Red Bull should be able to find ways to make the characteristics of its Formula 1 RB18 car more to Sergio Perez’s taste after he claimed his development direction was “getting away from me”, according to chief engineer Paul Monaghan.
Perez had a strong start to the season, placing well against teammate Max Verstappen and winning the Monaco Grand Prix. He also led the Saudi Grand Prix from pole position before an ill-timed safety car was deployed just after his first pit stop, dropping him to fourth place.
But since Canada in mid-June he has been less comfortable with the car as Red Bull has worked to get a stronger front end. Initially it had better understeer balance, especially in slower corners, as cars tend to do under the new technical regulations and new 2022 tyres.
While Verstappen favors a more ‘sharp’ style of car handling with more aggressive cornering, it’s also a direction of development that unlocks more performance. Favoring him, then, is not consciously a move away from what Perez wants, but an extraction of more rhythm.
A sharper car, provided the rear end is controllable, will generally be faster in and out of a corner than a more limited understeer car as the driver can more proactively induce the required rotation.
Verstappen’s ability to get the most out of a car with such characteristics, which many drivers struggle with, is one of his many strengths. But that makes life more difficult for Perez.
Asked by The Race about Perez’s comments, Monaghan said he hadn’t heard them, but explained the direction of development.
“We didn’t take a deliberate step to make the car less to his liking,” Monaghan said when asked what Perez said. “It’s not easy to make them go faster.
“In a fairly restricted set of technical rules and freedoms, if you find a way to put some pace in, you’ll often take it if it’s within your financial limits to apply it.
“So you go through a process of finding your tools, full-size realization and then full-size evaluation. And if it looks like we’ve accelerated the car, we’ll generally maintain it on the basis that all your tools indicate that your car will be faster.
“Now, perhaps by deploying the tools, it may have been easier for Max to adopt them. Maybe its configuration is a bit more suitable than Checo’s.
“But it’s not like the car is set in stone in terms of parameters [so] that Checo cannot then revise the configuration to say that it is to its liking again. And it would be foolish of us not to try to give Checo a method to get the most out of it.
“We are in the race for both titles and we need both cars ideally ahead of Ferrari and Mercedes. So we’ll do everything we can to get them both out there.
Perez has worked to make the setup better suited to him in recent events, but has struggled to keep pace with Verstappen.
While the rainy qualifying sessions made it more difficult to assess the one-lap pace deficit, he fell behind Verstappen’s pace in the races. He also never showed the speed trick his teammate did in Austria and instead settled into a number two role.
But he still aspires to challenge for the championship, holding third place – 57 points behind Verstappen. This follows a significant loss of ground after he retired from the Austrian Grand Prix following damage suffered in a clash with George Russell on the first lap, which earned the Mercedes driver a penalty.
As Monaghan pointed out, Red Bull need to get the best out of both drivers in order to maximize their title hopes.
But to do that he also needs to make the car as fast as possible, which worked against Perez. As Monaghan says, there should be ways “in the race engineer’s suite of tools and things that we can change” to evolve his setup and it would benefit the team to do so.
While it suits Red Bull to have Perez as the number two driver, it also pays to push the performance ceiling higher even if Verstappen is the only one comfortable with it. Then it’s up to Perez’s garage side to tone it down with the setup.
“It should be within our abilities to find something a little more to his liking,” Monaghan said.
“The balance between drivers over the course of a season is always going to fluctuate. And if you look closely, Checo overqualified Max this year – that hadn’t happened in a while to any of Max’s teammates.
“Max doesn’t want to rest on his laurels and neither does Checo and neither do we. [doing so]. Our race is within our team, but they have to remember that they are both riding for the same team and our race is against our neighbors, who are both very happy to see us behind them.
“So our fight is on many fronts, but one of them I wouldn’t consider a contest. It’s more our challenge [to manage] and it’s [between] our two drivers and we will support them as best we can.