Sergio Perez’s poor qualifying, at least compared to Max Verstappen’s, has all too often left him “redundant” in helping his team-mate.
That, though, wasn’t the case in Turkey says former F1 driver turned pundit Jolyon Palmer.
In his first season with Red Bull, Perez has all too often been unable to fill the role of rear-gunner for his team-mate Verstappen as the Dutchman takes on Lewis Hamilton for the World title.
Having to take on both Mercedes drivers at the front of the field, Verstappen has in the past voiced his frustrations at being alone in the fight.
Perez, though, rose to the occasion on Sunday in Turkey.
“Perez put in a well-timed gritty drive,” Palmer wrote in his F1.com column, “getting back onto the podium for the first time in eight races.
“The real strength of Perez on Sunday was his wheel-to-wheel battling, particularly in keeping a charging Lewis Hamilton at bay.
“Too often recently Perez’s poor qualifying performances have rendered him redundant in helping Verstappen’s fight with Hamilton on Sundays.
“It would have been the case once again in Turkey, with the Mexican only mustering up a seventh place qualifying on Saturday.
“The difference here of course was that Hamilton would have to come past him despite being fastest in qualifying, due to his grid penalty.”
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Running ahead of Hamilton, Perez had one job on the day and that was to hold up the Mercedes driver’s progress.
He did that, even engaging in a wheel-to-wheel battle in which Palmer reckons Hamilton knew he was up against a driver who was willing to “risk everything” on the day.
“Where he excelled most was in damaging Hamilton’s race, something it seemed clear he was intent on doing by the way he fought to keep the Brit behind him, when a couple of times in battle it looked like the place was lost.
“Hamilton had passed a string of midfield cars with ease early on, and even Yuki Tsunoda – who held him back for a while – didn’t offer the greatest resistance when Hamilton finally went for a move.
“As Hamilton caught Perez though he was met by a driver with a very different mindset. A driver who was willing to risk everything in their race to hold back a Mercedes which at that moment was clearly faster.
“Into Turns 12 and 1 Hamilton was almost a car length ahead by the braking zone when Perez sent it back up his inside on the wetter part of track to hold on, and while the Mexican was being squeezed off – all the way to the pit entry and even the other side of the bollard into Turn 14 – he kept his foot in and refused to yield.
“Often in Formula 1 these days it can feel futile when a driver is clinging on to a position for dear life against a car that is much faster and with a good chunk of the race to go, but Perez’s fight was absolutely worth his while.”
The former driver believes it was the difference between a podium and the P5 that Hamilton achieved on the day.
“Had Hamilton completed the overtake he could have gone after Leclerc,” he said. “He also would have been more open to pitting as well with the track position over Perez and potentially finished on the podium.
“Perez’s defence may have effectively earned Verstappen an extra five or six points by the time Mercedes failed to make inroads in the rest of the race.
“With the championship so finely in the balance with only six races remaining, the role of the second driver could be crucial, and they have almost opposite skillsets.”
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