It could have been pole, says Perez of first front row slot

Pole position qualifier Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP, Second place qualifier Sergio Perez of Mexico and Red Bull Racing and Third place qualifier Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing talk during a press conference after qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on April 17, 2021 in Imola, Italy.
Pole position qualifier Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP, Second place qualifier Sergio Perez of Mexico and Red Bull Racing and Third place qualifier Max Verstappen of Netherlands and Red Bull Racing talk during a press conference after qualifying ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of Emilia Romagna at Autodromo Enzo e Dino Ferrari on April 17, 2021 in Imola, Italy.
Image: Mark Sutton - Pool/Getty Images

Sergio Perez secured his first Formula One front-row grid position at Imola on Saturday but the Red Bull driver reckoned it was also a pole that got away.

The Mexican will line up alongside Lewis Hamilton's Mercedes for Sunday's Emilia Romagna Grand Prix at the Italian circuit after qualifying 0.035 of a second slower than the seven-times world champion.

Second place on the starting grid, in only his second race for Red Bull, meant Perez's heavily-fancied Dutch team mate Max Verstappen had been out-qualified by a team mate in the final top-10 shootout for the first time since 2018.

"Enough to be on pole position," Perez replied when asked how much time a small mistake on his best flying lap had cost him.

That said, the Mexican recognised he could scarcely have expected such a result after failing to qualify in the top 10 in the Bahrain season-opener and lagging behind Verstappen in practice at Imola.

"I have a pretty good reference in Max, it’s just getting 100% all the time out of the car, it’s just adapting myself to it, learning step by step," he said.

"I wasn’t expecting myself to be here at the moment because I feel that I am miles away from where I should be. Things are not coming naturally yet.

"So it’s a good boost in confidence, not just for myself, also for the team, to make them feel that they have both drivers and that we can push the team forward together. That’s an important bit."

Perez was hired by Red Bull as an experienced driver to back up Verstappen and help the team mount a real title challenge to Mercedes after a string of recent young team mates had been eclipsed by the 23-year-old Dutch sensation.

The seat came as a lifeline for the 31-year-old Mexican, who had nowhere else to go after being cut loose by Racing Point, now Aston Martin.

"Hopefully from here on, we just keep that progress and tomorrow we do another step in race performance," said Perez.

"I’m not in a hurry, I know that I’m not where I should be but certainly it’s positive to be up here just in my second race with the team." 

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