Former F1 driver John Watson believes Sergio Perez is an “arm around the shoulder” driver when he needs support, and thinks that Red Bull going away from his preferred driving style counted against him in 2023.
Perez shared the opening four races of the season two wins apiece with Max Verstappen, before his team-mate sailed away to a third consecutive World Championship while Perez, even though he took second in the Drivers’ Championship, scored less than half his team-mate’s total come season’s end.
With the RB19 evolving and seemingly moving more towards Verstappen’s strengths, five-time Grand Prix winner Watson theorised that Red Bull’s possible “sort it out yourself” mindset was not helpful for Perez.
John Watson shares Red Bull theory as Sergio Perez struggles in 2023
Perez will be under pressure to perform as he looks to keep his seat with the reigning World Champions in 2025, but despite his highest ever Drivers’ Championship finish last season, he will want to close the gap to his team-mate this time around.
With Watson explaining that he shared a similar driving style to how Perez operates, he believes that going back to the simulator to adapt to the changes of the car bit by bit would be beneficial for him.
“I think that some drivers are more needing of an arm around the shoulder and consoling, and there are some that are tough as tungsten, and they just get on and do it their own way,” Watson explained on Motor Sport Magazine’s podcast, Centenary Stories.
“But I think where we are today with contemporary Formula 1, the cars are such complex bits of kit, and so much of the preparation for a Grand Prix is now done back at the workshops, simulation, the aero engineering and knowledge that teams have got.
“So effectively, the team is bringing a car to a racetrack in what they consider to be the most optimised setup that is possible. Maybe Sergio doesn’t like the setup.
“And I think he did ask maybe at one of the most recent Grands Prix: ‘Can I go back to the car that I was enjoying racing early in the year?’ And I think that request was denied.
“I think the argument would be, and I’m only supposing this, is because the team would say, ‘Where we were back in March or April, to where we are now in September, October, the car is maybe half a second a lap quicker, I’m not going to give you a car half a second a lap slower, because you can’t get your head around the current car, sort it out yourself or get sorted out in some way.’
“And I don’t know what Perez has done, but maybe spending more simulator time and maybe part of going back a little bit to where his car was, give him that car in the simulator, let him gain his confidence and then start to sneak back up, change by change by change to the point where the car is not [what it was], so you’re actually rebuilding that driver’s level of confidence.
“But I suspect the thing that Perez in particular, and I was one of those drivers as well, I never liked a snappy, oversteery nose front end car. I liked to race my car from the rear wheel, not the front wheel.
“And I think modern Formula 1 cars with the aero philosophy that exists and the rules or regulations around that are very much more a front end car, than certainly the generation of cars that I would have raced.”