Perez caught in 'wrong place, wrong time' in Qatar sprint

© XPB 

Any hopes that Sergio Perez could still contend for the 2023 drivers championship came to a sudden, premature end in Saturday's Qatar sprint when he finished up in the gravel on lap 11 as the result of a multi-car incident.

A lacklustre performance in the sprint showdown earlier in the day meant he lined up in eighth place, five places behind his Red Bull team mate Max Verstappen, who already had one hand on clinching the title coming into the weekend.

Needing to make immediate progress, Perez instead dropped two spots at the start. By lap 11 he found himself stuck behind Esteban Ocon and Nico Hulkenberg who were battling over eighth place.

Ocon was losing ground on waning soft tyres, allowing Hulkenberg to to make a feint at turn 11, encouraging Perez to try a double pass into turn 2, with Hulkenberg finding himself caught in the middle of a sandwich.

Unfortunately slight contact from the Haas sent Ocon spinning across the track, collecting Perez in the process.

“It was wrong place, wrong time,” said Perez, who ended up in the gravel along with both Hulkenberg and Ocon. "It's been a very frustrating day.

“The race didn't start particularly well because we were on the medium tyre, it was very low grip to start the race on that tyre," he explained.

“We were recovering, we were making good progress, but unfortunately as I was making more progress we had this contact and I paid the price. I had massive damage to my car.

All three drivers were summoned to meet the stewards after the race to explain the incident, with Ocon at risk of a penalty. In the end the Alpine driver was cleared of any wrong doing in the accident.

"I saw Nico, I knew he was there, but it is impossible for me at that point to see Sergio on the right side," he explained. "Three abreast is not a good idea on that corner unfortunately, so I think it's a racing incident.

“I got a touch on the rear right, the next thing I see when I opened the eyes is I'm in the gravel!' he added.

“It all happened very quickly, very unfortunate,” was Hulkenberg's verdict. “I was attacking Esteban into Turn 1 and then on the outside line, very little grip with the sand.

"I undercut him and then had a good exit out of turn 1 and kind of side-by-side a little bit into turn 2," he continued. "I was obviously racing him, and mainly seeing him, and then I saw Checo appearing very late.

"I knew it was going to get very pointy and tight. I tried to bail out, but it was too late. So, yeah, very unfortunate for all three of us.

"I would like to give [Ocon] the blame!” he said. “But I don't think we can in this case because I don't think he was able to see Checo, and therefore he probably thought I had space to move more to the right.

"It's frustrating because I think today with the medium it was looking good for us," he added. “I think we were we could have scored one or two points and obviously that's very frustrating for us.”

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing crashed out of the race. 07.10.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 18, Qatar Grand Prix, Doha, Qatar, Sprint Day. -, EMail: © Copyright: Batchelor / XPB Images

As for Perez, the end of any dwindling title hopes didn't come as much of a blow to the Mexican.

"The way Max has driven this year has to be one of the best Championship seasons in the history of the sport, he has driven at a different level. He has been outstanding, and he deserves all the success and credit he gets.

"It was a shame for me today," he noted. "It was a frustrating afternoon because I believe we had the pace to go all the way to good points. I need to recover for tomorrow, do as well as possible [in the Grand Prix] and come back strong.“

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