“We stopped inventing” — Sergio Perez on massive qualifying gains at F1 Japanese GP in comparison to last year

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One of the surprises was qualifying came from Sergio Perez in his RB20. The Mexican driver has been quick all weekend at Suzuka, and he just missed out on pole in Q3 by 0.066s.

On his final run in the last segment of qualifying, the 34-year-old showed incredible committment through the middle sector as he carried incredible speed through the Spoon section, posting a purple middle sector.

Ultimately he just fell short in the last chicane and missed out on P1.

“Yeah, it was close today, really close with Max. It felt like a good lap. It was quite tricky out there, actually. Especially closing out the laps it was quite easy to lose a couple of tenths into the last section, into the chicane. So we hooked it in all together, but unfortunately it was just not enough.

“I think we’ve been really close all weekend, all the way through qualifying as well. And when you are in that little margins, you know, anything can make a difference.

“I didn’t have a great exit opening up the lap, so probably that could have been the difference, you know, but I think we are in a good position for tomorrow.”

In FP3, both Perez and Verstappen were slower on the long runs than the Ferraris. While Carlos Sainz believes they’re sandbagging during practice, Perez is hopeful changes made before qualifying can help on Sunday.

“I think our long run pace hasn’t been that strong this morning, but we worked quite a bit, so hopefully tomorrow we will be able to be strong.”

The lowest point of Perez’s 2023 campaign quite possibly came at Suzuka last year. Aside from hitting Magnussen and retiring from the race, his pace all weekend was absolutely nowhere.

He was over a second off in first and second practice compared to Verstappen. The gap in qualifying was almost 0.8s.

Asked about why he is so much stronger 7 months later around here, Perez said going back to basics and not trying to overdo it regarding set-ups to try and match his teammate was key.

The Mexican driver added his confidence is coming back as well. Qualifying has been much better so far this year, placing in the top 5 on the grid for every event if you exclude his Australian GP grid penalty.

“Like Carlos would say, we stopped inventing. We were playing around with the car far too much and just going through it and I think now we have a much better base. We are a lot happier, and the weekends just progress.

“And I think when we came here last year, we were at the stage of our season where nothing was working. And when you are in that, you just go around circles and circles.

“And then we found out in the end, towards the end of the year, that it was better. just step back and don’t try to chase it too much with the set-up because then you start compromising other things. And I think that’s been the case for this year.

“So yeah, I’m a lot more comfortable, a lot more happier and the confidence is slowly coming back.”

Sunday’s P2 start is the first time since Miami last year that Perez starts on the front row without grid penalties coming into play.