Helmut Marko sings Sergio Pérez’s praises after strong qualifying at Japanese Grand Prix

On Saturday at Suzuka International Circuit it was Max Verstappen who captured pole position, but an incredible final lap from teammate Sergio Pèrez saw Red Bull through to a front row lockout, giving the defending Constructors’ Champions a great chance at a big haul of points on Sunday.

That drive from Pérez certainly caught the attention of Red Bull senior advisor Dr. Helmut Marko.

“I think Perez is better than expected. Especially after a really bad weekend here last year,” described Marko to Motorsport.

In last season’s Japanese Grand Prix Pérez only qualified in fifth, and finished outside of the points after sustaining damage in an early-lap collision.

“He has improved incredibly, but the main reason is that we made this improvement in the car work immediately. The set-up worked in the end,” continued Marko. “And as a result, a one-two, which we had not achieved in a long time. Especially Pérez in the front row of the grid, I have to think how long ago, because it was a long time ago.”

The Red Bull advisor even theorized that Pérez’s uncertain contractual future, which has been a huge focus of discussion around the sport, could be playing to his advantage.

“Last year in particular this was Sergio’s worst race. Everything went wrong then, so I think it is especially satisfying for him. You can see that can do it,” added Marko. “But perhaps it also influences that next year’s contracts are at stake, this year much earlier than usual. And that also seems to be very motivating.”

One area in particular that stood out to Marko was in the first sector of Suzuka International Circuit, the portion of the track filled with the high-speed corners known as the “Esses.” Those high-speed corners have been fertile ground for McLaren this week, as the MCL38 is at its best through such sections.

But with Pérez chasing down Lando Norris for P2 at the end of Q3, the Red Bull driver handled that section very well, as highlighted by Marko. “I have to say that the corners in sector 1 are some of the fastest, and Perez really kept up with Max there,” described the Red Bull advisor.

Looking at the telemetry data and comparing the fastest laps from Pérez and Norris, you can see how Pérez managed to hold his own against Norris through those turns, before pulling away in the second and third sectors:

Screenshot 2024 04 06 at 3.46.44 PM

Telemetry data provided by the incredible resource at F1-Tempo.com.

Conventional wisdom has held that Pérez’s seat at Red Bull next to Verstappen is up for grabs at the end of the season, with a number of drivers vying for one of the most coveted seats in motorsport.

But with the way he has started the season, and with his strong performance on Sunday (finishing just 0.066 seconds of Verstappen’s pace), Pérez might be proving to the rest of the grid — and Marko — that he remains the best option for Red Bull alongside Verstappen.

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