Marko: Despite Max’s mistakes, Perez impressed

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez

A day after criticising Sergio Perez for his FP1 crash with Esteban Ocon, Helmut Marko has applauded the new Red Bull signing after he qualified second at Imola.

Perez, known more for his long run pace than his one lap antics, claimed his maiden front row grid slot on Saturday, qualifying P2 for the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.

The Mexican driver crossed the line 0.035s slower than Lewis Hamilton, but perhaps more importantly for Perez and a potential long-term future at Red Bull, he beat Max Verstappen by 0.052s.

It was the first time since 2018 that a team-mate has qualified ahead of the Dutchman.

Marko was quick to find reasons for that, but concedes that “despite” what happened to Verstappen in qualifying, Perez did do a good job.

Marko told Sky Germany: “In his first run, Max had [Lance] Stroll in Sector 1 and lost time there. In his second run he had some mistakes.

“But despite that it was a very strong performance by Perez, impressive to see because it is just his second race with us.”

He added: “Perez’s improvement was unbelievable. The fact that he’s already so strong in his second qualifying session obviously makes us very happy.

“And Perez starts on the soft tyres, Max and Hamilton on medium.”

That means Red Bull, for the first time since 2018, can play the strategy game against Mercedes, and can dictate the moves.

While in recent years it has been two Mercedes cars up at the front, this Sunday at Imola it is two Red Bulls with Perez second and Verstappen third.

Valtteri Bottas is down in eighth place.

Marko is expecting a thriller with Mercedes come Sunday’s race, hoping that Charles Leclerc, Pierre Gasly and the two McLarens – who are all between Verstappen and Bottas on the grid – can keep the Finn behind them for as long as possible.

“I think it’s going to be very, very close,” he said.

“We have two cars [ahead]. There are quite a few cars between us and Bottas. I hope he doesn’t get to the front so quickly. With that, it should be an advantage for us.”

Former F1 driver turned pundit Damon Hill reckons Perez’s performance on Saturday would have come as a bit of a surprise for Verstappen.

“Max certainly didn’t see that Perez [would out qualify him],” he told Sky.

“We were saying what was he [Perez] is going to kind of get on top of the number two seat in the Red Bull team. Well, he’s done it.

“I’ve never lost my faith in Sergio. He’s solid, a really great driver.”

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