During the Portuguese Grand Prix, Sergio Perez stayed on a medium set of tires for almost the entire race. It was strongly believed that Red Bull chose this strategy to slow Lewis Hamilton down and help Max Verstappen, but Horner denies it.
Yesterday, Perez started the Portuguese Grand Prix on medium tires and was the last driver to pit in, at the very end of the race. The tire choice was extremely sensible in Portimao as Pirelli opted for the hardest compounds available (C1, C2, C3) and it was believed that the hard compound could last for as much as one Grand Prix and a half.
Strategists were given a hard time selecting their pit window as a potential Safety Car could have ruined their race if they pitted too early. On the other hand, most of the grid started on medium tires. However, it was later proved that the hard tires were the fastest ones, and pitting early to switch for a harder compound could have paid off as well.
Red Bull’s team principal, Christian Horner, revealed after the race that Perez’s pace was a bit too slow to catch up with the front runners being Bottas, Hamilton, and Verstappen. However, the Mexican was still fast enough to dig an important gap between him and the fifth-place finisher, Lando Norris.
Considering the pace of the Mexican driver and his renowned ability to manage his tires, the Austrian team decided to let Perez stay out for most of the race and make him pit in the very last laps to put on the Softest compound and try his chance at claiming the fastest lap of the race.
Horner, therefore, denies the rumors saying that Red Bull voluntarily kept Perez on track, in order to slow down Lewis Hamilton and therefore help Verstappen to close the gap to his British opponent.
In the case of a Safety Car, Perez’s strategy could also have paid off considering that, for a few minutes, he was in the time window required to pit and come out in front of Bottas.
“It was more focused on wanting to get to the soft tire to have a crack at that point for the fastest lap,” Horner revealed.
“Sergio was in a sort of solid fourth, without the opportunity to catch the cars in front and clear the cars behind. So we thought: ‘okay let’s run the fuel down, get to a point where it is sensible to the finish and have a crack at the fastest lap.”
“That’s why we went that long. The soft tire didn’t have a lot of range, and of course, if you abuse it over a single lap it makes it a little bit more marginal.”
Horner also expressed his appreciation towards Perez’s hard adaptation work, as the team principal thinks he is slowly getting where he belongs to with a Red Bull car.
“I think he’s getting there,” Horner said.
“I’m happy with the progress he’s making. With more time and experience, everything will just come together for him.”
“Here has been really difficult because of the wind and so on, but you can see the races are coming together for him when he is in clean air.”
“Don’t forget he managed to pass Norris, who had passed him fully off the track.”
“But once he was in clean air, he was doing the same lap time as the leaders at certain points and was setting the fastest lap. So I think it’s really coming together for him.”