Formula 1 races are often defined by a delicate interplay of strategy, teamwork and individual driver decisions. At the 2023 Italian Grand Prix, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing’s Mexican driver, found himself at the centre of this story as he openly admitted to a race-altering decision that made his day at the Monza circuit far more difficult than it needed to be.
As the Italian Grand Prix unfolded, Perez faced a pivotal moment that could have a significant impact on his race, and perhaps his job within the team.
Red Bull’s strategists signalled for him to enter the pits ahead of the leading cars, in the hope of executing a tactical manoeuvre known as an undercut. The aim was clear: pit early, get fresh tyres and possibly get out in front of Mercedes’ George Russell to secure a favourable track position.
Perez ignores team orders to pit
However, in the heat of the race and amidst the adrenaline-fuelled competition, Perez made a fateful decision. He disregarded the team order and opted to stay on the track, attempting to overtake Russell through racing skill rather than a pit stop manoeuvre. It was a risky decision, as it ruled out the possibility of an undercut strategy, a decision he would come to regret.
Reflecting on his decision after the race, Perez admitted that he had made a mistake. Despite the challenges of the race and his own admitted mistake, Perez showed remarkable resilience, ultimately securing second place behind teammate Max Verstappen.
“Yeah, it was very difficult from the beginning,” Perez told FOX Sports MX after the Italian Grand Prix. He was describing his struggle to overtake George Russell, who had proved a formidable competitor at the Monza circuit.
Intriguingly, Perez also revealed his inner thoughts at the crucial moment of the race when the team instructed him to pit. “Then the team sent me in and I decided to stay out to try and avoid Russell’s undercut; maybe if I had listened to the team everything would have been easier,” he confessed.
“It was just patience from then on with Charles and Carlos and got on podium…”
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— Formula 1 (@F1) September 2, 2023
Perez role at Red Bull ‘at risk’
Despite having secured a contract until 2024, the prospect of having to seek alternatives outside Red Bull has become a distinct possibility.
This revelation comes in the wake of a stark warning from Red Bull’s influential figurehead, Dr Helmut Marko. Never one to mince words, Marko made it clear that Perez’s recent slump in form leaves no room for complacency. The assurance of a “job guarantee” for the coming season seemed far from certain.
“Every year you learn things and that’s why I like this sport so much,” Perez told the Spanish-language DAZN broadcaster at Monza.
“You’re learning things all the time, but most important of all is learning from your mistakes.
“With the season we’ve had, the next few races are about creating a situation where I feel I can contribute. And if that place for 2024 is not here, we will have to look around for other alternatives,” he admitted.
“But right now, my main focus is to be here, to win more races, to continue winning championships with Red Bull. I have a contract until next year and sometime next year we will sit down and talk,” he added.
Perez: “Starting to feel more comfortable…”
“I do think the bad moments are behind us now and I feel much more comfortable with the car,” Perez said after finishing on the podium at Monza.
“I think we are going to have a good end to the year. I have gotten quite close to Max but I think at the moment he is on fire with the car and I have not been.
“Every weekend it’s hard for me to get there, but without a doubt I’ve gotten pretty close. And I hope that in the next races I can be at that level.”
Verstappen on another level
Perez admits that serving as teammate to a driver in Verstappen’s level of form is “not easy”.
“There are hard moments because it is not easy to be in this environment under all this pressure,” he said. “Being Max’s teammate is not easy, but it is important to remember to enjoy the journey, enjoy the moments.
“I can give my best and that’s all I can control. And that’s what I’m doing. Max is driving at a level that I haven’t seen in F1 since I’ve been here.
“He doesn’t make mistakes, and he really pushes the limit all the time. So that’s the main difference – he’s been able to maintain his level all the time and I have not been able to. As the car has evolved it has cost me more.
“When the improvements have come, I had to think too much as I was driving, and when you’re doing that it’s of course not as easy as when you’re on automatic with your car.
“It’s been a lot of work for me in the last races,” he admits.