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How Max Verstappen is stealing Sergio Perez’s SUPERPOWER to take F1 title advantage

How Max Verstappen is stealing Sergio Perez’s SUPERPOWER to take F1 title advantage

F1 News

How Max Verstappen is stealing Sergio Perez’s SUPERPOWER to take F1 title advantage

How Max Verstappen is stealing Sergio Perez’s SUPERPOWER to take F1 title advantage

When Pirelli won the tender to become Formula 1’s sole tyre manufacturer from the 2011 onwards, it did so on the promise that would produce rubber which would degrade quickly.

Creating a product which can only perform at its maximum potential for a short amount of time might seem peculiar, but the trait was specifically requested by F1, who wanted to try and create more exciting racing by ensuring regular pit stops were made and increasing the frequency of overtakes.

One of the consequences of the change is that for the last 13 seasons F1 drivers have had to spend the vast majority of their time in the cockpit managing their tyres, because wearing them out too quickly would mean decreased performance and likely an extra pitstop or two.

That means instances were the greatest drivers in the world are actually pushing their cars to the limit and driving as fast as they can are actually pretty rare. Plenty, including two-time world champion Fernando Alonso, have bemoaned the decision F1 took to effectively prevent its athletes from performing to the best of their ability.

Pirelli took over as F1's tyre supplier from Bridgestone in 2011

Tyre management is a skill in its own right, however. Smooth driving, delivering consistent pace across a tyre stint, and choosing the right moments to push hard are key to succeeding not just in individual grands prix, but across the course of a whole season.

Drivers at the front of the grid including Lewis Hamilton, Jenson Button and Nico Rosberg have regularly used their ability to manage the wear of their tyres to make them last longer and subsequently win races.

But, arguably, the king of tyre management across the past decade has been Sergio Perez.

At Force India/Racing Point and now Red Bull, the Mexican has built a reputation as the best driver in the field at preserving tyre life. His smooth driving style and ability to hang onto rubber for far longer than rivals and team-mates alike have underpinned his success in the top tier of motorsport, and allows his team to be more adaptable and creative with race strategies.

So far this season, tyre management has been key to Perez’s two victories. First, in Saudi Arabia, when he was able to maintain a consistent gap to team-mate Max Verstappen in the final stint as the Dutchman sliced through the field after starting low down the order. Again in Azerbaijan, when fortunate safety car timing saw him leapfrog Verstappen before out-driving him to the chequered flag.

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Those victories meant that he went into the fifth round of the campaign looking like he could make a more sustained challenge against Verstappen than he was able to muster in 2022. But in Miami, Verstappen stole his superpower.

Starting in ninth place on hard tyres, the double world champion made a series of lightning fast passes on the likes of Charles Leclerc, George Russell and Pierre Gasly to move up the order.

Carlos Sainz and Fernando Alonso, both running the faster medium tyre like those Verstappen had already passed, were powerless to stop the Dutchman’s progress and by lap 15 he was in second place behind Perez.

Despite starting on the faster medium tyres, Perez had been unable to build up a solid advantage at the head of the pack, and was only one-and-a-half seconds ahead by the time he came in for his pitstop.

Perez started first in Miami but couldn't eek out a big enough lead

With both men on the hard compound, but Perez’s tyres fresher, the 32-year-old had to start making in-roads. But he couldn’t. Verstappen actually increased the gap, and used the speed of the medium tyres to pass Perez and take the win within two laps of his own stop.

The was a stellar win from a lowly starting position, the kind Verstappen has made something of a trademark of since Red Bull built a significantly faster car than its rivals in time for the regulation change at the beginning of 2022. The speed advantage was certainly the major factor in passing the cars separating him and Perez, but his superior tyre management throughout the race is what ultimately meant he bested his team-mate.

But for pole-sitter Perez, it was a chastening defeat. The momentum he had developed by winning both the sprint race and grand prix in Azerbaijan was evaporated, but even more crucially, Verstappen had beaten him at his own game.

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If this was a sign that Verstappen is coming for Perez’s tyre management crown, then the one trump card the latter has is no longer in play.

For Verstappen, an extra string to the bow only adds to his supremacy, and a third title surely beckons.

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