Jonathan Wheatley says fans should not underestimate the challenge Sergio Perez faced last season when he moved to Red Bull, applauding the Mexican driver’s efforts.
After seven seasons with what is now called the Aston Martin team under its various names, Perez joined Red Bull ahead of the 2021 season.
That not only meant working with new people but also adapting to a different design philosophy, a new engine in Honda and unfamiliar procedures.
Unable to match his team-mate in qualifying, even Perez’s ability to nurse his tyres in grands prix was not enough to see him involved in the title fight.
While his team-mate Max Verstappen won the title with 395.5 points, Perez was fourth in the standings, 200 points off the pace.
He did, however, win a grand prix, P1 in Baku, the first team-mate of Verstappen’s to claim a race win since Daniel Ricciardo in 2018.
“It’s very difficult to make that transition to a big team from a small team. Very difficult,” Red Bull sporting director Wheatley told The Jack Threlfall Show podcast.
“And understanding how to use the tools available to you, and the people available to you, and to use them correctly, and to sort of separate the wheat from the chaff.
“This is what a more experienced driver brings to a team. They know what’s important.
“Out of all the information they have gained over that run or that lap or that race, they focus on what is stopping them from going quicker.
“And of course, Checo is a master of that. He understands it exactly.”
Before Perez, Red Bull ran Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, Gasly promoted after just one season in Formula 1 and Albon after only 12 grands prix.
Both drivers soon found themselves dropped by the team, Gasly returning to AlphaTauri and Albon taking up a test driver role before signing with Williams for the 2022 season.
Wheatley says having Perez, who made his debut in 2011, was also very different for him as a sporting director.
He said: “We brought quite a few young drivers into the team here, I think more than most big teams would normally do, and I’ve built a knowledge bank from that, [of] how to support and help the drivers through those transitional years.
“Now, with Checo, [it’s] completely different. [It was] more like when we brought Mark Webber into the team, to be honest. [We] brought in a massively experienced guy, [with a] huge amount of F1 experience.
“We’ve learned from him, it’s made us stronger. He’s learned from us, it’s made him stronger,” he added.
Perez is remaining at Red Bull this season, Wheatley hoping the all-new 2022 cars will put him on a level playing field with Verstappen who has been at Red Bull since 2016.
“I’m really hoping with this change of technical regulations this year that Checo will absolutely bed in with the car and show us what he’s really capable of,” he said.