Ralf Schumacher: Sergio Perez has closed the gap to Max Verstappen at Red Bull
Ralf Schumacher has spotted a noticeable change for the better in Sergio Perez’s performance with the all-new Red Bull RB18.
A car designed from scratch to conform with F1’s much-changed regulations was always likely to help Perez in comparison to his team-mate, Max Verstappen.
The reigning World Champion had been much more familiar with last year’s RB16B, a continuation of its predecessor, whereas Perez was completely new to the Red Bull team in 2021.
Consequently, the Mexican frequently found himself off Verstappen’s pace, most markedly in qualifying, but the 32-year-old has made a more promising start in that respect this season.
In only the second race of the current campaign, Perez put his car on pole position for the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix with Verstappen only fourth, a quarter of a second down on his colleague.
The tables were turned in the race, however, as Verstappen won from the two Ferraris, with Perez down in fourth having been hugely hindered by the timing of a Safety Car period just after he had made a pit-stop whereas his rivals benefited following Nicholas Latifi’s crash.
Nevertheless, Sky Germany pundit Schumacher is impressed by the progress Perez has made so far with the RB18B.
“At Red Bull, you can see Perez is now closer to Verstappen,” said the six-time Formula 1 race winner in his column for Sky Germany. “A lot has changed there this season.
“Perez had a lot of bad luck with the Safety Car in Saudi Arabia. He was in front and had the pace.
“Whether it would have been enough for victory, I’m not sure. But he would certainly have finished on the podium.”
Schumacher also expressed surprise in Verstappen’s tactics for trying to pass Charles Leclerc in what developed into a thrilling victory duel between them, which the Dutchman edged by just half a second.
“With Verstappen, it was noticeable in Jeddah that he tried to overtake three times before Turn 27, although Leclerc was then always able to fight back with DRS on the start-finish straight. That was incomprehensible to me,” said the 46-year-old former Williams driver.
“I was a bit surprised. I thought Verstappen made a big step in the right direction last year with overtaking manoeuvres. In Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, he didn’t do that so well.
“Dr Helmut Marko said Verstappen had planned it with his engineer, but I thought it was very strange.
“In my opinion, he still has to do something to improve because he almost ruined his tyres. That is also a senseless strain on the tyres.”
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