Perez: Imola F1 weekend was one of Verstappen's best-ever performances

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F1 Grand Prix, GP Emilia Romagna, Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrariit

Despite taking his fifth win in 2024, reigning world champion Max Verstappen was left puzzled why his RB20 was unable to keep Pirelli’s hard tyres in their operating window.

Red Bull’s Mexican driver Sergio Perez looked quick on the opening day in Imola, but he lost his competitiveness later on. In the final practice, Perez crashed into the wall at the Gresini chicane before struggling for pace in qualifying.

The Mexican made a crucial mistake on his final Q2 lap, and ended up only 11th on the grid. Red Bull sent Perez with an alternative hard-medium strategy into the race which could have seen him move up the field, but he made another mistake, going wide into the gravel trap between the two Rivazza corners.

As a result of his mistake, Perez lost over five seconds, and took the chequered flag only in P8.

"We knew it was going to be a hard day today as the whole weekend was compromised from qualifying. Imola is a difficult track to overtake on so this was the maximum we could do today, especially we were struggling with traffic in the beginning on my first stint and on the hard tyres we had no margin to play around with the balance.

With bis team-mate Max Verstappen winning on a weekend when Red Bull appeared to struggle for the optimal balance, Perez went on to label the Dutchman's performance as one of his best.

"We knew that McLaren were the fastest but Max had one of the best weekends I’ve seen from him in awhile, so a lot of praise for that and this was a great result for us.

"We have a few things we need to analyse and certainly some work to do as we head into the next race, but I’m looking forward to Monaco and hopefully we will continue our strong season and get some good momentum back."

Verstappen had to work hard on Saturday to claim his eighth consecutive pole position, only beating the McLarens of Oscar Piastri and Lando Norris by fractions.

On Sunday, the reigning world champion appeared to control proceedings on Pirelli’s medium tyres, but he found it difficult to manage the hard compound on his second. In the dying stages of the race, Norris tried to chase him down and closed in on Verstappen to just seven tenths of a second.

“It was a close race today. I didn’t expect that the car would have that kind of pace at the beginning, which was nice and we were strong on the medium tyres. When we swapped to the hard tyres, it was a bit trickier to drive and more of a struggle to bring it to the end as tyres fell out of the operating window and we had really low grip.

"During the last ten laps I was really trying to survive on the tyres and managed to keep Lando behind, but it required a lot of focus as we were on the limit with the penalty. However, we managed to work through and take the win; I was definitely counting down the laps until the end and it was a great feeling when we took the chequered flag!

"If you look at where we were at the beginning of the weekend, this was an extremely good result. There is a bit of work to do and things to analyse but we are looking forward to Monaco," said the three-time world champion.

Expanding on a hard-fought victory from his outfit, Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: "It was a race of two halves for us today. The first half was really strong and we built a good buffer, but the second half Lando started to catch us very quickly.

"Max couldn’t afford to put a millimetre wrong with track limits and the pressure of Lando behind, so a great job by Max. It’s very satisfying to win a race like that when you have been pushed so hard. After qualifying, we ran the reverse strategy for Checo and the result was probably the best we could’ve got in a straight race like we had with no safety cars.

"McLaren and Ferrari were very quick and it’s going to be a really tight fight with both teams, especially as the cars are converging which is what naturally happens when you have stable rules. Overall, it was a weekend to remember in Imola and the whole team is looking forward to going again next weekend in Monte Carlo."