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Perez opens up on F1 2023 slump - "I cannot be this bad, something's going on"

Sergio Perez has opened up about how his Red Bull struggles in 2023 made Formula 1 'no longer fun', and why he didn't consider walking away after his "worst weekend ever".

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Red Bull Content Pool

It feels like ages ago since Perez lived up to his once-valid 'street race king' moniker and won the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, cutting team-mate Max Verstappen's lead to just six points as he vowed to take the 2023 title fight all the way.
His pole in the subsequent Miami Grand Prix, with Verstappen down in ninth on the grid, was a chance to underline those credentials, but as the Dutchman scythed through the field to demote Perez he struck a psychological hammer blow.
It heralded the start of an annus horribilis for Perez, who began struggling with the car from the next round in Barcelona and missed Q3 stunning five times in a row - qualifying just ninth in the Hungarian race that broke that streak - an unacceptable calamity in the field's dominant car.
Despite a contract for 2024 pressure had started to pile high on the Mexican, and further ramped up when Daniel Ricciardo was brought back to replace Nyck de Vries in the sister AlphaTauri team, with a clear aim of testing him out for a potential Red Bull return down the line.
Perez's breaking point was the Qatar Grand Prix during which he looked utterly lost and bereft of confidence and finished 10th, over 80 seconds behind Verstappen, who sealed the championship that Perez once coveted with six rounds to spare.
While the alarm bells had been ringing for a while, Perez was so shell-shocked that he headed to the team's headquarters for three days of simulator work and brainstorming with his engineers on how to dig himself out of a hole that to him felt like the Mariana Trough.
When asked by Autosport in a limited roundtable interview why Perez waited until after Qatar to take action and demand a brainstorming session, he replied: "Because Qatar was really the worst weekend I remember in a while, probably my worst weekend ever in the sport.
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C43

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, Zhou Guanyu, Alfa Romeo C43

"It was such a bad weekend that I really felt like: 'I cannot be this bad, there's something that's going on'.
"When you have these back-to-back races, I feel like sometimes there is not enough time to really go through it all. So, I felt like we really had to take a bit of time to make sure that we understood which way we were going.
"Obviously, we had a deficit within the car set-up that we were playing around [with] weekend by weekend and we were just not able to progress through it. 
"But once we managed to get on top of that, we understood a lot of things that we were trying to compensate for. And that just basically meant that we were not just not doing things right.
"I think that has been really, really good on our side. I mean, it was bad that it happened but in a way, it was really good because it really strengthened our team quite a lot."

Perez "not the type of guy to finish my career like that"

Amid speculation on his future, Perez said he never considered stepping away despite a slump that he now admits had sapped all enjoyment out of his job.
"No, obviously, that would have been the easiest route because it was very tough at times," said the 33-year-old firmly. "But I'm not the type of guy that at this stage of my career will be giving up and be willing to finish my career like that. It's not something that I ever considered doing.
Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

Photo by: Steven Tee / Motorsport Images

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing

"I'm aware of the responsibility I have and I'm not the sort of guy that will blame people around me for the results. At the end of the day I took responsibility for it and I had to turn around the situation quite a lot."
On talk about his replacement by Ricciardo or others, he said: "To be honest, I was not really thinking of it as a driver. I was more focused on making sure I could enjoy the weekends and be able to have that.
"I was having some weekends that were so difficult that they were not fun. I'm here because I still love what I'm doing and I'm here because I still have a lot of fun, a lot of enjoyment. And that was my main focus, that we really need things to turn them around.
"I had some really difficult times in a few months, let's put it that way. I went from fighting from the championship to being in a difficult boat, and not having that confidence with the car.
"But the end of the day, if you want to be at Red Bull, I'm aware of how strong mentally you have to be to be here. And it's something that I got stronger at. You learn so much from the bad days, much more than from the good days."
Perez's fighting spirit was on display in Mexico, where an audacious outside move to take the lead into Turn 1 ended in tears. When asked if that move summed up his attitude about the season once his championship bid had petered out, he replied:
"Yeah, basically. I really felt like I had a real option going first into Turn 1 if I made it stick. Unfortunately, it didn't work out but it could have been a massive result.
Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, make contact at the start causing the Mexican to crash out

Photo by: Andy Hone / Motorsport Images

Charles Leclerc, Ferrari SF-23, Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB19, make contact at the start causing the Mexican to crash out

"If I'm fighting for the championship, I think you cannot be that aggressive, but if you're fighting for second, then it's a different story."
Taking just one podium in the final third of the season, in Las Vegas, and finishing on half the points tally of Verstappen, Perez is aware he still needs to find more over the off-season, but he feels the way he managed to steady the ship after Qatar was encouraging for 2024.
"I always say people will only remember where you finish in Abu Dhabi, but I'm aware of the year I had," he reflected.
"I think I've learned a lot and I'm happy with how we managed to turn our season around.
"We really came out of it stronger than before and made good use of those bad days."
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