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Sergio Pérez has struggled recently, but why?

Is pace, inconsistency, pressure, or something else responsible for Sergio Pérez’s struggles?

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F1 Grand Prix Of Canada Photo by Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty Images

When the ten Formula 1 teams left Azerbaijan behind following the fourth race of the season, it looked as if a proper title fight might be on between Red Bull teammates Max Verstappen and Sergio Pérez. Verstappen was just six points clear of Pérez, and with the grid headed to the streets of Monte Carlo, there was room for Pérez — the “King of the Streets” — to make even more noise atop the table.

Fast forward to today, and instead of looking ahead, Pérez now has to look behind him. Pérez has struggled in recent weeks, notching just one podium in the four races since, and finishing out of the points in Monaco, and the gap from him to Verstappen has ballooned to 69 points. Even more worrying? Fernando Alonso is just now nine points behind Pérez, and the Aston Martin driver made it clear on Sunday: He is coming for second.

What explains his recent struggles? Pressure, a lack of pace, or inconsistency?

Or perhaps all of the above?

Red Bull Team Principal Christian Horner certainly believes the pressure of a potential title fight played a part. Speaking after the Spanish Grand Prix, where Pérez once more struggled in qualifying and failed to advance to Q3, Horner pointed to that pressure as a reason for his struggles.

“Being Max Verstappen’s team mate… Take nothing away, there’s not a driver out there today, I believe, that would have beaten Max in that car today,” Horner told Sky Sports. “He’s up against a driver that is at the top of his form, and that’s very tough.

“Checo, mentally, it’s a really tough thing to deal with. But as I say, I think now, there is that separation in the points, that may actually take the pressure off him a little, and the expectation he’s putting on himself, he needs to let go of that now and just be free to drive.”

Other analysts, however, brush aside the notion of pressure, and point to a simple lack of consistency. In that camp is former F1 driver and current analyst Jenson Button. Speaking with Motorsport following the Canadian Grand Prix, Button declared the Drivers’ Championship done and dusted, and shared why.

“And three weekends – there’s no catching Max now, he’s gone, and the championship is definitely his. What happens to Checo? Hopefully, he bounces back. We all want people to take it to Max, we want to see good racing from Checo,” said Button.

“He’s really quick, it’s just the inconsistency that definitely hurts him.”

As for Pérez himself, following the Canadian Grand Prix he pointed to pace as the reason for his struggles. In Red Bull’s post-race debrief, Pérez mentioned both a lack of pace, and struggles on the medium compound.

“Today was a bit of a surprise, we just didn’t have the pace. It was looking good on the hard tyre initially but once the safety car came in I couldn’t recover the grip on that tyre and we didn’t have the pace on the medium,” said Pérez. “It is important we take time to understand the weekend because this race, in particular, has been poor in pace and we need to get on top of it.”

There is certainly some data to support that position, at least with respect to the Canadian Grand Prix. Consider this, from F1 Tempo, looking at Lap 48 and comparing Pérez’s lap with those from Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz Jr. Leclerc posted the fastest lap of the three, and his lap is the white line. Then you see the time difference between him and the other two drivers, with Sainz in red and Pérez in blue:

F1 Tempo

Pérez is lagging behind for the bulk of the lap.

This lap came with Pérez on relatively new mediums, and the Ferrari duo on relatively new hards. Leclerc posted a time of 1:15.959 on this lap, followed by Sainz at 1:16.195 and then Pérez behind them at 1:16.380.

Looking at the entire Grand Prix and these three drivers using data from F1 Tempo, you can see how Leclerc and Sainz managed to stay ahead of Pérez in the final stages of the race on hards, while Pérez was running on the mediums. (Leclerc is the white line, Sainz the red, and Pérez the blue):

F1 Tempo

Only on the final lap of the race, when Pérez fitted a pair of soft tyres to try and secure the fastest lap of the race, did he pull ahead of the Ferrari duo.

Now, Ferrari certainly took some positives away from the weekend, and this might have more to do with how the Scuderia managed to maintain tyre wear on Sunday. As Helmut Marko noted, Ferrari certainly took a step forward in Montreal.

“It certainly wasn’t easy. We had problems getting our tyres up to temperature, especially with the hard,” he told the media in Canada. “The race was more difficult than we anticipated. I have to say, thank God Ferrari had to start so far back because they were actually the fastest on both compounds.”

But Pérez certainly struggled with pace in Canada, and now he and the rest of the team have to find out why. “Right now, I am more concerned about my drop in performance than my place in the Championship because the pace is just not there,” Pérez added in Montreal. “You never have no pressure on you, it has been a difficult period but I am here to perform and I need to do that in the next few races.”

As is often the case, Pérez’s struggles could likely come down to a combination of “all of the above.” The pressure of performing, particularly alongside Verstappen, can lead to some mistakes and inconsistent results. A lack of pace over a given weekend, and a failure to get the tyre management right, can also lead to some inconsistent results. And yes, perhaps Ferrari has figured some things out.

But for Pérez, finding answers to all of the above is now the critical task ahead of him. And he has to figure out those answers soon.

Because Alonso is now right behind him.