The ‘tyre whisperer’ Sergio Perez appeared a little off-key in 2022, Red Bull’s Christian Horner explaining that a narrow setup window was to blame.
Pirelli introduced new tyre compounds for the 2022 season, ditching the old 13-inch designs for 18-inch replacements, these tyres designed to allow drivers to push harder for longer without being hamstrung by such an extreme degree of overheating and degradation.
Normally, that would be very good news for Perez who has built himself a reputation for excelling when it comes to preserving tyre life, though in 2022 it seemed like his team-mate Max Verstappen had actually mastered this art with the 18-inch rubber.
Perez admitted that he had “struggled a bit” to manage the tyres this year in race mode, perhaps no more damaging example than Abu Dhabi where Perez was forced onto a two-stopper by degradation, running out of time to reel in Charles Leclerc who claimed the runner-up spot in the Drivers’ Championship.
Addressing the situation, Horner explained that now just the slightest setup misstep can have a “dramatic” impact on tyre life, which he believes Perez found out first-hand in Abu Dhabi.
But speaking more broadly, Horner believes Perez has shown struggles like in Abu Dhabi to be a blip rather than an ongoing issue.
“What we’ve seen this year is the margins are so fine,” Horner told Autosport/Motorsport.com.
“You can be a click of front wing out, or a bit of ride height , or a small amount of mechanical balance, and it can have a dramatic effect on your tyre life.
“I think that Checo’s driven so many races where he’s been fantastic on the tyres. [In Abu Dhabi] it was just the first stint that compromised him, where the front right started to grain quite heavily compared to Charles and Max [Verstappen].
“That then put him out of sync where we had to pit and that was on a very compromised one-stop. So the two-stop was the more attacking race.”
Red Bull need Sergio Perez to get a grip of these tyres
While there will be some differences between the 2022 and 2023 tyres, including the introduction of a new C0 compound, the size and main characteristics of the compound will offer continuation from 2022, so Perez will need to put any learnings from the season just gone into use.
That’s because, while it cannot be guaranteed, Red Bull likely will come up against sterner opposition in 2023, Ferrari having faded away from the 2022 title battle while Mercedes were never in it, Red Bull winning 17 of the 22 races.
Both Ferrari and Mercedes will be intent on making life much harder for Red Bull in 2023, Ferrari going into the campaign with a new desire to be confirmed leader, so in such a case, Red Bull will need Perez to learn the new language for these tyres and make them his best friend once more.
While Perez does not quite have the outright speed of Verstappen, if he can tap back into that tyre preservation specialism, then it could be key to achieving the results which Red Bull may need in order to retain the Constructors’ title.