Perez admits 'podium felt a bit too far' in Spain

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19. 03.06.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 8, Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, Spain, Qualifying Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images
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Sergio Perez admitted that getting onto the podium in the Spanish Grand Prix always felt like it would be a step too far - although he hadn't expected it to be two Mercedes drivers who got in his way.

Perez started todays race after struggling in qualifying on Saturday, a brief excursion leaving him on the back foot for his final run at the end of Q2 resulting in his missing the cut, leaving him lining up in 11th on the grid.

While Perez was confident of making up places in the race, getting all the way into the top three past the likes of Pierre Gasly, Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and Carlos Sainz was always going to be a tall order.

"I am disappointed with today, we have ultimately paid the price for a bad qualifying. We did have a good strategy but, looking at where we started from, there was only so much that we could do.

In the end it was George Russell who proved the surprise package, taking third place despite starting one place behind Perez. Perez ended up fourth after dispatching Sainz in the closing laps, but ran out of time to catch Russell.

Pierre Gasly (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A523 Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19; and Zhou Guanyu (CHN) Alfa Romeo F1 Team C43 at the start of the race.
04.06.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 8, Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, Spain, Race Day.
 - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Coates / XPB Images

"It did feel a bit far and I wasn't fighting with George, it was more with Carlos," Perez said after the finish.

"Pretty early on I could see that George was quite strong," he acknowledged. "And unfortunately, we finished behind George."

Arguably the decisive moment between the pair came at the start, when Russell took to the escape road to dodge traffic and made up five places while Perez found himself held up and unable to make progress.

"I think P3 was possible, but if we wanted more points then I would have had to take more risks on lap 1 and potentially compromise my race," Perez said.

"George went really deep on that first lap, gaining a lot of positions but we took it easier to ensure we had more of a clean start. Then we got stuck behind the Aston Martin and Fernando [Alonso] was quite hard to pass.

Pierre Gasly (FRA) Alpine F1 Team A523 and Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19 at the start of the race. 04.06.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 8, Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, Spain, Race Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

"It meant I couldn’t progress through the field as quickly as we would have liked," he sighed.

The stewards decided not to penalise Russell for gaining an advantage by going off track, which Red Bull team boss Christian Horner felt was unfair.

“Checo lost out in the early laps, He didn’t have a great start," Horner told Sky Sports F1 afterwards. "George managed to get away with running off track, not getting a penalty from that.

"I think that was the difference at the end of the day," he said. "It was a good recovery from Checo, especially the second part of the race and I think that will give him a lot more confidence.

"Checo's race was getting stronger and stronger. That last stint in particular he was coming back very strong, but there were just not enough laps to fight for that podium.”

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19. 04.06.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 8, Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, Spain, Race Day. - www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

With Max Verstappen winning the race to extend his lead over Perez in the drivers championship to 53 points, it seems that this year's title battle is effectively over just seven races into the 22-event season.

But at least this weekend's race was better for Perez than last week's nightmarish Monaco debacle. Horner suggested that now the pressure is off the Mexican, the driver will be able to return to form in Canada.

“I think if you look at the points now there’s a big split between the two of them,” Horner said. “If anything, that should take the pressure off him.

"He has nothing to lose now and he just needs to relax. Hhe can breathe out and just drive like we know he’s capable of, like he did in Azerbaijan and some of the early races this year.

“Being Max Verstappen’s team-mate, there’s not a driver out there that would’ve beaten Max in that car today,” he continued. “He’s up against a driver that’s on the top of his form.

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing.
02.06.2023 Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 8, Spanish Grand Prix, Barcelona, Spain, Practice Day.
- www.xpbimages.com, EMail: requests@xpbimages.com © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

"That’s very tough. Checo, mentally, it’s a really tough thing to deal with," he acknowledged. “But now there is that separation in the points and that may take the pressure off him a little and the expectation that he’s putting on himself.

"He needs to let go of that and be free to drive."

With Verstappen almost out of sight and team orders a seeming inevitability, Perez' main concern will be ensuring he's not caught by the likes of Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton and George Russell for second place in the championship.

"This weekend in general has been a step back and we weren’t quite there, but there are plenty of things we can do better," he said.

"All in all, we brought home twelve points today and I think, looking forward, Canada should be a strong race for us. Everything is pretty close right now so that will be an interesting one.”

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