Sergio Perez failed to make it into the final part of qualifying at the Bahrain Grand Prix, a performance he feels was "not ideal." It was Perez's first qualifying session with Red Bull after replacing Alexander Albon who was been left without a seat on the F1 grid.
The Mexican driver ran wide at turn four which piled the pressure onto him for his second lap in Q2. Initially it appeared Perez did enough, but he was bumped out of the top 10 and will start 11th for Sunday's season-opener.
Despite the setback, Perez has already proven he is an upgrade on Albon who failed to get within a quarter of a second of teammate Verstappen during any of last year's 17 rounds.
Perez qualified 0.341 seconds behind Verstappen on the same medium tyre compound as his Dutch teammate in Q2, which is an encouraging start to his Red Bull career despite not making Q3.
Alexander Albon vs Max Verstappen 2020 Qualifying Comparison
|Event||Qualifying position||Deficit to Verstappen|
|70th Anniversary GP||9||0.602|
|Emilia Romagna GP||6||0.396|
|Abu Dhabi GP||4||0.325|
Ignoring the wet Turkish Grand Prix qualifying when Albon was over two seconds behind Verstappen, the Thai driver had an average deficit of 0.522 seconds.
Albon was also at the wheel of the Red Bull for the final nine races of the 2019 season and was given every chance by the team to perform and showcase his talent.
Perez joins Red Bull full of confidence following his maiden F1 victory at last year's Sakhir Grand Prix.
But it's a very different environment for Perez and the limited pre-season testing of three days, half of the amount of testing time in 2020, plus 60 minutes less practice is not ideal preparation for any driver who has changed teams over the winter.
Red Bull took a gamble to try and get Perez through Q2 on the medium tyres to give him more strategy options for Sunday's race. The team misjudged the rate of track development which allowed Fernando Alonso and Lance Stroll on the soft tyre compound to leapfrog Perez.
“I would say it was a mistake by the team not to send him out on the soft tyre, he was not secure," said Helmut Marko who defends Perez.
On most tracks Perez would have had no troubles making it to Q3. Due to qualifying for the Bahrain Grand Prix taking place at night, the evolution of the track was substantial as the temperature continued to drop minute by minute.
Last year, Red Bull did not even try to get Albon into the final part of qualifying on the slower medium tyre because they thought he did not have the pace. Often, Albon was slower than Verstappen in Q2 despite using the soft tyres whilst Verstappen used the medium tyre compound.
Red Bull are already confident that Perez is capable of copying Verstappen's and Mercedes' strategy of using the medium tyre to reach Q3.
We can expect Perez to be able to execute that strategy in future races as track development will not be as rapid as it was in Sakhir.
Perez has never been a standout driver over one lap. Although Perez beat Lance Stroll in the teammate qualifying battle at Racing Point in 2019 and 2020, he was second-best to Esteban Ocon in 2018, losing 16-5 to the Frenchman.
It's Perez's race pace which has caught the eye of the paddock over the years. The 31-year-old has been one of the best drivers at managing his tyres in recent seasons in an era where tyre management has become crucial.
Albon never finished ahead of Verstappen in the 11 races where both drivers saw the chequered flag. He often finished nearly a lap behind Verstappen and was battling to pick up a decent points haul whilst Verstappen tried to keep in touch with Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas.
For Perez to be as close as he was in qualifying on Saturday in Bahrain bodes very well for Red Bull. Perez will only get better and will be able to showcase his race pace which has done him a lot of good in the turbo-hybrid era.
Albon was around one second slower than Verstappen at the majority of the races in 2020, even if he was on fresher or faster tyres. Perez will certainly not be that far behind.
Even though it wasn't the start Perez hoped for, don't be surprised if Red Bull put him on the hard tyres to start Sunday's Bahrain Grand Prix which could see him in amongst the leaders when Verstappen, Hamilton and Bottas make their first pitstop.