Inside the nightmare Saturday which left Perez last · RaceFans

Sergio Perez will start Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix from last on the grid after he slithered into a gravel trap at the beginning of qualifying and became stuck.

It brought an early end to what must rank as one of his most desperate days at the wheel of a Formula 1 car. Perez was plagued by braking problems throughout final practice, and though he was convinced they had been solved ahead of qualifying, he was dismayed to discover that was not the case when he tried to slow his car at turn three on his first full lap of the session.

After his car came to a rest Perez was unable to engage reverse. “Going along that mud might be your best bet now, going along the edge there,” race engineer Hugh Bird suggested, but the RB19 was stuck and Perez’s session was over.

“Same fucking issue, man,” fumed Perez. “We’ve got the same fucking issue.”

After two disrupted practice sessions at the circuit yesterday, Perez knew he faced a long job list on Saturday. “Tomorrow there’s more or less plenty to do,” he said, “too much to do in FP3.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner indicated they took the decision to focus on Perez’s single-lap pace in the final hour before qualifying. He didn’t appear on track for the first 20 minutes.

“There was a bit of a delay in getting the car weighed and so it wasn’t the best build up prior to P3 that we would have hoped for,” Horner explained. “But he wasn’t planning to do a long run in P3, so it wasn’t a desperate rush to get going.”

Once he did, Perez soon encountered trouble with his brakes at some of the slower corners around the Albert Park circuit. He abandoned one lap after a snap of oversteer at turn one and asked Bird whether there was something wrong with his car:

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Bird Display 11 position one minus two. Display 11 position one minus two. Bottas coming through now. That’ll be a less aggressive push toggle. Your battery is good. So good to go for this next lap. Think about minus one on the bias offset as well. Minus one if you need it. No threats behind. Okay, recharge off.
Perez I just don’t feel the… it’s all okay with the car?
Perez I cannot brake into turn one. Very loose rear. And then a lot of front lock going into turn three. Very inconsistent balance corner to corner
Bird Okay. Nothing jumping out at the moment in the data. We’ll keep on looking. Do you want to have another look, go for another push lap?
Perez Yeah. Is the window okay?
Bird Yeah we’ve got Hamilton at nine seconds, looks to be high fuel. Just want to make sure you’ve got a nice gap to Bottas here, Bottas at low fuel.
Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2023
Perez struggled repeatedly at turn one

On his next attempt Perez successfully made it through turn one, but locked his front-right wheel at turn three and skidded wide, missing out on another attempt to set a time.

Having initially decided to pit, Perez decided to do another lap, moving his brake balance further rearwards in an attempt to gain more confidence in the stopping zones. This time he managed to complete a lap, but he was still dissatisfied with the car.

Bird asked if the problem was related to his tyres, and while Perez felt his rears might be graining in the low temperatures, he didn’t seem convinced this was the cause:

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Perez I cannot brake already into turn one.
Bird Yeah.
Perez Compared to the first lap.
Bird Shall we box and get the fresh set on, make sure everything’s okay with the car? Got no threats behind, you’re in phase with everyone.
Perez Yeah. Let’s do that
Bird So in phase with everyone behind.
Perez Let’s try one more lap before we box.
Bird Okay. So recharge off, track is clear. So try another 1% offset, one more click rearwards.
Bird Okay, so recharge on. Keep up the pace and box at the end of this lap. Cancel hand brake, b-bal six. Where we at Checo. Do we need any set-up changes?
Perez It’s very inconsistent the car, still. Turn one, I cannot brake. When I did on my first lap the rear just feels like it’s missing quite a bit of rear grip. And then I go in full lock. I’m still finding this inconsistency.
Bird Do you think it’s tyre-related?
Perez I don’t know if I picked up some graining on the rear axle. On the rear-left, I can see that there is a bit of graining. I don’t know if it’s coming from there.
Bird Okay, so box, Checo.

Perez returned to the track for his final run, but went off at turn three again:

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Bird Okay, so hand brake to open the lap. Little bit more of a gap to De Vries, recharge off.
Perez Agh, I cannot believe this session.
Bird Okay, so recharge on. In phase with Stroll behind. Okay, so we’re three tenths off Max in sector one. Four tenths off Fernando. Seven hundredths off in sector two. And you know about sector three.
Bird So remember, we’ve got the red button available for 13, red button for 13.
Sergio Perez, Red Bull, Albert Park, 2023
Having failed to set a time in qualifying, Perez will start last on the grid

By now rain was beginning to fall, further complicating the team’s attempts to get to the bottom of the problem. Perez went off at turn one, and he was now out of time to complete any more laps before qualifying:

Bird Track is clear just recharge off when you’re ready.
Bird Gasly pushing at one.
Bird Recharge on. Cancel red button, b-bal six. And we’ve got time for another push lap.
Perez It’s raining a little bit harder.
Bird Okay. Update in terms of sector times, we’re three tenths off in sector one, there or thereabouts sector two, two tenths in sector three. Currently P6. Main losses are getting on throttle turn one through two. Going through turn four and then turn 11. Will you learn from another push lap here?
Perez Yeah. Yeah.
Bird So the rain is picking up a little bit. Go to b-bal three, b-bal three.
Perez If the rain is picking up a bit then I don’t see the point. Where is it picking up? On the back straight it’s okay, final sector.
Bird Yeah, we’re just seeing a bit more rain in the pit lane here. It’s not that heavy. Let’s open the lap, see how we go, but no need to take any risks at this point. Track is clear, just recharge off when you’re ready.
Bird Okay.
Perez Yeah.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Perez went into qualifying hoping the team had rectified the problem, but his swift exit showed that was not the case. He will have only a few reconnaissance laps before tomorrow’s race to learn whether the team have finally found a solution.

“We have a bit of an understanding and we are confident together as a team we will be able to sort it out because it’s very important that we do,” he said after qualifying.

“This morning we had the issue and we thought we’d fixed it, but this morning I was just going all around. I was riding more on the grass than on track, but we thought we’d fixed it, so I was pretty confident on that. But that wasn’t the case as soon as I touched the brake into turn three.”

“I really hope we are able to fix the technical issue for tomorrow because otherwise it’ll be really hard to race like this,” he added.

For the second qualifying session in a row Red Bull had one car on pole positions – Max Verstappen’s this time – and another held back by a technical problem.

Team principal Christian Horner said it had been “super-frustrating for Checo not even to really take part in quali because we’d expect him to be right there as well.”

“We need to get to the bottom of what was the exact cause, we think there might be something that’s contributed, but obviously frustrating on a sort of effectively a first build-up lap,” he added.

After qualifying, the stewards confirmed that despite failing to set a time, Perez would be allowed to start the race from last on the grid as he had lapped quickly enough in practice. That was the first bit of good news he had all day.

Advert | Become a RaceFans supporter and go ad-free

Become a RaceFans Supporter

RaceFans is run thanks in part to the generous support of its readers. By contributing £1 per month or £12 per year (or the same in whichever currency you use) you can help cover the costs of creating, hosting and developing RaceFans today and in the future.

Become a RaceFans Supporter today and browse the site ad-free. Sign up or find out more via the links below:

It was a short qualifying session for Perez

2023 Australian Grand Prix

Browse all 2023 Australian Grand Prix articles