Christian Horner knew Sergio Perez would be competitive in the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, but confessed Red Bull underestimated his race-winning drive.
Perez finished on the podium in two of the first three races held in Azerbaijan, driving for a less-than-competitive Force India at the time. He had yet to pick up a podium for Red Bull in the five races since joining the team over the winter, but Perez produced an excellent drive on Sunday that saw him take victory after teammate Max Verstappen’s late tire failure, and Horner admits it was a performance that was even better than expected.
“We knew he was good around here but we didn’t know he was that good,” Horner said. “He’s been quick all weekend. He’s been bang on the pace and the only mistake he made was in Q3 run one. His race pace was phenomenal. Had he not been longer in the first stop, he would have been right on top of Max with the overcut, such was his pace in clean air.
“Phenomenal for him. The way he was defending from Lewis (Hamilton) and controlling that was a class act. To see him get that victory will be great for his confidence. It puts him up to third in the drivers’ championship now. He’s ahead of expectations.”
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Verstappen’s late retirement cost Red Bull a likely 1-2 result in Baku, and Horner says there was a chance both drivers were going to fail to finish, but he’s delighted with the final outcome given the team’s overall pace.
“It’s been a Mercedes stronghold for several years now, so we expected it to be very tight with them. Actually, to have both cars running ahead in the race was more than we could have hoped for coming into the weekend.
“Frustrating not to get that 1-2, would have been our first since 2016 when we’d done everything right. But having lost Max it was obviously a big rollercoaster of emotions because Sergio was losing hydraulic pressure and it was marginal whether he would get to the end of the race. Then, they red flagged the race and part of you just wanted the race to be declared as a result then.
“Then we get the restart and we think the only thing that can happen now is that we lose the race and give a chunk of points back to Lewis, but as it turned out, I’m glad they did do the restart. Checo’s hydraulic pressure stayed intact, Lewis made a mistake at Turn 1 and we got the race win. And Max leaves here in exactly the same position that he arrived and we’ve extended our lead in the constructors’, and Checo now up to third in the drivers’.”