As first days on the new job goes, Sergio Perez could certainly agree it could have gone smoother.
Looking at the results in isolation, it doesn’t make for great reading. Max Verstappen vying for the lead of the race for the entirety of the Bahrain Grand Prix, finishing second, just seven tenths behind the Mercedes of Lewis Hamilton and then Perez crossing the line in fifth, 52 seconds further back.
Based on that result alone, there will be some shouting that it is no different to what Alex Albon could have achieved, yet that is probably not the case at all.
Let’s be honest, Perez had a difficult start, some of it his own doing, a lot of it to do with his car, but despite the challenges he showed exactly why he is the right person to be Verstappen’s wing man.
In fairness, qualifying wasn’t Perez’s finest moment, with the latest Red Bull Racing recruit struggling to get his RB16 to work over a single lap.
It meant he failed to make it through to Q3 in the opening qualifying session of the season, having tried to go through on the slower medium tyres, and ended up 11th on the grid.
It wasn’t a complete disaster, but Christian Horner would have expect him to be within the top five and after qualifying, and Perez himself admitted that he should have done better with the tools at his disposal.
“We were absolutely right to use the medium tyres in Q2 but unfortunately it just didn’t pay off and I didn’t deliver the lap I should have.” Perez said after qualifying.
“I went wide at Turn 13 and lost a couple of tenths and the field is so tight that it knocked me out of Q3.”
A big difference between Perez and his predecessors is experience. Perez has been in the game long enough to know there is plenty that can be done from 11th on the grid, especially as he won in Bahrain last year, having been plum last in the early stages.
But, he was dealt an even bigger blow when his car shutdown on him on the formation lap, forcing him to start the race from the pitlane once he got the car restarted.
An early safety car helped Perez close up to the back of the field in the opening laps, but once racing got back underway he was a force to be reckoned with.
He calmly carved his way through the order, scything through the opposition in a manner not seen by a Verstappen teammate since Daniel Ricciardo was with the team.
Perez’s experience and maturity shone through and although he was out of sequence with everybody else in the stops, by quarter distance he was in third place and had clean air ahead.
And, it was this stage of the race that shows exactly why Red Bull were right in signing the Mexican.
Once in clear air, Perez’s pace was brilliant, setting identical times to Verstappen who was also in clear air. It was an opportunity to directly compare the both and showed that over a race distance, Perez is every bit the match for Verstappen.
Nobody is saying that Perez will consistently outpace Verstappen, it’s very unlikely he will, but already in his first ever race with Red Bull, he is already closer to Verstappen than Albon or Gasly ever managed.
Perez fell back down the order when he pitted for fresh rubber, but again he fought his way back through, crossing the line in fifth position, behind the McLaren of Lando Norris, and although he would have gone into the weekend hopeful of a podium, that performance was just as good in proving why he is worthy of the seat.
He didn’t panic, he didn’t get flustered, he just got his head down and got on with the job at hand, and it’s a result he should rightly be happy with.
“Considering my race almost didn’t happen today, I think overall we can be pleased with today and take away the positives as the pace was really good and the potential is there.” commented Perez after the race.
“On the formation lap, all of a sudden the car shut down and I was so close to jumping out but I stayed in and somehow the car got going again which was a miracle really.
“That meant we had to start from the pit lane which wasn’t ideal but we managed to recover and I was just happy to complete the race and get that important mileage under my belt.”
It’s no secret that Verstappen is Red Bull’s priority. They believe he can win the world championship and his performance against Lewis Hamilton on Sunday proves he is definitely capable of that.
But, having one driver trying to win it on his own isn’t enough, especially when Mercedes have another strong driver in Valtteri Bottas.
Horner has said it time and time again, that Red Bull need a second driver who is capable of mixing it at the front, putting pressure on Mercedes to make strategic errors or holding back the opposition when both cars are in front.
They never got that opportunity with Albon and Gasly, but based on his race yesterday, it looks like they will with Perez.
He might not have the outright star quality of his teammate, but he is an extremely capable driver who is able to nurture his car like no other on the grid, and if he can repeat Sunday’s race performance at every round this year, he is going to make life very hard for Mercedes.
And at the end of the day, that’s exactly what Red Bull has spent the last two years looking for.