Red Bull boss Christian Horner said Sergio Perez is a driver who “responds to an arm around the shoulder” after his “Achilles’ heel” of qualifying returned to bite him in Qatar.
On an evening where Perez’s team-mate Max Verstappen added a further pole position to his collection, Perez was once more faced with missing out on the final Q3 session.
Perez would see his final time deleted for track limits at Turn 5, confirming the early end to his qualifying outing.
Red Bull admit Max Verstappen-Sergio Perez delta unexplainable
Speaking to Sky F1 after qualifying, Horner addressed the growing deficit between their drivers, especially over one lap, which at one point was called “bizarre” by Mercedes team boss Toto Wolff.
And Horner does not have an answer either.
Asked if it is a case of Red Bull thinking ‘thank God we’ve got Max’, Horner replied: “Absolutely. I mean, we’d still be leading the World Championship with Checo if we didn’t have him, but obviously the delta between the two of them is difficult to explain at the moment.
“It’s a shame for Checo, he’d made it into Q3 and then lost the lap time.
“So again, Max getting the job done, a tough one for Checo.”
Nonetheless, Horner will not be going with the critical approach, instead believing support is needed to help their driver return to form in race trim for the sprint and Sunday’s Grand Prix.
“I think Checo responds better to an arm around the shoulder,” said Horner.
“And I think that it’s mentally a tough game. All top-line sport is. And when you’re going up against a driver like Max and the pressure that comes with it, that pressure only intensifies.
“I think Checo, we know what he’s capable of and we know that he’s a great racer and qualifying is always his Achilles’ heel.
“So we’ve just got to try and support him through these difficult moments to make sure that he comes back strong tomorrow and of course in the race on Sunday.”
Put to him that these qualifying woes are hitting Perez too often though, Horner replied: “Look, Checo, it’s a tough moment for him and he’s an experienced guy, he has all the pressure obviously on his shoulders that mounts from being in one of the hottest seats in Formula 1.
“But I’m sure that he’ll respond to that and we just need to support him as a team and try and do the best to get the most out of him and make sure he finishes in that second place in the Championship.”
Verstappen ultimately took pole in Qatar with a margin of 0.441s over Mercedes’ George Russell, his opening Q3 lap thankfully an unmatchable benchmark for the chasing pack after Verstappen got his final run all wrong and was forced into an early abort.
“Thankfully, that first run was such a mega lap,” said Horner.
“He nailed it, really the first sector and in fact in the first corner is where he did the majority of the damage.
“And I think that he then tried to take a little bit more out on the next lap and made a mistake.
“But thankfully with that banker, it was enough today, it was a huge first lap.”
Verstappen goes into sprint Saturday knowing that a top-six finish will be enough to secure his third World Championship.