Red Bull identify the culprit behind Sergio Perez’s dramatic pace drop in Australia

Thomas Maher
Sergio Perez, Red Bull, 2024 Australian Grand Prix.

Sergio Perez's race in Australia was compromised by an errant tear-off strip from Fernando Alonso.

Sergio Perez wasn’t able to join in the fight for the podium in Australia, due to a mid-race incident that caused a significant downforce loss.

Perez started the Australian Grand Prix from sixth on the grid after picking up a three-place grid penalty, but failed to make significant progress after a mid-race incident sapped his Red Bull of downforce.

Sergio Perez only musters fifth after tough Australian GP

Perez was dropped from third to sixth on the grid after impeding Nico Hulkenberg’s Haas in Q1, and then fell to seventh at the start as Mercedes’ George Russell got past.

Perez would go on to recover to fifth, having got ahead of Russell and Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso, but failed to make any impression on the leading quartet of Ferraris and McLarens.

Having shown a strong pace initially on the hard tyre, the reason for this has been identified – Perez picked up a tear-off strip that became lodged under his floor.

In a ground-effect era that means the cars utilise the underfloor effect to generate much of their downforce, the obstruction sapped Perez of downforce and confidence.

“We went long on the first stint,” Red Bull team boss Christian Horner told media after the race.

“And his actual pace when he was coming through the field on the hard tyre as he closed in on Fernando was strong, and matching that of the leaders.

“Then, literally as he’s passed Fernando, he’s picked up a tear-off underneath the floor, and it’s got lodged in an area that’s caused significant load loss.

“So as he’s then passed Fernando, the car’s not working as it should. And so then you start to see degradation on the tyre, and again at the end of the second stint, which has been unusual for our cars.”

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Christian Horner: Difficult to say if Sergio Perez could have fought for win

Perez pitted again for fresh hards on Lap 35, circa five laps before the cars before him, and Horner evaluated the extent of the downforce lost as a result of the tear-off strip, saying that the pace loss was visible on the team’s readings immediately.

“Yes, I think it was in excess of 20 points. So it’s a significant amount. It just shows how sensitive these things are,” he said.

Without the obstruction, might Perez have been able to pick up the mantle after Max Verstappen’s retirement and get involved in the fight at the front?

“Difficult to say,” he said.

“I mean, for sure, he’s been compromised when he’s picked up the issue with the floor. I think they were maybe just a bit too quick today, but you never know.”

With Perez encountering higher-than-usual tyre wear due to the downforce loss, Horner said it was likely that even without the issue, Ferrari may have had the upper hand.

“I think the tyre graining here, in particular, is something that Ferrari looked in control of, certainly from Friday their long runs are good,” he said.

“I think it’s an area that Ferrari is particularly strong. So it’s probably no coincidence – they were strong in Vegas, and they’ve been strong here. So it’s certainly an area I think that we’ll need to improve on.

“I think we did a good job of understanding the issues with our car. It’s just a shame we only got a four-lap sample.”

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