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Perez unfairly protected by Horner after disappointing race pace

Perez unfairly protected by Horner after disappointing race pace

1 April - 16:00

According to Christian Horner, Sergio Perez matched the pace of the leaders during the first part of the Australian Grand Prix. This was clearly a message to protect his driver because anyone diving into the data will see that none of this is true at all.

Perez finished fifth in the Australian Grand Prix. Any race weekend where Max Verstappen faces technical problems is the moment for Perez to do his job. Then, it is up to the Mexican to take victory, or at least finish as high as possible. In Melbourne, that proved to be a difficult task for Checo again.

Things went wrong in qualifying, mainly because of Red Bull Racing themselves. Perez was informed about the oncoming Nico Hulkenberg too late, which caused him to drive in the way and receive a three-place grid penalty. Thus, his third place in qualifying became a sixth starting spot at Sunday's race.

Did Perez really have the pace of the leaders?

Perez, however, made things difficult for himself with a poor start. This left him stuck behind George Russell in the first few laps. Perez failed to pass the Mercedes driver and had to wait until lap nine before he could really push forward in clear air. That was when Russell pitted for his first stop.

According to Horner, in the stage where he had free air, Perez had the same pace as the drivers in front. Perez was hampered later in the race by a tear-off from Fernando Alonso. It got stuck under Perez's car as he overtook the Spaniard (lap 26). Perez thus had an excuse for not getting beyond P5, but that excuse is not entirely justified.

Firstly, Perez himself lost sixth place to Russell at the start, leaving him stuck behind the Briton for a long time. When Perez got ahead of Russell in the first stint and was free to go full throttle, he could go faster, but not much faster. At the same stage, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris were still on the track and were, on average, faster than Perez. Sainz drove almost every lap a second faster than Perez. So Perez certainly did not have the pace of the leader.

How much faster could Perez have been in Australia?

After his pit stop, Perez again got stuck behind Russell. This time, he passed the Briton on the track and could start the chase for Alonso. In those four laps, Perez gave everything he had again, but Sainz was still too strong for the Mexican. However, Perez was narrowly faster than Charles Leclerc, Lando Norris, and Oscar Piastri at that point. Perez was already trailing the last driver in that group (Norris) by 12 seconds. A one-tenth gain per lap is not going to get you there.

Clearly, Horner was trying to protect his driver. In a weekend where Verstappen took pole position and most likely would have battled for victory in the race, Perez did not come close to that pace. He did not stand up on the weekend when he could have won a race. With his contract expiring, it is not the best calling card he could have made.