The seeds of Sergio Perez’s defeat in the Miami Grand Prix were sown in the opening stint of the race, his Red Bull team believe.
Despite starting from pole position on the medium tyre compound, Perez failed to pull out a significant lead over team mate Max Verstappen, who closed in on him despite starting from ninth place on the hard tyre compound.
“I think the damage was done to Checo in that first stint and he didn’t have enough of a buffer for later in the race,” Red Bull team principal Christian Horner said afterwards.
Verstappen emerged from the pack of cars which separated him from Perez by lap 15. At that point there was just 3.7 seconds between them, and Verstappen was easily able to draw close to Perez and put him under pressure.
Perez was taking great care with his medium tyres at this stage. So much so that Verstappen was the quicker of the two on every lap from the fourth tour until Perez came into the pits on lap 19.
“The first ten laps [Perez] was very much managing the pace,” said Horner. “I think he was nervous about the front-right.
“As we started to see other teams start to get a bit of graining, I think he was driving well within himself and the car to protect that front-right.”
While Perez replaced his medium tyres after 20 laps, other drivers such as Fernando Alonso and Zhou Guanyu went further on them. Horner suspects Perez needed to increase his pace earlier in the race to stand a chance of out-running his team mate.
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“He started to push after the first 10 laps and started to build a lead. I think probably with 20-20 hindsight, if he looked at the race again he’d push harder in that first stint because the medium tyre actually turned out to be a very good tyre as we saw with Fernando actually going quite a long way.”
However Verstappen’s sheer pace was always going to make it difficult for Perez to contain the threat from his team mate, said Horner.
“What was truly impressive today was, obviously Checo did a great job converting the start, but Max never dropped more than five-and-a-half seconds behind him despite being in the traffic and then efficiently made the progress through the traffic.
“On that first stint when Checo pitted he was know just over a second, a second-and-a-half behind. And then the real crux of the race was the next 22 laps of…