Sergio Pérez Mathematical Career Review

Introduction

Using my mathematical model we can track the performance of a driver over time. Each yearly match up is given a predicted result based on a score derived from the teammates past and future form (discounting car performance). The predicted result is then adjusted to give a yearly score for each driver, based upon discrepancies between the initial prediction and the actual result.

The so called “King of the midfield” Pérez is known for his ability to do long stints on the Pirelli tyres, whilst also snapping up podiums whenever they’re on offer. He shook off early accusations of being a pay driver (due to lucrative sponsorship deals he brought with him) to become a respected performer in his own right. Last year (2020) he finally finally became a race winner, whilst also secured himself a Red Bull drive for the upcoming campaign. Was the long wait for a victory due to poor performances on his part, or are his smattering of unlikely podiums proof of a great talent trapped in midfield teams? Let’s find out!

First, let’s check out a boxplot of Pérez’s yearly scores over his career, compared to some of his more experienced teammates.

Fig1: Boxplot of yearly scores across their career

For context, an average year from Hamilton is given a rating of 100%. A quick glance will tell you that Pérez is not one of the sport’s elite drivers, with yearly scores typically between 70% and 75%. This puts him just about in the top half of current F1 drivers, but with similar scores to many others. Another thing to note from the chart is his near metronomic consistency. With the exception of one poor year, his scores are nearly identical, giving him a very narrow interquartile range. This may be partly explained by the fact that several teammates (Kobaiyashi, Ocon and Stroll) have their score primarily based off Pérez due to their inexperience. Nevertheless, it is a remarkably small of variation for someone with a decade long career.

Fig. 2: Pérez’s level compared to his teammates over the years.

The blue line is Pérez, with the green line indicating whomever his teammate was that year. You can see significantly more variation in his teammates score, which is to expected, considering that he has raced against several different drivers. However, you can clearly see that it has been several years since Pérez was outscored by his teammate. I’ve also added the average score of Hamilton, Hülkenberg and Grosjean across their careers as an additional comparison. (Without getting too technical, the model suggests these 3 drivers are elite, good and competent respectively). Pérez is considered slightly above Nico Hülkenberg on average, but a significant distance from top performers such as Hamilton, or indeed the similarly ranked Verstappen.

Finally, I’ve made a quick summary of his career year-by-year:

Early Promise

2011, Sauber-Ferrari: 66.2%

2012, Sauber-Ferrari: 71.9%

Fig 3: Pérez chasing down Alonso in Malaysia 2012

Pérez joined F1 with the Sauber team in 2011. His teammate was Kobaiyashi, a driver known for his feisty driving and bold overtakes. The pair were closely matched over their 2 years together, despite Pérez missing a couple of races in his rookie season due to a crash at Monaco. The highlight came at Malaysia in 2012, where he finished second in the wet, chasing down Alonso’s leading Ferrari in the closing laps.

A gap opened up at (then) championship contending McLaren, who were looking for a replacement for the departing Hamilton. Pérez jumped at the opportunity to race for a big team, burning his bridges as a Ferrari academy driver in the process.

Rebuilding phase

2013, McLaren-Mercedes: 74.3%

2014, Force India-Mercedes: 62.1%

Fig 4: Pérez on his way to an early podium with Force India

Expectations were high going into 2013, and Pérez was unable to match them. This was due to many factors, but replacing a driver of Hamilton’s abilities and McLaren’s dramatic and unexpected fall into the midfield were major factors that Pérez was blameless for. However, he also drew criticism from fellow racers for his aggressive driving, with Räikkönen at one point bluntly saying he should be “punched in the face.” After being outscored by teammate Button, Pérez was dropped from McLaren after just one year. Interestingly, the model actually considers 2013 to be a relatively strong year for the Mexican, continuing his upwards trend up until that point. In hindsight the criticism he faced was not fully justified, and his replacement at McLaren (Kevin Magnussen) was also given the boot after one year after failing to live up to expectations.

Signing for Force India in 2014, Pérez scored a podium in the 3rd race of the year. (Notably the McLaren team that had tossed him aside would have to wait several more years for their next podium finish). Nevertheless, the 2014 season was disappointing, and he was significantly outscored by Nico Hülkenberg. This is ranked as by far his worst season, and it is to his credit that he subsequently recovered to reach new heights in performance.

Punching above his weight

2015, Force India-Mercedes: 75.8%

2016, Force India-Mercedes: 76.3%

The Pérez-Hülkenburg partnership continued for two more years, with Pérez fighting back to gain the upper hand over the next 2 seasons. His 2016 campaign featured an impressive podium in the wet in Monaco, along with an additional podium just a few races later despite suffering from a gearbox penalty in qualifying. The model ranks 2016 his best year up until this point in his career.

Pérez vs Ocon

2017, Force India- Mercedes: 72.0%

2018, Force India/Racing Point-Mercedes: 75.0%

The highly rated Ocon joined Pérez for a 2 year stint at Force India. Their relationship was not entirely harmonious, with the two drivers making contact with each other on more than one occasion. Force India also faced a financial crises part way through the 2018 season, with Pérez bizarrely putting his own team into administration in an (ultimately successful) attempt to keep it afloat. Through it all, Pérez’s performances were as good as ever, out scoring his inexperienced teammate in both seasons.

Racing Point & The Future

2019, Racing Point-Mercedes: 76.2%

2020, Racing Point- Mercedes: 77.2%

Fig 5: Pérez testing the Racing Point car

In 2019 he gained a new teammate in Stroll. A poor first half of the season saw a run of 8 non-points finishes, including a crash at the German Grand Prix where teammate Stroll finished a strong 4th. However, Pérez quickly asserted himself as the lead driver in the second half of the year, scoring points in eight of the last nine races.

2020 gave Pérez a significantly more competitive car, and he made the most of it. The model considers Pérez the 6th best performer last year, and the model supports the idea that this was his best year to date (although, as noted before, his consistency means that several other years are close).

Whilst Red Bull have a polished and well-rounded driver in Pérez, the model does not consider him to be of Verstappen’s level, predicting that he will come off second best. (See here for more information). Nevertheless, few would begrudge him the opportunity to show what he can do at a top team against a world-class driver.

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