower than VER

Alexander Albon, 2019

0.634 slower than VER

Alexander Albon, 2020

0.621 slower than VER

Sergio Perez, 2021

0.564 slower than VER

Sergio Perez, 2022

0.392 slower than VER

Sergio Perez, 2023

0.548 slower than VER

Sergio Perez, 2024

0.629 slower than VER

Looking through Perez’s three and a half seasons with the Milton Keynes-based squad, the Mexican was only closer to Verstappen in 2022, the first season with the current ground-effect based machinery. One explanation is the fact that Red Bull’s RB18 was significantly overweight at the start of 2022, making it harder to keep it balanced. Verstappen was particularly unimpressed with the induced understeer the RB18 came with out of the box, which was slowly dialled out. As the weight came off, Perez’s deficit grew.

On the whole, the averages of every head-to-head qualifying result show that Perez hasn’t necessarily gotten a lot worse. He has always been a good chunk off Verstappen’s lap times, but because the field is now much closer both he and Red Bull are starting to pay a bigger price on the results sheet. But so far, 2024 does prove to be his most difficult season yet, with most of the damage done in recent weeks.

The next question is how Perez stacks up to Verstappen’s previous Red Bull team-mates, in particular Gasly and Albon as they were ousted for not being up to the task.

Looking at the data, only Daniel Ricciardo was ever able to keep Verstappen honest, and since Ricciardo’s departure it has never found a proper replacement for the Australian.

Team-mate

Average qualifying gap as team-mates

Daniel Ricciardo

0.047 slower than VER

Pierre Gasly

0.592 slower than VER

Alexander Albon

0.625 slower than VER

Sergio Perez

0.520 slower than VER

On one hand Ricciardo found a type of car at Red Bull that suited his driving style, and which he has been unsuccessfully chasing elsewhere ever since. But Verstappen was also still at the start of his racing career, and while his speed was always there, he was yet grow into the hyper consistent, unstoppable force that he is today.

Gasly and Albon were around six tenths slower per lap, and while Perez was initially a little closer, he is now also straying into the same territory.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

If anything, it shows that being Verstappen’s team-mate is not easy, and that the Dutchman has unique capabilities to drive around the Red Bull’s weaknesses, which even yielded consistent results on bumpier circuits that are the RB20’s Achilles heel.

But it also demonstrates that as McLaren, Mercedes and Ferrari are now consistently qualifying ahead of Perez, Red Bull is back to square one in its search for a reliable number two.

Perez still managed to save his seat at the start of the year against the backdrop of Ricciardo’s inconsistent performances at RB, and team principal Christian Horner’s reluctance to consider Yuki Tsunoda.

But its choice to play safe with Perez instead of bringing in someone like Carlos Sainz is starting to hurt already.

Red Bull still enjoys a healthy lead in the constructors’ standings over its rivals, who are all taking points off each other. But it will soon become desperate for the 34-year-old to dig himself out of his hole.



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