Sergio Perez lost his mojo since he last employed it to great effect, winning the 2023 Azerbaijan Grand Prix after going toe-to-toe with Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen and beating him fair and square.
It was one of Perez’s greatest drives, on par with the one he delivered in Jeddah a couple of races earlier. Putting the score between him and Verstappen 2-2 in terms of victories after four rounds. But after the Miami Grand Prix weekend the Mexican’s mojo went AWOL.
A crash during Qualifying for the Monaco GP, a race Checo won in 2022, was followed by a spell in which he failed to make it into Q3 on six out of 11 occasions. And then, the embarrassment at Suzuka on a day Verstappen won the race, and with it allowed Red Bull to seal the 2023 F1 Constructors’ title.
In fact, Max’s points haul this season for RBR would be enough to be leading even without Perez’s contribution. Tough stats for the Mexican’s entourage to stomach. But a reality check as best described by the doyen of Latin American sports journalism Fernando Tornello.
He is quoted by Esto: “Marko doesn’t speak badly of Verstappen because Max doesn’t give him any reason to do so. Indeed, he must spoil him to prevent him from going elsewhere. He doesn’t do it only with Checo, but with everyone. If Max is a driver who gets 10 or even more out of the car, Checo normally doesn’t get less than an 8 or 9.
“This is very good for a driver, I think there have been world champions who have performed worse than that. However, Checo has a real animal as his teammate at Red Bull in which beating him is almost a utopia, yet Perez has at times succeeded,” reckoned Tornello of a driver he knows better than most do.
The times that Perez has succeeded is when he has his mojo firing on all cylinders. But first, let’s get on the same page with regard to what is ‘mojo’ exactly.
Mojo meaning: A magic charm, talisman, or spell one possesses
Mojo is something all top F1 drivers have, some in more abundance than others. Verstappen is the benchmark at the moment, operating at 100% on the mojo dial as his record-breaking season testifies.
But mojo also goes, disappears. Examples of great F1 drivers who lost their mojo in recent times include Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen, Sebastian Vettel and more recently Daniel Ricciardo; the latter although still hunting for his. Another common denominator is it tends to mostly afflict 30-something-year-olds…
But in all these circumstances of disappearing mojo, they have been gradual. Slow affairs, F1 fans watching once-great drivers mark time until the end of their careers, in oblivion, slowly and sadly.
This is where Perez differs. He had major mojo in April, even May, and its vanishing since has hardly been gradual. Erratic if anything as the two P2s he scored at Spa and Monza prove. We have to assume that mojo of his is still there but he has to uncork it again and keep it that way.
For the record, I venture that the day Perez lost the 2023 F1 title was the day he uttered these words after heading Verstappen home, winning the Azerbaijan GP: “I wouldn’t be travelling around the world if I didn’t believe that I can be a World Champion and I’m working towards that.” Max read that and the rest, as they say, is history.
Checo’s father Antonio Perez, incredibly honestly, appears to know why: “My son has been consistent for years but I admit he struggles with the 2023 car. Verstappen just drives differently. Max likes to feel a lot of grip on the front axle, and that’s what this year’s car requires. Whereas Checo needs to be confident with the rear to be fast.
“In the end, Sergio has been hired to secure the team behind Verstappen. There can only be one champion and Checo knows that and he respects that. And if he changed teams, he would only be fourth or fifth,” Perez senior told Este.
Best to be remembered as one of the two guys who was part of F1’s mightiest team, than forgotten
And therein lies the best advice for his son. For Checo, to accept that he is the co-star in the remarkable Max Verstappen Legend that is under production as we speak and for the foreseeable future. Best to be remembered as one of the two guys who were part of F1’s mightiest team, that broke every F1 record ever, than to be forgotten as the guy who tried to beat Max but couldn’t. And withered away.
Hence 33-year-old Perez has the formula to shut his mounting doubters up, by getting his act together starting in Qatar this weekend and thereafter. He has to shade Verstappen in Qualifying and in the race. Red Bull should finish one-two in every Grand Prix from now on, with the number two driver and his mojo reunited.
To be fair, Perez is allowed a three-tenths to seven-tenths of a second gap to Verstappen in Qualifying. But in the race, he has shown he can be closer than that, therefore the veteran needs to tap into the magic, forget about beating Max, but always be there to pick up the baton should the driver of the #1 car drop it. A bonus if you wish.
Anything less and Perez will have to countenance a mounting British media-led cry to have him removed from Red Bull even before his contract runs out at the end of next year. The best way to shut them up is to help RBR to six one-twos in the remaining races and continue to make history for the team.
Many lessons for Perez in the F1 legend of Senna-Berger
Ideally, Verstappen-Perez’s top of the points table, Red Bull drivers one-two in the final Formula 1 world championship standings when lights go out in Abu Dhabi, would be unprecedented for the team. And all Perez could be asked to do.
In closing, Gerhard Berger tells a tale about becoming Ayrton Senna’s teammate when the Brazilian ‘owned’ McLaren in the early nineties. The Austrian recalled: “I came into his team thinking: Okay, I know he’s very good. But I’m going to beat him.
“But I realised then how outstanding he was. But I was not that kind of jealous or I wasn’t that kind of mean, and say: Well, how can I weaken him in this way? And his image or whatever. I just said: Whatever, it’s up to me to get better, to improve myself to beat him.
“And I think he understood immediately that we would be playing a fair game when we’re competing with each other. And so we had room for friendship. And, I mean a great, great friendship over the years,” added Berger, having set the template on how to deal with a teammate of Verstappen-magnitude.