Sergio Perez is a point-scoring machine. He’s been reliable, incredibly consistent and has delivered so many times over the last six years for Force India/Racing Point.
The team have also pulled off some great strategical calls in the past; a fine example was the decision to switch to dries at the perfect time during the 2016 Monaco Grand Prix. It enabled Checo to jump Rosberg and Vettel to finish on the podium at F1's most iconic street circuit. They’ve generally been reliable in previous seasons. This year has been a different story as outlined below, though.
Racing Point had shown strong form in winter testing and they backed it up when the season finally got going at the Red Bull Ring.
From 6th on the grid, Sergio Perez found himself in P4 after overtaking Norris in the middle stint and benefited from Verstappen's early DNF, too; he looked set for an excellent top 5 to start the year.
However, a Safety Car with 20 laps to go changed his race...for the worse. Racing Point decided against pitting the Mexican and left him vulnerable to Albon (softs), Leclerc and the McLarens (mediums) who were behind him at that point; they were on 25-lap fresher tyres following those stops.
Albon's clash with Hamilton and the subsequent 5-second penalty for the Brit should have opened the door for Checo to finish in P2. Not pitting came back to bite, though.
Leclerc, Norris and Sainz all overtook the Mexican during the last six laps and he ended up finishing in a hugely disappointing 6th place. A certain podium was thrown away. Instead, Leclerc and Norris ended up on the rostrum.
With three DRS zones and long straights making overtaking very possible in Austria, it was a very strange decision not to make that free stop behind the Safety Car.
Had they changed tyres and fitted softs like Albon, Checo could have even potentially gone for the win with Mercedes’ reliability worries in the closing laps.
Nonetheless, 10 points and a trophy were definitely left behind that day.
Once again it was a case of not pitting under a Safety Car that compromised the race of Sergio Perez. An accident involving George Russell and Antonio Giovinazzi brought it out on lap 11.
The only drivers who didn't pit were Checo and Pierre Gasly. While Gasly was on hard tyres, the call to keep Perez out on worn-out soft tyres was baffling, to say the least.
He ended up boxing five laps later under green flag conditions and dropped to the rear of the field, over 8s adrift of the car in front (Latifi).
Although Perez recovered nicely to finish 10th, he could have potentially finished a bit higher had he pitted at the same time as everyone else; he ended up right behind Stroll at the chequered flag.
The conclusion they came to not to double stack the cars was puzzling.
Last weekend was the worst strategic call of them all in 2020, though.
Once again, a podium spot that had opened up thanks to another Max Verstappen DNF got thrown away.
Racing Point struggled for pace in qualifying and it left Checo down in 11th on the grid; it did give them the chance to start on the tyres they wanted to, however.
Starting on the mediums, he sat behind his midfield rivals who started in the top 10 on softs. When they all pitted, he showed tremendous speed.
Magnussen holding up Ricciardo opened the door for the Mexican to jump all his key rivals to be a net P4 following everyone's stops. He had 13 and 14-lap fresher tyres than the likes of Ricciardo, Leclerc and Albon following his first stop.
Max Verstappen's tyre failure on lap 50 should have opened the door for Checo to score his first podium since the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in 2018, but another perplexing strategy decision cost him that.
The race had shown how difficult it was to overtake at the Italian circuit, with Racing Point seeing that for themselves as Perez couldn't find a way past Raikkonen for a number of laps; he only gained the place as the Finn eventually pitted after a long first stint. Yet, they called him in.
It put him back to 6th for the restart; that's where he ended up finishing as a podium was thrown away by a bad strategy for the second time in 2020, as noted by Checo.
"You think we learned with Kimi how difficult it was to overtake? Another podium we give away," said Perez on the radio following the race.
Racing Point’s Andrew Green tried to defend the decision.
“The worst possible scenario was a Safety Car. That was not really how we were geared up, unfortunately. It was always going to be a difficult decision, that one.
“We were on the hard tyres, the car had been set up quite specifically for the long runs. And for the race we were incredibly nervous about having to restart the hard tyres on the Safety Car. I think we would have struggled.
“The safest thing to do, and we thought that the most logical thing to do, was to swap him for a set of the new softer tyres so that we didn’t have to worry. We thought other people might do the same. But a lot depends on how they were set up for the race.
“I think it probably just showed where our race pace was because we’d set the car up to look after the tyres and be kind and not overheat them. So we were always going to struggle behind the Safety Car in that situation.”
“In hindsight, we would have made a different decision,” Green confessed. “But I think at the time, with the information we had, that’s the decision we came to.”
How costly could it be for Perez and Racing Point?
Despite missing two races at Silverstone due to testing positive for COVID-19, Sergio Perez sits P6 in the Drivers’ Championship, 13 points adrift of Daniel Ricciardo in the fight for the best of the rest behind the top 3.
The Mexican has scored points in 19 of his last 20 race starts; the 30-year-old has shown superb tyre management, race pace and racecraft has been exceptional for some time. Perez has also been consistently one of the best drivers on a Sunday for a few years now, too.
For a team that had quite rightly been lauded for overachieving in previous seasons due to massive financial constraints (including a very solid strategy group), this year is proving to be disappointing for them.
These mistakes are severely impacting them in the Constructors’ Championship. Racing Point trail Renault by a single point and are level with McLaren (the Woking-based team ahead thanks to more podiums) in a crazily tight fight for P3 in the standings.
With a sizable difference in money between finishing 3rd and 5th in the teams’ championship, there is no attempt or conspiracy to hamper Checo. However, they must significantly raise their game on the pit wall at the last four events.
There are moments where you have to ignore the data and read the race that’s happening right in front of your eyes. Ricciardo, Albon, Leclerc were all on hard tyres as well at Imola.
Had Perez stayed out, he would’ve had a good buffer to the guys who pitted for softs. Ricciardo, who ultimately finished P3, even admitted he was smiling when he saw Perez pitting.
Going back to Perez, the Mexican has lost close to 20 points because of errors from the team and he would have every right to feel aggrieved, but he’s continuing to be a classy team player. He should be sitting 4th in the championship with two podiums to his name at this point in time.
In spite of the fact Racing Point decided to drop him for Sebastian Vettel next year, he’s doing all he can from his side to get them 3rd in the Constructors’ Championship and 4th for himself in the Drivers’ Championship. It would be a travesty if Sergio Perez is not on the grid come 2021.
View this post on Instagram