Sergio Pérez believed fifth on the grid was the best he could have achieved at the Autódromo Internacional do Algarve on Saturday, with the Mexican feeling he got as much out of his car as he could in Qualifying for the Portuguese Grand Prix.
The BWT Racing Point Formula One Team racer admitted he was struggling for pace and performance on Friday at Portimão, but a host of changes overnight seemed to bring the team closer to the front of the field, and he maximised the potential of the RP20 during Saturday’s Qualifying hour.
He acknowledges that the Mercedes AMG Petronas Formula One Team and Aston Martin Red Bull Racing are seemingly out of reach, but Pérez says there is a belief that he can fight for good points on Sunday in the first Portuguese Grand Prix since 1996.
“I think we got the maximum out of the car today – and P5 was the best result we could secure,” said Pérez. “It’s a real credit to the team too because we were struggling to find the optimum set-up on Friday and then we turned the car upside down this morning and improved the package a lot.
“You could really see how difficult the conditions were out there because we were slower in Q3 than we were in Q2 as the wind picked up a lot and the track became slower. We could see that in the final sector times.
“It’s been a challenge out there because it’s tricky to get the temperature into the tyres – and it’s about not overheating them either – so it sometimes took a few laps to get it right. Every lap was different to drive, but we picked up a good rhythm in Q1 and Q2 and carried it into Q3.
“It’s clear that Mercedes and Red Bull are well ahead, but there’s a real close battle behind and we’re right in the mix. We’re starting P5 and on the cleaner side of the grid, so if we can get a good start tomorrow, there’s a lot to play for and good points on the table.”
“I’ve had better Saturdays and it was a tricky qualifying” – Lance Stroll
Team-mate Lance Stroll was unable to match the kind of pace Pérez was able to extract from his RP20, with the Canadian set to start the race from twelfth on the grid.
Stroll, who missed the last race at the Nürburgring due to illness, was on course to make it through to the top ten shootout, but a gust of wind in the final sector saw him lose time, and he ultimately only set a time good enough for the sixth row of the grid.
The Canadian says he is aiming for a good start on Sunday afternoon and a top ten finish, with Stroll having scored points in every race he has finished so far in 2020.
“I’ve had better Saturdays and it was a tricky qualifying,” said Stroll. “I’ve been struggling with the car balance and it was a little bit inconsistent out there.
“At times I was able to get a good lap out of the car, as I did in Q1, and that gave me a good basis to work from, but then in Q2 I found the car a bit snappier and the balance more difficult. The conditions were also changing, which I think was due to the track surface and wind conditions, which didn’t help the lap times.
“We will go away and look at the overall picture and come back stronger tomorrow. On my side, it’s also been a little while since I was in the car after missing last weekend, so I’m still getting back up to speed. I expect it will be a track position race tomorrow, but if we can get a good start and have a strong first lap, we can aim for points.”
“Starting fifth means we are very much in the mix for a strong result” – Otmar Szafnauer
Otmar Szafnauer, the CEO and Team Principal at Racing Point, says both Pérez and Stroll can score good points on Sunday afternoon aft their very different qualifying results on Saturday.
Szafnauer was pleased to see Pérez extract as much out of his car as he did to qualify fifth, while he was sure Stroll would join him in Q3 had it not been for a strong gust of wind at the wrong moment. Despite qualifying twelfth, he feels the Canadian will move forward into the top ten on Sunday.
“Despite the 30 minutes delay, the first qualifying hour on this track was pretty much as we expected with the low grip surface combining with the wind to create some challenging conditions,” said Szafnauer. “We changed a lot of things to improve the car overnight and Checo was happier today, which helped secure P5 on the grid.
“He couldn’t quite match his lap time from Q2, but starting fifth means we are very much in the mix for a strong result tomorrow with equally strong race pace. Lance was on course to make Q3, but a gust of wind ruined his best lap and caused a big snap of the rear in turn 13. He lines up P12, but I’m confident he can score points in the race.”