Sergio Perez says taking pole position for Sunday’s Miami Grand Prix “tastes a lot better” after coming through a difficult weekend to land top spot in qualifying.
The Mexican had been struggling with the low grip track surface – one he referenced as driving like it was “inter conditions” – throughout Friday and ended up 11th and fourth in the two practice sessions, 0.4s behind his team-mate Max Verstappen.
But Verstappen, whose best run in Q2 would have been good enough to top Q3, bailed on his opening run in the shootout for pole and was unable to set a time in the dying embers as Charles Leclerc brought out the red flags with a crash at Turn 7.
It meant Perez’s initial time of 1:26.841s was enough to secure his third career pole and he professed it felt even better to deliver the best result possible having been on the back foot up to that point.
“I’m very pleased, you know, because it’s been a very difficult weekend for me up to Qualifying,” he confessed.
“I think this tarmac is just very different to anything else. And I was just trying to figure out how to get the maximum out of the car, out of the balance, because even on my final lap, I was still finding things out that were working better.
“So we haven’t had a straightforward weekend. So it tastes a lot better once you deliver under such a bad weekend.”
Up to the final stage of qualifying Verstappen had looked the more comfortable of the two Red Bull drivers, with Perez conceding after Friday his side of the garage had tried some things that hadn’t worked.
However, Perez says at no point did he fear a repeat of his nightmare Saturday at the Australian Grand Prix, where he trailed off into the gravel on his first flying run.
“No, it wasn’t as bad,” he conveyed. “I think if things turned to bad, probably I will be P4 or P3. But no, Melbourne, hopefully never again. “But I was just far and literally far with balance with confidence.
“And I think it’s one of those weekends where if things don’t go in your favour, then you just start to lose confidence and you start to overthink things.
“And yeah, I’m just so pleased that I delivered when it mattered, because I had a pretty good idea through Qualifying.
“I think I managed to learn a lot. And yeah, just put the lap when it really mattered.”
Questioned about what the biggest contributory factor was to the turnaround from his Friday troubles, Perez stated that improved confidence with his RB19 was the ultimate key to his run to pole position.
Perez also hinted at a change ahead of qualifying that made a substantial difference but declined to go into specifics.
“I was mainly missing confidence,” he revealed. “When I was looking at the data and seeing what Max was able to do, I could not see… I could simply not do that and I was struggling a lot. It was not small differences, it was quite big.
“And yeah, we did a good change, which I won’t go into too much in detail obviously but also just learning about the asphalt, I think, through qualifying and playing with a balance and finding that rhythm was much more important than I really thought so I really got a good understanding in qualifying finally.
“So yeah, now looking forward myself for tomorrow. I’m sure that will be able to translate that into a race pace.”
Despite Verstappen being set to start seven places behind him, Perez is not taking a first victory on American soil for granted.
The current six-time F1 race winner isn’t discounting Leclerc either, despite Ferrari being unable to hold off Red Bull’s advances in Baku on race day a week ago.
“Well, at the moment these two guys obviously,” he responded when asked about where the main threat will come from.
“I’m mainly focusing now on getting a good start and being able to manage our first stint. I think it will be really helpful for all of us to be able to do that. You know, it’s a very long race and still a lot can happen tomorrow.”
Perez will have Fernando Alonso alongside him on the front row for the second time this year and the ex-Silverstone turnout will hope to avoid being jumped into Turn 1 by the Aston Martin like he was in Saudi Arabia.
With Verstappen only ahead by 6 points, Perez will lead the F1 Drivers’ World Championship for the first time in his career, provided he can convert his starting spot at the head of the grid later today.