Damon Hill believes Sergio Perez holds an advantage over Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in overall race pace, as the pair
Perez himself agrees that he is becoming more used to his car, but admits that qualifying performances remain an issue as he sees himself starting on the back foot in races by being further down the grid than Max Verstappen.
Bottas, meanwhile, has shown himself to be a strong qualifier in his Mercedes, but taking nine wins out of 50 podiums and 17 pole positions at the team shows that he has a relatively low conversion rate for turning strong Saturdays into fruitful Sundays with the Silver Arrows.
Perez, though, has a net gain of 10 positions in relation to qualifying places in race trim so far this season – which includes a nine-place drop after a 10-second stop/go penalty and spin at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Hill has backed the Mexican to perform closer to his best on a more regular basis at Red Bull, having won in Baku where Bottas finished out of the points in an out-of-sorts Mercedes.
“I think it’s a trend [Perez’s form]. I think it’s a good trend. It’s trending in the right direction,” 1996 World Champion Hill said on the F1 Nation podcast.
“I think he’s building strength and confidence and the team are doing so in him as well. So yeah, I think it takes a while to jump into a new car, a new team and find out how it all works.
“But I think we’ve seen flashes of his performance when he gets going in a race. He’s not like some drivers who only qualify well. I’d say Valtteri [Bottas] qualifies well and then doesn’t perform quite so well in the race. Whereas Sergio typically goes better in the race.”
Following Verstappen’s dramatic accident from the Azerbaijan just a few laps from the end of the race, the Mexican took his first victory as a Red Bull driver in Baku and he feels confident he will be able to continue that form moving forward as the season progresses.
Perez had to show his mettle and racecraft to keep a charging Lewis Hamilton behind him in the race. The Mexican managed to jump the Mercedes driver in the pits and had to hold the seven-time World Champion at bay as the race progressed.
Hamilton looked like he was going to overtake Perez at the restart two laps from the end, but he locked up and went straight on at Turn 1 to hand the Mexican victory.
Despite that stroke of good fortune, Hill believes that shouldn’t detract from the quality of Perez’s performance in Azerbaijan’s capital.
“For an entire race, he didn’t make a single mistake,” Hill said. “Lewis [Hamilton], you could see he was thinking he was running out of time and ideas.
“He was on the radio all the time saying he can’t stay with him in the middle sector. Perez is experienced, he’s calm in the cockpit, and in a race he’s very strong.”