Max Verstappen, not Sergio Perez, is now the Red Bull ‘tyre whisperer’

Jon Wilde
Sergio Perez makes a pit stop, surrounded by Red Bull Racing mechanics. Hungary July 2022

Helmut Marko has highlighted a surprising difference between the Red Bull drivers – claiming a renowned Sergio Perez strength is actually a weakness.

Perez arrived at Red Bull for the 2021 season with the reputation of being a racer who looks after his tyres, an advantage that had helped him achieve impressive consistency in F1 – culminating with his first win, at the 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix for Racing Point.

But ultimately, according to Red Bull driver programme boss Marko, that trait let down the Mexican in the final race of 2022 when he was vying with Charles Leclerc to finish second to Verstappen in the World Championship.

Tyre wear on Perez’s RB18 dictated the strategy the team deployed for him in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, namely a two-stop. Like most of the field, he started on the medium compound but had to stop for a set of the hards on lap 16 and then did likewise again on lap 34.

In contrast, Leclerc – and Verstappen, for that matter – was able to make a one-stop strategy work, the Ferrari man clinging on to second place in both the race and the championship from a fast-charging Perez.

In the past, Perez would have been expected to achieve what Verstappen and Leclerc did by making their tyres last, but at Yas Marina the boot was on the other foot.

“Perez pushed too hard at the beginning of the first stint,” Marko told Motorsport.com. “As a result, we had to bring him in earlier than planned. Of all the guys at the front, he was the first whose tyres went.

“We were not forced into that early stop by Ferrari. No, we were forced into that early stop by Perez’s own tyre wear.”

Instead, according to the 79-year-old Austrian, it is now Verstappen who is the expert at eking out the life of his tyres.

“Max has gradually become a tyre whisperer,” added Marko. “We give him a certain plan and he executes it optimally.

“In Abu Dhabi, for example, with Max we had already assumed a one-stop. From the same considerations we had gone for a two-stop with Perez, although that first stop of his still came earlier than we expected.”

However, Perez just missing out on pipping Leclerc to P2 was only the smallest of blots on an otherwise magnificent season for Red Bull, who captured both titles by wide margins with Verstappen winning a record 15 grands prix.

“With all the results this year, we are actually over the moon,” added Marko.

“The team and both drivers have done a fantastic job. The only downside to that is that it won’t be easy to top this season again.”

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