Sergio Perez has revealed that his tumultuous 2023 season with Red Bull dampened his racing enthusiasm, but despite his "worst weekend ever," he never contemplated relinquishing his F1 aspirations.
Perez's campaign began with a surge of promise, marked by a win in Saudi Arabia, another in the adrenaline-fueled streets of Baku and a commanding pole position in the sun-kissed glamour of Miami.
Yet, as the season progressed, the Mexican driver's fortunes took a disheartening turn.
From the demanding twists and turns of Monaco onwards, Perez found himself grappling with the unyielding demands of Red Bull’s dominant RB19 and with his own troubles, a struggle that culminated in a string of five consecutive Q3 misses.
There were no visible improvements after F1’s summer break. The nadir of Perez's slump arrived in Qatar, where he finished a demoralizing tenth, a staggering 80 seconds adrift of his title-winning teammate Max Verstappen.
The crushing defeat, which effectively extinguished Perez's championship aspirations, served as a wake-up call.
Undeterred by the mounting pressure and the looming threat of Daniel Ricciardo's potential return to Red Bull, Perez retreated to the team's headquarters, immersing himself in a three-day intensive effort to rectify his spiraling decline.
Alongside his engineers, Perez delved into the depths of data and meticulously examined the intricacies of the car's setup, determined to unravel the root cause of his struggles.
But why had he waited until the 17th round of the F1 world championship to take action?
"Because Qatar was really the worst weekend I remember in a while, probably my worst weekend ever in the sport,” he told selected members of the media in Abu Dhabi.
"It was such a bad weekend that I really felt like: 'I cannot be this bad, there's something that's going on'.
"When you have these back-to-back races, I feel like sometimes there is not enough time to really go through it all. So, I felt like we really had to take a bit of time to make sure that we understood which way we were going.
"Obviously, we had a deficit within the car setup that we were playing around [with] weekend by weekend and we were just not able to progress through it.
"But once we managed to get on top of that, we understood a lot of things that we were trying to compensate for. And that just basically meant that we were not just not doing things right.
"I think that has been really, really good on our side. I mean, it was bad that it happened but in a way, it was really good because it really strengthened our team quite a lot."
Perez admitted that being stuck in an all-consuming rut coupled with the speculation on his future had deprived him of all satisfaction in his work. Yet, walking away was never an option he considered.
"No, obviously, that would have been the easiest route because it was very tough at times," he explained.
"But I'm not the type of guy that at this stage of my career will be giving up and be willing to finish my career like that. It's not something that I ever considered doing.
"I'm aware of the responsibility I have and I'm not the sort of guy that will blame people around me for the results. At the end of the day I took responsibility for it and I had to turn around the situation quite a lot.
"I had some really difficult times in a few months, let's put it that way. I went from fighting from the championship to being in a difficult boat, and not having that confidence with the car.
"But the end of the day, if you want to be at Red Bull, I'm aware of how strong mentally you have to be to be here. And it's something that I got stronger at.
“You learn so much from the bad days, much more than from the good days."
With only two podiums achieved in the back half of the season – at Monza and in Las Vegas – while concluding the year with half the points accumulated by Verstappen, Perez recognizes the need for improvement during the off-season.
But the 33-year-old believes that his ability to recover from his Qatar setback bodes well for 2024.
"I always say people will only remember where you finish in Abu Dhabi, but I'm aware of the year I had," he said.
"I think I've learned a lot and I'm happy with how we managed to turn our season around. We really came out of it stronger than before and made good use of those bad days."