‘I knew I had to push him into a mistake’ – Perez explains ‘really tricky’ scrap with Leclerc
Sergio Perez has shared how he approached his battle with Charles Leclerc in the closing stages of the Japanese Grand Prix, as he pushed to snatch P2 away from the Ferrari driver and secure a Red Bull one-two finish.
Perez settled into a lonely third position shortly after the rain-delayed race restarted, with team mate Max Verstappen and Leclerc storming clear at the head of the field during the initial laps on wet tyres and when they switched to intermediates.
However, as the intermediate stint wore on, Leclerc encountered tyre struggles and his drop in pace allowed Perez to rapidly reel him in – Perez getting closer and closer before forcing Leclerc into a mistake at the final chicane on the last lap.
With Leclerc skipping across the run-off and finishing ahead of Perez, the stewards promptly gave him a five-second penalty, which demoted the Monegasque to third, gave Red Bull a one-two and confirmed Verstappen as world champion.
After the race, Perez detailed how he tackled the fight, saying: “It was a nice battle. I think it was really tricky to overtake without DRS. I had to place [the car] into [Turn] 11 and out of 14 on the way to 17 on the back straight, but those places were where Charles was actually strong.
“I could see that he was managing well his race [and] his tyres, once he ran out of them, he was making it really hard, you know. So I knew that the only way I could get him was if I pushed him into a mistake.
“Towards the end, I thought there was one more lap left, so when he went off, I thought that was going to be the opportunity, but it didn't happen. [In the end] we managed to get a good result for the team and a great one-two.”
As for Leclerc’s perspective, he doubled down on his immediate post-race comments that a lack of grip from his ageing intermediates made keeping Perez at bay an almost impossible task.
“We were very fast for four or five laps, but unfortunately the race was a bit longer than that. It was all about trying to survive until the end of the race,” said Leclerc.
“The end of the race was extremely difficult. Obviously Checo was putting quite a bit of pressure behind; I was really, really struggling with both of my front tyres and I ended up making a mistake.”