Racing Point say fears over set-up choice led to pit stop that cost Perez podium
Sergio Perez looked set for his first podium of the season at Imola before what seemed from the outside a bizarre late pit stop from Racing Point that dropped him to sixth - but the team say there was method behind the apparent madness.
Racing Point had planned its race approach meticulously and had Perez start on the medium tyres from 11th on the grid, allowing him to run long and gain track position. With all of the soft-tyre runners ahead of him pitting early and then getting held up in traffic, Perez was fourth on pace before Max Verstappen’s retirement promoted him to third.
However, no sooner had Perez risen into the top three behind the Safety Car, than Racing Point brought him into the pits for a set of soft tyres and demoted him three places that he could not recover on a track where overtaking had proven extremely difficult.
“It could have gone the other way,” technical director Andy Green explains. “The race was going our way completely up until the Safety Car. Checo had manoeuvred himself with great pace up to fourth, overtook the pack by going longer on the medium tyres, he drove really well, the car was really strong. We were very happy with where it was going and the worst possible scenario was a Safety Car. That was not really how we were geared up unfortunately.
“It was always going to be a difficult decision that one. We were on the hard tyres, the car had been set-up quite specifically for the long runs and for the race we were incredibly nervous about having to restart the hard tyres behind the Safety Car and I think we would have struggled.
"So the safest thing to do - and we thought the most logical thing to do - was to swap him for a set of the new softer tyres so we didn’t have to worry about that.
“We thought other people might do the same but a lot depends on how they were set up for the race and I think it probably just showed where our race pace was because we’d set the car up to look after the tyres and be kind and not overheat them. So we were always going to struggle behind a Safety Car in that situation.
“And then you get other things with the second incident behind the Safety Car which we couldn’t have predicted, so the number of laps remaining to overtake was shortened again by a considerably margin so that worked against us.
“Hindsight, we would have made a different decision but I think at the time with the information we had that’s the decision we came to.”
The net result of Racing Point's strategy call was them slipping from third to fifth in the constructors' standings with just four races to go...