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Perez: “Right call” not to fight Verstappen for Azerbaijan GP lead

Sergio Perez wants to understand why his pace dropped after the virtual safety car periods which meant he couldn’t compete against Red Bull Formula 1 team-mate Max Verstappen for Azerbaijan Grand Prix victory.

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18

Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18

Carl Bingham / Motorsport Images

The Mexican driver led the early laps in Baku after beating polesitter Charles Leclerc off the line, but struggled to match the race pace of Verstappen after the first virtual safety car periods.

Perez suffered a similar dip in pace after a second virtual safety car period when Kevin Magnussen stopped on track for Haas, which led him to accept it was the “right call” not to fight Verstappen for victory.

“I need to understand it, right now it didn’t feel like I was hitting the tyres hard at the time [on the first stint], it was right up to the virtual safety car where we lost the pace,” Perez said.

“I think all the way to that stage things were looking right, things were looking OK, but it was mainly after the virtual safety car when we really dropped the pace massively.

“I am sure it is something related to it, we probably lost a bit of temperature on those tyres at that time, with some wear, so we have to understand that and what happened.”

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, passes Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18

Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing RB18, passes Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing RB18

Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images

Perez lost the lead to Verstappen at the start of lap 15 when his team-mate passed him into Turn 1, but the Mexican was unable to respond for the rest of the race and finished 20.8s off the win in second place.

“With Max, he was clearly a lot faster at that stage of the race so it was the right call not to fight as I didn’t have any pace at the time. So Max deserved to be ahead at that point,” he said.

“We also boxed too late [under the first virtual safety car] so there were a few things that played into the result today. But at the end of the day Max deserved the win because he was the faster car.”

Perez is also searching for answers about why Red Bull didn’t pit him under the first virtual safety car period to cover off Ferrari pitting Leclerc which he put down to “miscommunication” within the Red Bull team. The early stop gave Leclerc a net lead once both Red Bulls stopped, but his advantage at the front lasted for one lap before he retired due to engine failure.

“There was some miscommunication with the virtual safety car, so we missed the opportunity to pit under it which was quite costly,” he said. “Then we hit a lot of degradation on that medium tyre after the virtual safety car.

“So there are a few things to understand from that today. Certainly today Max was quite a lot stronger in that phase of the race. It was mainly about bringing it home after the Ferrari issue.”

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Perez was still able to pick up the bonus point for fastest lap later in the race, along with finishing runner-up to Verstappen, and moves up to second place in the F1 world drivers’ standings above Leclerc, 21 points behind his Red Bull team-mate.

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