Usually rather guarded when it comes to his drivers, this time around Red Bull boss Christian Horner could not hide his frustration after Sergio Perez cost himself a long-awaiting return to Q3 in Austria.
Perez’s title bid has fallen apart over the past three rounds, the Mexican racer without a Q3 appearance or podium finish throughout, and that poor qualifying run continued in Austria.
It means that Perez has now become the first Red Bull driver since 2008 to miss the Q3 cut four times in a row.
Track limits repeatedly bite Sergio Perez
Race Control were especially tough when it came to the boundaries of the Red Bull Ring through Friday qualifying for Sunday’s Grand Prix, and while Perez was by no means the only driver to fall foul, he was among those to feel the sting most severely.
But as Perez saw his time deleted three times in Q2 to seal his elimination, Horner reflected on this as an unacceptable series of errors on an afternoon where Perez had the pace to be in the top four at least.
Max Verstappen went on to clinch pole for Red Bull’s home race, but Horner said Perez’s shortcomings had really taken the shine off that achievement.
“He’s got the pace today. He’s got a car that was easily capable of being on the first or second row,” a frustrated Horner told Sky F1.
“He was matching Max’s times. Stay in the white lines! It was strike one, strike two, Checo, just stay in the white lines! Strike three, and that was it.
“So I mean, just hugely frustrating because he could have been there, he could have done it, so that’s the frustration. It’s fantastic that we got the pole, but it feels not complete.”
Pointed out to Horner that Verstappen also saw early times deleted in Q1 and Q2, Horner replied: “Yeah, but at least he responded to when we said stay in the white lines and he did that.
“So he built a conservatism into his laps to make sure that he had a wheel inside the line, and I think there was a little bit more time in the car in that last sector if he hadn’t have gone for it, so he was driving with a bit of restraint.”
Perez did not take responsibility for his track limits violation on that final crucial lap, saying it was Williams driver Alex Albon getting in his way which caused that error.
Horner though was having none of it.
“Of course it is not going to have helped, but then you build a little more margin,” was his take on that excuse.
“So Checo, frustrated, we’ll turn the page, he’ll race hard tomorrow, but it’s just annoying because we know he could have been there.
“I think it’s just a great shame because I think this would have really kickstarted things for him.”
Now Red Bull wary of Ferrari as Sergio Perez out of position
Ahead of the race weekend, Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko had highlighted Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc as a threat to victory for Verstappen, and qualifying indeed suggested that the Red Bull Ring is suiting that Ferrari SF-23.
Leclerc will join Verstappen on the front row, having qualified only 0.048s slower than Verstappen.
And so with Perez set to start from P15, Horner worries Red Bull may be left exposed with Leclerc’s Ferrari team-mate Carlos Sainz launching from P3.
“And then of course, the frustration for us as a team is now we have two Ferraris that are a little closer, versus one Red Bull, with Checo out of position,” Horner concluded.
Perez will have a chance to make up for his one-lap shortcomings on Saturday when the drivers return to action to set the grid for the Austria sprint race.