Despite being cruelly denied a podium at the Emilia Romagna GP, the ever-consistent Sergio Perez delivered another typically faultless drive in what could conceivably be one of his last races in Formula 1.
Having gone long on his first stint, the Mexican was running third after Max Verstappen’s late retirement and appeared to be a shoo-in for the final podium place.
However, a call from the team to pit under the safety car ultimately backfired and, despite the driver’s best efforts in the closing stages, even a brand new set of soft tyres couldn’t make the difference around the tight and twisty Imola circuit.
Speaking to Sky F1 about the decision, he said: “Looking at it, it [the decision to pit] didn’t make sense at the time. The call was very late, but it’s always easy to make the right decision after the race.
“Overtaking today was extremely difficult but the team must have some reasons for it. It’s just a painful day because we had the podium in the pocket.
“It’s hard to digest and the team are as disappointed as I am right now. We are a team, and we lose and win together but in hindsight it was the wrong call today.”
Having qualified 11th, Perez held station in the opening laps before staying out while the cars in front opted to pit. Running in fourth, the Mexican made the most of the free air, pumping in lap after lap while his rivals behind were held up by the Haas of Kevin Magnussen.
The result of this “tremendous” first stint was that when Perez did eventually pit on lap 29, he re-emerged in seventh behind Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Nicholas Latifi who had yet to stop, but crucially ahead of the likes of Daniel Ricciardo, Charles Leclerc and Alex Albon who had been leading the battle for fourth.
It was yet another example of Perez’s excellence in this type of situation. There aren’t many drivers on the grid who can master the balance of tyre management and pace quite like the Racing Point driver.
Perez would finally inherit fourth when Raikkonen stopped on lap 47, and fourth became third just three laps later after an apparent tyre failure forced Verstappen out of the race.
With newer tyres and track position, the podium place appeared to be “in the pocket” barring a car issue or an uncharacteristic driver error.
However, the call to box came, demoting Perez back to seventh and undoing 51 laps of hard work. And the chance of reclaiming third was made that much more difficult when the Williams of George Russell crashed into the barrier, forcing the safety car to take a couple more tours of the track while the marshals cleared two stricken cars.
With just five laps to go, the race finally got back underway and Perez made an immediate move, dispatching the Red Bull of Albon with a beautiful manoeuvre round the outside at the Villeneuve chicane.
Leclerc was the next man up the road but even with DRS, the Mexican could not get past and had to settle for sixth.
The result was understandably tough to take, but Perez was able to see the bright side, saying: “It was a fantastic day. From the negatives we can take some positives. The first stint was tremendous – great strategy, great calls from the team – and we put ourselves in position to get that podium.”
And despite losing out on seven extra points and the chance to stand on the podium, the performance further demonstrated Perez’s skills as a driver who is more than deserving of his place in motorsport’s premier series.
He has now scored 82 of Racing Point’s 134 points this year, and continues to outshine the two men who will line up for the team next year – Lance Stroll and Sebastian Vettel.
That will be of little consolation however, as his hopes of remaining on the grid appear to hinge on whether or not Alex Albon is kept on at Red Bull. Even then, he is far from guaranteed to be next in line.
Addressing his future, he said: “As I always say in Formula 1, until you have something signed, everything is in the air, so we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks.”
Formula 1 is supposed to showcase the best drivers in the world, so let’s hope the “coming weeks” are kind to Sergio Perez.
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