The end of the VSC phase decided the race

(Motorsport-Total.com) – Strictly speaking, the exchange of places, in which the Red Bull command post radioed “No fighting!” to Sergio Perez Team boss Christian Horner says: “The only question was who had the faster and who had the slower car. And Max was significantly faster than ‘Checo’ at the time.”

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It’s round 15 of the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, where eventual winner Max Verstappen took the lead. Verstappen, then third behind Charles Leclerc, was 3.3 seconds behind Perez when the virtual safety car (VSC) was activated on lap 9 and just 2.1 seconds behind when the race resumed has been released.

Leclerc had used the VSC to change tires, so Verstappen was able to hunt down Perez. He first appeared in Perez’s DRS window on lap 14. Leclerc just turned the fastest lap in 1:47.5 minutes on fresh tires. Perez clocked 1:48.8 minutes. So action needs to be taken by Verstappen, who obviously could do it faster.

Perez: The graining started with the VSC

Perez had, you couldn’t tell from the outside, “heavy graining on his rear tires,” says Horner, explaining, “So it was logical to say to the guys, ‘Guys, don’t push each other into the wall! It’s a car faster then let it pass and let’s focus on getting the best possible team result.'”

No sooner said than done: Verstappen passed Perez at the beginning of lap 15. At the end of the lap he had a 2.4 lead, one lap later he was already more than four seconds ahead. Leclerc had reduced his gap from the original 16.7 to 9.2 seconds from behind.

Perez fully supports the team’s decision

The Red Bull command was therefore understandable even for Perez: “After the VSC, I had a lot of wear and tear with the medium. Max was clearly much faster in the phase. It was the right decision to tell us that we shouldn’t fight. Because I was too slow and it was right that Max should be up front at the time.”

It is unclear why Perez’s tires buckled so suddenly after the strong initial phase. “Maybe we lost some tire temperature after the VSC,” speculates the Mexican. According to the gray theory, as a “tire whisperer” he should have had an advantage, after all, Verstappen drove for laps in Leclerc’s “dirty air”.

VSC: Were Perez and his engineer asleep?

When the VSC was activated after Carlos Sainz retired, Perez would have had a golden opportunity to change his tires with a reduced loss of time. But “there was a miscommunication with the team under the VSC. That cost quite a bit,” he says angrily.

When Sainz rolled out in Turn 4, yellow flags were initially waved. In hindsight, race engineer Hugh Bird should have prepared Perez to come into the pits in case the yellow flag turned into a VSC. Instead, only the command “Tires, 6” came. Then Perez: “I don’t know what you mean!” And Bird: “Understood.”


Despite second place, Perez struggles with communication problems

Despite second place, Sergio Perez struggles with communication problems.

Possibly a code that Perez didn’t register? “I didn’t have the information as to whether we wanted to pit or not,” he regrets. “When I got the info, it was too late. We usually have a communication protocol so I know whether I should come to the pits or not. Something went wrong today.”

Box assumed Perez would come in

The replay shows: Perez eased off the gas a few seconds before entering the pits because the race control displayed VSC. The announcement “Box, Box!” came before the pit entrance – but Perez didn’t react quickly enough due to a lack of mental preparation. “I missed her,” he radioed after Bird told him “Strat 12 in the box!” announced.

“It was a hair’s breadth,” Horner analyzed afterwards. “We wanted to split our cars. We told Max to do the opposite of Leclerc. Max was faster than Charles at the time, but Charles benefited from ‘Checo’s’ slipstream. And the DRS effect wasn’t as pronounced as usual. So we stayed out when Leclerc came in.”

Red Bull: Too little data from Friday training

A decision that was understandable from Verstappen’s point of view, whose tires were still okay. Horner explains: “We only had a six-lap long run on Friday and didn’t know how quickly the tires would degrade. So our strategy was to extend Max’s stint as long as possible in order to have the fresher tires later. “

When the second Ferrari had also vanished into thin air as an opponent, the Red Bulls were among themselves and were able to drive their race home without damaging the engine. Perez was 4.4 seconds behind Verstappen at the time. This grew in the remaining 30 laps to ultimately 20.8 seconds.


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“The difference in speed between our two drivers was significant,” analyzes Horner. “We discussed that this morning: ‘If you should race against each other, give each other space.’ And they did. 2018 wasn’t that long ago, we had that in the back of our minds. So it’s important for us at this stage of the World Championship that the drivers treat each other fairly.”

Red Bull is primarily concerned with “maximizing the points against Ferrari. We know that they have a very fast car at the moment. And we have often seen how quickly the tide can turn.” Nobody needs a double knockout like in 2018, when Verstappen and Daniel Ricciardo collided.

Why didn’t the “tire whisperer” whisper?

The difference between Verstappen and Perez in Baku, Horner suspects, may be “in the set-up”: “‘Checo’ is usually very gentle on the rear tires. But with only six laps on Friday you have a few unknowns before the race .”

“There are subtle differences in how the drivers set up their cars because the driving style of the two differs. Max is always looking for a strong front axle, ‘Checo’ on the other hand less so. Those are the variances you have between drivers. At Max, the tire wear was much better this time than in Monaco,” explains Horner.

Question to the team boss: How much easier is life when the second driver doesn’t go nuts in such situations, but cooperates? “‘Checo’,” praises Horner, “is a mature personality. He sees the big picture and knows that the World Championship will not be decided in one race.”

Since Monaco, Perez has been “driving in the form of his life. But maybe his focus in the set-up was too much on qualifying given the wear on the rear tyres. We’ll have to look at that. Because Max was clearly stronger at the end of the first stint as ‘Checo,'” says Horner.