(Motorsport-Total.com) – It was lap 34 of the 2022 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Sergio Pérez had just pitted for the second time half a minute earlier, and Max Verstappen suddenly had the voice of his race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase Ear.
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In theory, Verstappen could have let Perez through from the start
beating: “Okay Max, we need more tire management, more tire management please.”
verstappen: “But then they’ll catch up with me. What do you want me to do? They’ll get close.”
beating: “You are four tenths faster than Leclerc in Sector 2.”
beating: “Leclerc’s last lap was 30.2, Max. It looks like he will go all the way. So please watch your tyres.”
At the time, Verstappen was 4.8 seconds ahead of his closest pursuer, Charles Leclerc, and Pérez had just relinquished second place in the race with his second pit stop. He now he had tires that were twelve laps fresher than the Ferrari driver, but also 20.0 seconds behind with (just under) 25 laps to go.
This is how Verstappen could have done the “Wingman”.
The idea of instructing Verstappen to drop back, slow down Leclerc and thus guide Perez to the faster Ferrari seemed obvious. And perhaps the request to save tires was something of a coded recommendation to do just that.
Because: The hint to Verstappen that he was much quicker than Leclerc in the second sector, which should probably indicate that he is virtually impossible to overtake due to his top speed. You have to know that sector 2 basically consists only of the two long straights between turn 5 and turn 9, interrupted by the 6/7 chicane.
Lambiase’s announcement that Verstappen was “four tenths faster” than Leclerc was only part of the truth. More precisely: a snapshot. On lap 34 Verstappen was actually 0.353sec faster there. On lap 31 he was 0.096 seconds behind Leclerc in the second sector and on lap 33 he was 0.351 seconds behind.
On lap 32, even Leclerc was 0.046 seconds faster. Verstappen looked a bit hesitant on the turn 5 lap, wanting to hear from his race engineer: “Is the engine brake still working? I’m not sure.”
But if Red Bull was secretly hoping Verstappen would drop back to save his tyres, they were disappointed. On the contrary: the world champion even increased the pace and increased the lead over Leclerc to 7.2 seconds on lap 40.
Why Verstappen Leclerc didn’t want to slow down
Verstappen assured that there was no request from the team to slow the Ferraris over his head during the race. “But that would have been a difficult decision,” he says.
First, because that would have jeopardized his 15th win of the season. And secondly, “Of course I could have spread out, but are the races really fair? It certainly wouldn’t have been the best way to end a season like this.”
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Verstappen fans applaud: A great sportsman who does not want to stop Ferrari and wants to win fairly.
Critics retort that when it came to his own World Championship position a year ago, he had no qualms about fair racing. Back then he celebrated Perez for blocking Lewis Hamilton as a rolling chicane, as a “legend.”
Red Bull not aggressive enough?
Verstappen believes that Pérez the Unofficial “Vice World Cup” lost elsewhere: “It looked like ‘Checo’ would catch up enough to try another maneuver. But then he lost quite a bit of time getting past Pierre (Gasly) and Alex (Albon; editor’s note. Red.). I saw that on the big screens.
That was on lap 56. Perez believes the situation cost him “probably a second, maybe more” as he kept his nose inside early on the inside of Turn 6, but did not give way to Gasly immediately.
The reconstruction of the lap times shows: On lap 56 in the second sector, Pérez set a time of 38.413 seconds and a lap time of 1:29.446 minutes. By lap 55 he had clocked 38.431 seconds in the second sector and 1:29.205 for the entire lap. So Gasly cost less than the “second or more” that Pérez subjectively perceived.
Perez understands that the “half-teammate” was engrossed in his own wheel-to-wheel fighting and therefore did not immediately step aside, but also says: “Under normal conditions, that would certainly have been a penalty. for Pierre. But it was only the last race. I don’t care now. I just want to go home and not argue about it anymore.”
Start: Verstappen does not open the door
Verstappen would have had other ways to make the “Wingman” for Pérez. For example at the start, where the Mexican was almost at the same level and a change of leader would have made sense. Verstappen could have protected the teammate from behind him.
“In the second stage, the wear on the middle was quite high. In retrospect, as a team we could have pushed more for ‘Czech'”, admits Verstappen. “But in retrospect, it’s always easy to say. At the time we thought we had to take it easy on the tyres.”
Verstappen doesn’t even seem to have the idea that he could have let Perez outplay him in his repertoire. However, he felt he could have picked up the pace a bit more around Lap 29 when Perez was right behind him on five laps older tires.
Pérez: “Max is stopping me”
His race engineer gave Pérez the lap times of Verstappen and Leclerc before Turn 5, and when Leclerc was twice in a row a few tenths quicker on laps 27 and 28, Pérez radioed: “Yes, Max told me is stopping.”
At that point he was 2.2 seconds behind Verstappen and 2.5 seconds ahead of Leclerc. On lap 22, when Leclerc rejoined the track from his first (and only pit stop), the gap was still 7.2 seconds.
“I was behind Max, he was at one stop, I was at two and I couldn’t maximize my turn there,” Pérez laments. “We didn’t push like we should. And we thought the tire wear would be higher than it was at the end. Otherwise we could have driven faster in the phase.”
Changing the two-stop tactic to one “we’ve discussed it in the meantime,” Perez admits. Leclerc drove 37 laps in the Hard. With Pérez it would have been 43 without a second stop. Daniel Ricciardo also did that in the McLaren.