Defending for all he was worth against Lewis Hamilton, Sergio Perez did it for Max Verstappen but admits it was an uncomfortable situation.
Needing to beat Lewis Hamilton at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix to win the World title, Verstappen’s chances were dealt a massive blow when he lost the lead to the Mercedes driver off the line.
His first lap attempt at passing Hamilton wasn’t successful, with Verstappen left to run P2, losing more ground to his title rival with every lap.
Red Bull made the call to run Perez on a long first stint in order to use the Mexican driver to hold up Hamilton.
As the Brit approached the back of his RB16B, the gap between Hamilton and Verstappen was nine seconds. When Hamilton finally made his way past, the gap was down to 1.5s.
Perez admits it was a difficult situation as while he wanted to help his team-mate, he didn’t want to risk a crash with Hamilton.
“Obviously, I was in a position where I had not much to lose,” he told Motorsport.com.
“It’s not a place that you want to be in but at the same time I will always put my team above anything.
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“It was a gamble because at that point you are just a piece of cake basically when you are after 18, 19 laps on the soft tyres and Lewis was on fresh rubber.
“Getting him back out of Turn 6 was the key to it.
“I’m just happy that it worked out because I could have cost him half a second at the time, but I’m just happy that I cost him a bit longer.”
Verstappen called Perez a “legend” with team boss Christian Horner also quick to praise the driver.
Perez added: “It was crucial at that time of the race, because I knew that basically, Lewis had the race under control, he had the Virtual and Safety Car windows pretty much open and he could have done whatever he wanted at the time.
“He had the race under control, so it was pretty critical. But at the same time I was on extremely old tyres. It worked well.
“At the end of the day, I’m happy that I’ve helped Max and the team.
“It’s a hard one because at the same time, you don’t want to interfere too much in the Drivers’ Championship. But I think above anything, it will always be my team.”
Hamilton though had the better pace on the day and promptly set about pulling away from Verstappen. A Safety Car changed the story line, the Red Bull driver pipping his title rival on the final lap to take the win and the Drivers’ Championship.
As for Perez, he got to watch the final few laps after Red Bull retired his car as the engine was on its “limit” and Red Bull didn’t want to risk another Safety Car costing Verstappen the title.
“I didn’t know anything at the time but obviously, the engine was on the limit,” Perez said.
“And the last thing we wanted to have is a failure and then not have the opportunity for Max to have that lap.
“It was on the limit, and you don’t want to engine blow up.”
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