Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff has shed light on the underlying reason behind Red Bull driver Sergio Perez’s inability to match Max Verstappen’s performance in the 2023 Formula 1 season. While Verstappen dominated the season, claiming his third consecutive drivers’ championship, Perez’s title aspirations faded early on.
Verstappen’s dominance was evident in qualifying as well, securing pole position 12 times compared to Perez’s two. Single-lap pace often proved to be Perez’s Achilles’ heel, failing to reach Q3 nine times and even bowing out after Q1 on three occasions.
Despite widespread speculation that Perez’s performance deficit stemmed from his driving skills, Wolff believes the Mexican grappled with the same challenges as other F1 drivers – understanding and extracting performance from Pirelli’s tires.
Wolff observed that drivers across various teams, including Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and George Russell, struggled to master the tires, while Verstappen appeared to have a knack for it. Without fully comprehending tire behavior, no driver could reach their full potential.
“It’s difficult to comprehend that good drivers in various teams have these oscillations of performance,” Wolff stated. “We’ve seen this with [Carlos] Sainz and [Charles] Leclerc, you’ve seen it with George and Lewis, Oscar [Piastri] and Lando [Norris].”
“The obvious one is Perez and Verstappen. Perez is not a second slower than Max. So, what is that? We’ve seen it swinging in both directions.”
Wolff concluded that tire grip played a pivotal role in extracting performance. If a driver could find the sweet spot, a stable platform for the weekend’s work, then performance would follow.
“Fundamentally, I think it’s all around the tire grip. If you’re able to have the car in a sweet spot, a stable platform that you start the work with at the beginning of the weekend, then you can extract performance.”
“I think if you’re not [in that sweet spot], there’s just no performance. You’re falling off the cliff, literally. So, I have no explanation for that. I think the only one this year who has understood how to drive these tyres is Max.”