Having got knocked out in Q2 for the season opener in Bahrain, Perez made amends by out-qualifying teammate Max Verstappen at Imola to secure his best ever grid slot.
While Perez was hired to be a closer match to Verstappen, Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko says the team never expected him to do so well so quickly after the difficulties he faced in Bahrain.
“Perez’s improvement was incredible,” Marko told Sky Germany. “The fact that he’s already so strong in his second qualifying session, that makes us very happy, of course. And Perez will start on the soft tyres, Max and [Lewis] Hamilton on medium. That can be decisive on this relatively long straight.”
Speaking to channel ORF later, Marko added: “His qualifying performance here is really surprising. The race speed we know; he already proved that in Bahrain. But this increase was a bit unexpected, but all the more pleasing.”
Perez will start on softs for Sunday’s race after running the tyre compound in Q2 rather than the medium that teammate Verstappen opted for.
Max Verstappen, Red Bull Racing and Sergio Perez, Red Bull Racing in Parc Ferme
Photo by: Mark Sutton / Motorsport Images
Marko explained that, after Perez got knocked out in Q2 in Bahrain when trying to scrape through on mediums, the team didn’t want to take any chances this time out.
“It was clear that we needed him in Q3,” he said. “To make sure that happened we wanted him to have as many attempts as possible with the tyres.
“So we said in Q2, okay, we’ll do that here, too. But it’s also quite good for the strategy if we have two different tyres with us up front.”
Red Bull will hold a strategic advantage over Mercedes for the race by having both its cars able to challenge the lone Mercedes of Hamilton, with Valtteri Bottas only qualifying eighth.
Reflecting on the way Mercedes was able to utilise two cars to beat Verstappen in Bahrain, Marko is upbeat about the options for Sunday.
“The strategy was forced on us [in Bahrain]. We just weren’t fast enough in the first stint because of our differential issues,” he said.
“They did a classic undercut and by not having Perez around, we were at the mercy of that. We couldn’t act any more, we could only react. If the start [at Imola] goes reasonably well, we should have two cars at the front against one from Mercedes. Then we will use that position aggressively.”
He added: “I think it’s going to be very, very close. We have two cars [way out in front]. There are quite a few cars between us and Bottas. I hope he doesn’t get to the front so quickly. With that, it should be an advantage for us.”