During the recent Azerbaijan 2022 GP there were events that were inevitable and others quite surprising. It was surprising to see Mercedes finish P3 and P4, though inevitable that their “bitching” over the car design regulations scaled new heights. One thing that surprised many F1 observers was Sergio Perez race pace and his extreme tyre degradation.
As was the case in Monaco, Perez was quick all weekend in finished ahead of team mate Max Verstappen in each of the practice session.
In qualifying too, the Mexican driver pulled a last dash lap out of the bag to beat his Dutch team mate to P2 by just 5/100ths of a second.
Come race day and again Perez was quick, beating Charles LeClerc off the line to take the lead into the first corner. Sergio quickly broke the DRS gap to the Ferrari driver building a lead of over 4 seconds by lap 6 and looked comfortable until the virtual safety was deployed on lap 9.
The Ferrari’s pitted under the VSC but Red Bull believed it was too early for what they hoped would be just a one stop race.
With LeClerc out of the way, Verstappen quickly closed the gap to Perez and just 4 laps after the VSC was deployed the Dutch driver made an easy pass to take the lead of the race.
From there Perez struggled to match the pace of his tea mate and by lap 17 Max had built an astonishing lead of over 20 seconds.
Perez was clearly suffering with far higher tyre degradation than his team mate which was strange given Sergio’s reputation for being gentle on his tyres.
Christian Horner noted this after the race. “He was magic yesterday and again a great start, [he] went away very quickly from the field but then started to get into rear tyre graining earlier than the cars behind.”
“We can see he’s a bit harder on rear tyre deg, which is unusual for Checo because usually that’s one of his strengths.
The Red Bull team boss surprisingly added, “So maybe we just emphasised a little too much on qualifying on his side of the garage rather than the race, whereas Max’s car seemed to have much better deg in the race. And of course the drivers are contributing to that as well.”
In Baku It wouldn’t be unusual for a team to give one driver a better qualifying setup and the other one more suited to tyre management for the race, particularly given pole position in Azerbaijan offers the least advantage to the driver of all the circuits on the calendar.
Yet given his more aggressive tyre wear setup, what was strange given Horner’s admission about setup was that Red Bull didn’t pit Perez at the same time as the Ferrari’s
Sergio in his post race interviews believed the team made a mistake on his tyre strategy.
“To me, it’s first of all the communication wasn’t tidy today with the team,” Perez told Sky Sports F1 when why his race pace dropped off a cliff.
“We should have ‘boxed’ on the Virtual Safety Car and our race would have looked very different,” stressed the Mexican given the pace he had taken out of the starting tyre to build the lead over LeClerc.
The conspiracists will suggest Red Bull nobbled their “no. 2” driver by allowing the faster qualifying car, but knowing he would burn his tyres up more quickly during the race.
Yet it’s more likely for once the slick Red Bull Racing strategy team just made the wrong call.
Red Bull would not have been ‘caught out’ by the early VSC because they run thousands of of ‘what if’ simulations the night before each race.
However, Red Bull should’ve covered the Ferrari stops with at least one driver and that would usually be the driver not leading the race but Max tyres were in good condition so they left him out.
This time given Perez’s car set up and the fact he’d taken a lot out of his tyres to build an early lead over LeClerc, the team should’ve pitted their lead driver as cover for the Ferrari’s.
They simply got it wrong.
Red Bull’s strategy focus was on controlling the race from the front and ensuring their first stop was much later than the Ferrari’s, giving their drivers the advantage of much fresher rubber come the last 10 laps of the race.
It’s a shame Red Bull didn’t make the call for Perez to switch tyres under the VSC because following the bonfire of the Ferrari’s the fans were deprived the entertainment of a fight between Max and Sergio for the race win.