The tyre whisperer
He can last longer than any other guy on that rubber!
The unlikely teacher
The team of Sauber will remain in the history of Formula 1 for giving us many popular drivers and a few world champions. Sergio Perez was among those drivers, who got his first seat there in 2011, having claimed second place in the previous GP2 season. The young Mexican was immediately branded by the media as a paying driver, because he was bringing Telmex sponsorship for the team, much like Pastor Maldonado and his Venezuelan money for Williams the year before. But the story was far from the truth and after a difficult first season, Perez scored a podium in the 2012 Canadian Gran Prix, having qualified only 15th on Saturday. That was the first glimpse of his talent to keep his tyres working, as he managed to pull a one-stopper and kept good enough race pace to finish in front of the two-stopping RedBull of the world champion at the time Sebastian Vettel. But Perez was not always so gentle on his tyres. So when and where did he learned to use them like no one else?
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The unlikely teacher's name is Kamui Kobayashi - his own teammate at Sauber. The Japanese driver had Perez outscored with more than double the points in their first season together. Naturally Sergio was curious and investigated how Kamui can make longer stints than him on the same tyre, in the same car. Today Perez has given credit to Kobayashi for teaching him what turned out to be one of his biggest assets - tyre preservation. And Canada 2012 was the first sign that lessons were learned and the Mexican could successfully apply them. In his second season with Sauber, Sergio Perez managed to outscore Kamui Kobayashi by 6 points and two championship positions, by taking the 10th place overall in the 2012 standings.
Built-in traction control
Perez openly admitted that he changed his driving style to match and eventually surpass Kobayashi's tyre management and this was clearly visible comparing his first and second season with Sauber. But how exactly the tyre whisperer is managing the degradation while keeping a relevant race pace?
As Alex Zanardi put it once when asked about Sergio - he would brake and turn-in early to get a better and smoother exits, he would square out his line in the slow corners and while this will lose him some time, he'll make up for it with a strong exit. And Sergio Perez can be very consistent with it, not putting a foot wrong and keeping old tyres in a good condition for longer.
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His driving style, while often compared to having a built-in traction control, has proved to be quite effective and throughout his career so far, Checo was able to capitalise on every opportunity for a good haul of points by going longer on a set of tyres than anybody else. Nowadays, sitting in a much more competitive RedBull car, there's bound to be a comparison with 7 times world champion Lewis Hamilton, who's also able to extract on-demand pace from a dead tyre set. And their driving is so different, they may as well be from different planets.
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Lewis Hamilton is like a one-man band on track, because his strongest weapon is to adapt and vary his driving according to the condition of his tyres. And while every F1 driver does that to some extent, Lewis is at another level. Just two days ago he managed to extract some performance on his nearly destroyed tyres by constantly changing his braking points and his lines on the track, sometimes even a few times per lap, just to get the last "meat" out of the rubber. He's also a master of transferring the loads around rapidly in order to find the last remaining grip, especially in slow corners. Hamilton's abilities put a sharp contrast between him and Perez, as the two have very different approaches. Yet in France, Checo had the edge, albeit with slightly younger tyres, but he simply ran out of laps before catching Lewis.
It's an interesting perspective of two similar, yet very different strategies that took place on Paul Ricard. While Lewis was fighting for the lead and his tyres were degrading away, Perez took a back seat right until the end. The one had to extract grip from dead tyres while the other kept his on life support for most of the race and was able to push without the struggles when needed. We would never know how this would've ended. Maybe Perez would've ran out of tyres before catching Hamilton. But then Lewis would've had even less than that on his four corners. The fact is that Checo has got the hang of that RedBull and we're in for more interesting and competitive races as the season progresses. Can the tyre whisperer achieve more than being Verstappen's wingman? Let's wait, watch and see!