Speaking after his final day of work in the Red Bull RB19 in the post-Abu Dhabi Grand Prix test, Sergio Perez was happier to see the back of one of the most dominant cars in Formula 1 history than you might expect.

And all because it was the end of an experience all-too-familiar to drivers who have the misfortune to be team-mates to all-time greats like Max Verstappen.

Perez had just spent his last 117 laps in the car focusing on his own driving and set-up work to feed into what he calls the “homework” he hopes will pay off with a strong season in 2024.

“It’s been dominant for Red Bull, yes, but it was quite tough for me,” said Perez when asked if he would miss the RB19.

“I’m sure we’re going to have a great car again next year, hopefully a little bit nicer balance on my side and hopefully we can keep this domination going as a team.”


A glance at the points table might suggest that was the weekend before in Monaco as his blank after crashing at Ste Devote in Q1 meant Verstappen opened up a 41-point lead.

Mathematically, it’s a reasonable assumption, but Perez was talking car dynamics not numbers.

“Max has done a tremendous job, no credit should be taken away from the season that he has done,” said Perez during the Qatar Grand Prix weekend, two days before Verstappen’s inevitable coronation in the sprint race
There’s an implied, unstated ‘and I’ll get a bigger slice of it’ from Perez reflecting how as the RB19 improved to have a higher performance ceiling, his capacity to extract the most from it was reduced.

It’s a painful trajectory drivers in his situation endure time and again.

Perez referenced the Spanish Grand Prix weekend as “a turning point” in his campaign.
He’s driven on another level compared to anyone else and that’s something I have a lot of respect for.

“From my side, I feel like Barcelona was quite a turning point, my weekends were starting to become…I was always chasing the weekend.

“Sometimes, you have weekends where things are coming a lot more naturally and you are just two or three steps ahead.

“Since Barcelona, I was starting to struggle and have some deficits with the car.”

This reflects what is widely characterised as the development direction favouring Verstappen and making life more difficult for Perez.

However, this is an oversimplification.

It’s true insofar as it reflects the classic trend of the lead driver in a top team, which is almost always whoever is the stronger outside of those brief transitional periods when an incomer is wresting the upper hand, dictating the development direction.
But as Verstappen himself has said, his approach is simply “I just say design me the fastest car and I’ll drive around that”.

While it’s obvious to anyone who listens to his feedback over the radio that he also has clear ideas of any limitations needing to be tackled to extract more pace, it encapsulates the fundamental truth of the very best drivers expanding the window a car can be put in in terms of characteristics.

The front end and pointy turn-in characteristics favoured by Verstappen are, very broadly speaking, usually the way to get the fastest laptime.
However, that is dependent on the car being able to deliver those characteristics consistently and controllably.

The driver feeds into that process as rear-end controllability and stability/instability is not an absolute, but in the eye of the beholder.

Like Michael Schumacher, Verstappen is particularly adept at driving a car with this kind of characteristic.

Johnny Herbert, Schumacher’s Benetton team-mate in late 1994 and throughout ‘95, characterised the problem of controlling the car once it has very shapely turned in as “there’s no computing it and you are lost”.

That’s indicative of a car in a condition a great driver can deal with but ‘merely’ a very good one cannot.
In short, the reason Perez can’t deal with the car and Verstappen can extract the pace is the latter is preternaturally talented.

Verstappen literally makes the car better because those designing it can put it into a faster, but trickier, window.

If you have the driver who can deal with it, why wouldn’t you?
If not, you are limiting your performance potential in the same way as if you limited yourself to lower revs than the opposition.

To expand the engine analogy, you might only do that if it made your engine explode – but in this faster condition, Verstappen’s in a happy place and doesn’t blow up.

That alone doesn’t explain why Perez was so much better relative to Verstappen early in the year than he was later.


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