Gifted an “open goal” through Max Verstappen’s qualifying troubles in Miami and yet losing to his team-mate in the race, Christian Horner says that’s the moment Sergio Perez’s title quest began to fall apart.
Separated by a mere six points having each won two of the opening four races, Perez looked to be on course to overhaul Verstappen as the championship leader when he started the Miami Grand Prix from pole position, with his team-mate only P9 on the grid.
Verstappen’s qualifying had been undone by a scruffy first lap before he had to abort his second run when Charles Leclerc brought out the red flags.
The moment the wheels start to ‘come off’ for Sergio Perez
He, however, made short work of passing the cars ahead to run second behind Perez before overtaking him on lap 48 to win the Grand Prix by five seconds.
Fumbling that golden opportunity to become the first-ever Mexican driver to lead the Formula 1 World Championship was, according to Horner, the end of Perez’s title challenge.
Speaking to Sky’s Martin Brundle, the Red Bull team boss said: “He started the season in great form. He turned up in Bahrain, he was very competitive. He won the next race out in Saudi, again a very strong drive on a tricky street circuit. Azerbaijan he won the Sprint and Grand Prix.
“I think at that point he was genuinely feeling that he was building a title challenge.
“And it really came apart for him in Miami where Max through circumstance was knocked out of qualifying, starting out of the top 10 [he was P9] with Checo on the pole. It was an open goal.
“And within the first quarter of the race, Max has passed all those cars and then Checo.
“That for him, I think he carried that into Monaco. He then made a mistake in Q1 in Monaco. He’s knocked out of qualifying and the wheels start to come off that championship challenge and then insecurity starts to set in as Max is finding his form.
“And of course, he’s sitting there looking at this data and thinking, ‘How the hell has he done that?’ And then a little bit of self-doubt creeps in which is inevitable.
“I think that fair play to Checo for getting himself together and finishing the season on a much stronger note and finishing second in the World Championship. This is the first time we’ve ever had drivers first and second in the Drivers’ World Championship.”
Christian Horner pinpoints Sergio Perez’s biggest weakness
Crashing in qualifying at the Monaco Grand Prix, Perez went five qualifying sessions without a top-ten performance.
Although he did end that streak in Hungary, he suffered yet another poor run of qualifying sessions later in the session.
Leaving himself too much to do in the Grands Prix, he managed just five podiums after his Monaco crash.
“You have just got to be honest with the drivers and for Checo he just needs to sort his Saturdays out,” said Horner.
“Qualifying at an average I think the last third of the year around P9. That’s giving yourself too much to do on a Sunday.
If you look at his race pace he’s right there with Max, he just needs to start qualifying consistently in the first couple of rows, and then we know that he’s a great racer. He’s great on a Sunday.
“So I think that’s the area that he really needs to work on and focus on over the winter.”
Perez finished the season with 285 points to beat Lewis Hamilton to second place by 51 points. He though was a long way off Verstappen’s 575 points.