Sergio Perez said he struggled with the balance of his Red Bull and the wind sweeping across the Circuit of the Americas as he qualified a lowly ninth for the 2023 United States Grand Prix, three places behind Max Verstappen.
Verstappen saw his final laptime deleted for a track limits violation at turn 19 but a contender for first throughout the session, initially outqualifying polesitter Charles Leclerc by just five-thousandths of a second.
Perez would’ve been nearly half a second behind his teammate were it not for that intervention by the stewards though, and the highest he managed across all three qualifying sessions was sixth in Q1.
“It certainly wasn’t a straightforward one I was struggling with the balance from low speed to high speed, especially in the low-speed,” Perez told the media. “We did some changes that probably didn’t help us as much.”
Austin hosts F1‘s second consecutive sprint weekend, meaning car setups are now locked for the three remaining competitive sessions despite teams only having an hour of free practice before qualifying.
That’s bad news for Perez, who’s got plenty riding on this weekend despite Verstappen wrapping up the drivers’ championship last time out in Qatar.
Despite driving the same cripplingly dominant RB19 as the Dutchman, who’d be leading the constructors’ championship on his own, Perez is just 30 points ahead of Lewis Hamilton for second.
There’s 34 points on offer in Texas, and Hamilton got his weekend off to a very solid start by qualifying third at just over a tenth behind Leclerc.
“That is what happens in this sprint events unfortunately,” Perez added. “That’s just part of the challenges so we’ll see what we are able to do come tomorrow, also the wind we are expecting it to change quite a bit.”
Perez bemoans condensed F1 pack
It was a very tight Q3 session, with just 0.45 seconds separating Perez and Leclerc, while Verstappen‘s revised time was less than a tenth ahead of his teammate.
Rapid track evolution meant it was more important than ever for drivers to save their best until last, displayed in ultra-high definition by Verstappen‘s five-place plummet after losing his final lap.
“The margins were so tight today that a tenth would’ve looked so much different in the qualifying,” Perez said. “But we are on the wrong side of it so hopefully tomorrow we can have a better shootout and get some points.