Red Bull has conceded that if it modifies its 2022 Formula 1 car set-up to better suit Sergio Perez it will usually “lose a bit of performance”.
The admission comes after a run of Perez’s performances dropping off relative to team-mate Max Verstappen over recent months.
Perez started the season strongly, taking his first F1 pole position in Saudi Arabia and winning the Monaco Grand Prix, and giving Verstappen a hard time on the street circuits in particular.
But from the Azerbaijan Grand Prix – where he started ahead of Verstappen but proved off his pace and finished a distant second – in June onwards Perez has struggled and has now taken just two podium finishes in the last eight races.
Speaking ahead of July’s Austrian Grand Prix, Perez talked of the development of the Red Bull RB18 was “going away from me in terms of how comfortable I was in the beginning”.
Since then, he and the team have been working to improve matters but with limited success. After the Belgian Grand Prix at the end of August, Perez said he was keen for Red Bull to “run the cars slightly different” in order to unlock more performance from him.
Perez’s problem is that he is less confident with the more ‘pointy’ car characteristics that suit Verstappen. Crucially, those car characteristics allow Verstappen to access increased pace that eludes Perez, whereas when the car tended more towards understeer early on the gap between the pair was far smaller.
“It is multiple factors, but the main factor is clearly the car balance and the confidence with the car compared to the beginning of the year when the car was a little bit more balanced for him and a little bit less for Max, ” said Red Bull technical director Pierre Wache of Perez’s struggles.
“After the potential of development we put on the car during the season, [the car] moved away from that.
“And after, finding a right set-up for him is quite difficult [and makes it hard] to put him as confident as he could be to beat, or to fight with, Max.”
Red Bull has stressed that this is not about the team favouring one driver’s preference over the other. Instead, it is the consequence of the development path that produces the most performance, with Verstappen’s remarkable ability to live with a car that others – including Perez – find too unstable leading to the current situation.
And while Red Bull is attempting to make its package work better for Perez by making it a little more stable and benign, Wache admits there are performance compromises to be made.
“It’s difficult when you try to develop the car, theoretically, for the performance and after you’re stuck in terms of set-up tools to rebalance the car,” said Wache when asked by The Race if it’s possible to get the same lap time out of diverging set-ups or if a sacrifice of performance is inevitable.
“Then it means that you will have to go down a little bit on performance to achieve the right counterbalance, the desired one.
“I would say normally you will lose a bit of performance to make it better. [That] doesn’t mean it’s a lot, but it is this type of direction.”
The evolving characteristics of the Red Bull are down not only to aerodynamic changes, which are partly motivated by a desire to strengthen a front end that tends towards understeer in slow corners in particular thanks to the regulations and 2022 Pirellis, but also weight.
Verstappen has talked in the past about the disadvantage of the car being overweight, something that Red Bull has whittled away at as the season has progressed. The weight reduction has improved the weight distribution in the car, which plays a part in its dynamic characteristics.
“The weight is an aspect, for sure, but it’s part of the set-up of the car,” Wache added.
“At the beginning of the season, we didn’t have the possibility to move the weight, then it’s part of the set-up.
“I think it’s everything together and after you find your performance somewhere, and it’s a little bit more tricky to set up the car.
“It went in the favour of Max. I think he’s able to drive any car. Now we have to find a way to give a car for Sergio to be performing and to compete.”