We need to be a little careful with the qualifying numbers because such has been Red Bull’s rate of development Perez has several times been one spec behind Verstappen. This was the case in France, Styria and Austria. But the tweaks to the diffuser and wings won’t account for anything like 0.4sec.
It’s a demanding car and there probably is something to the theory that part of its speed comes from a level of instability that Verstappen can exploit but which just slows Perez. After his initial brave statement at the start of the year that he was just going to go with Verstappen’s set up because that’s what the car likes, he has now begun to go back on as he desperately tries to find those missing tenths. But you can see every time he is asked a friendly and encouraging question about his progress, he is conflicted when he answers.
The team likes him as its number two. But he doesn’t want to be a number two. But he cannot give them any reason not to be. Which is fine with them, less so for him. This is such a tricky situation for him, because it’s the fastest car he’s ever had, the foundation for a level of success he’s not previously enjoyed – yet it’s the furthest off a team-mate’s pace he’s ever been.
We can debate how much of that is the brilliance of Verstappen (probably a lot), how much the traits of a car not suiting him (some), but it doesn’t alter the conflicted position he finds himself in. As he began trying to adapt the car more around himself around the time of the Austria races, the gap did begin to close a little, but it was back up again at Silverstone. Hungary we cannot fairly judge as what was set to be his final Q3 lap was timed out by the traffic shenanigans ahead of him. There’s no obvious reason to suppose he’s going to eradicate that gap in the second half of the season and – rather like Ricciardo at McLaren – he must surely hope that the 2022 generation of car, with aerodynamics totally unrelated to the current one can give him a clean-break re-set. Will it do so or will we once again see how a good driver puts into perspective the difference a great one makes?