From 17th on the grid to sixth at the flag, Sergio Perez pulled off a masterful recovery drive in the Styrian Grand Prix that saw him deservedly named as Driver of the Day.
The Racing Point driver once again proved why he is the most underrated star in F1, soaring through the field in the unsurprisingly quick and well-balanced RP20.
Dubbed the ‘Pink Mercedes’, because it bears a strong resemblance to 2019’s championship-winning car, this may finally be the year when Perez gets the recognition he deserves.
Starting from near the back on Sunday, he stormed to 13th by the end of the first safety car on lap three, triggered by Ferrari’s double retirement.
The 30-year-old picked off Pierre Gasly and Lance Stroll to climb up to fourth by lap 38.
After his pitstop, he retook places from Daniel Ricciardo and Stroll, before putting pressure on Albon.
Honing in on the Red Bull man for the best part of one second per lap, he finally took his chance at Turn 4 on lap 71.
However, his ambitious move did not go to plan. He touched off the London-born Thai driver and unfortunately came off worse with a damaged front wing.
This limited his pace for those final, frenetic corners and, although he did his best to maintain his position, Norris passed him on the final corner to snatch fifth.
Nevertheless, it was a stunning drive from the Guadalajara native who proved once again why he is up there with the finest talents in F1.
Perez now has 178 Grands Prix and eight podiums under his belt, and had the biggest haul of midfield points in the second half of 2019.
His 39 points was greater than that of McLaren’s Carlos Sainz whose formidable displays and superior car secured him a move to Ferrari for 2021.
Surprisingly, Perez wasn’t even in the conversation for the Scuderia drive, while Alfa Romeo’s Antonio Giovanazzi was identified as a candidate after a poor season.
What sets Perez apart is his ability to extract the most from a mediocre machine, to provide accurate feedback to his engineers and to manage the tyres effectively.
However, for all his class, some believe Perez is only in F1 because of the money brought to his teams over the years through his backer, Carlos Slim, worth approximately $50 billion.
A statement like that completely undermines Perez’s achievements.
Eight podiums in midfield cars can’t be taken for granted, especially when a driver like Nico Hulkenberg has enjoyed popular status without a top-three finish during his 11 years in the sport.
Perez always turns up. Always seals a podium in a midfield car and always delivers against team-mates.
In his seventh season with Racing Point, he has scored podiums in four of his previous six seasons, and outperformed teammates along the way.
In two of their three seasons at Force India, Perez outscored Hulkenberg and finished top of the midfield battle (seventh) in 2016 and 2017.
He then outperformed team-mate Lance Stroll last campaign, amassing 52 points to the Canadian’s 21.
Entering his peak, could we see Perez in a better car in the future?
With two years to go on his contract at Racing Point, it is difficult to see Perez secure a drive at Mercedes, Ferrari or Red Bull.
That’s not to say he wouldn’t be good enough, but in an improving car, his current employers are the best team for him to showcase his talents.
In what looks to be a threatening and razor-quick machine, it will be exciting to see how the season unfolds for the most underrated driver in F1.
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