Perez’s downward spiral is reminiscent of Bottas’s 2018 campaign

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It felt a pivotal moment when it happened as the defining point of
the 2023 season came on Lap 48 at Turn 1 of the Miami
Grand Prix. Max Verstappen made a fairly routine pass of Sergio
Perez for the lead as he recovered from ninth to record a third win
of the season while pole-sitter Perez took a battering as he
finished second. There is no easy way to cut this, Perez should
have won in Miami. In the fastest car, on pole position, he should
have cleared off into the distance while Verstappen navigated the
traffic following his aborted lap in Q3 and subsequent Charles
Leclerc red flag bringing an early end to the session. The fact
that Perez didn't win was a massive failure, and since then as
Verstappen has gone about ripping up the record books, the Mexican
has fallen off a cliff and is even in danger of losing second in
the Drivers' to , holding a 30 point advantage with
five rounds remaining. Perez's mid-season trudge around Europe was
hard to watch at times, with his rationale for the slump being that
upgrades introduced in Spain took the car out of a narrow window in
which he could operate it. Be that as it may, but the bare fact is
that while trying to cope with being pulverised by the all-time
great across the garage, he's also been trying to square the fact
that his best efforts are simply not enough to reach the goal he's
worked at for so long and become World Champion. For any driver on
the grid – knowing that your lifetime ambition is just not going to
happen after over 20 years of trying because there is someone who
is just better than you is the toughest pill – as Valtteri Bottas
found out in 2018. Shades of Bottas in Perez spiral This was
exactly the scenario Bottas was facing at the end of 2018 – his
second campaign with Mercedes. 2017 had been an excellent first
year in the big time for the Finn with three Grand Prix wins, 10
further podiums and four pole positions as he banked third place in
the standings, just 12 points behind Sebastian Vettel and 58 behind
champion team-mate Lewis Hamilton. That was a perfect building
block for an assault on the championship in 2018, but things got
off to a bad start in Australia when he crashed in Q3 and could
only manage eighth in the race. Victory was robbed in Azerbaijan
thanks to a late puncture, with car failure also putting him out in
Austria from pole position. The Finn was then denied the chance to
attack Hamilton in Germany and ordered to let him through in Russia
to protect against Vettel behind. Perhaps though the real dent was
in Hungary when Toto Wolff called Bottas Hamilton's ‘wingman” –
something that he did not find amusing. Combined with off-track
problems, it all culminated in a driver whose dreams of title
success had been hit hard by reality as he cut a forlorn figure at
the end of the season, which finished with four straight fifth
places, who wanted and felt like he needed to be anywhere in the
world rather than sitting in a Formula 1 car. Over that winter,
Bottas completely hit the rest button, let bygones be bygones and
came back renewed for 2019, having spent time in the Arctic Lapland
rally essentially getting back to basics and rediscovering his love
of pure driving. He came back and thoroughly put one over on
Hamilton in Australia to start the year, winning by 20.8s, although
the #44 was carrying floor damage from an early kerb strike. Bottas
2.0 as he was known was keep pace with Hamilton's blistering start
to the season, but a poor weekend in Canada with just fourth as
Hamilton inherited the win felt like a big moment with the first
non-podium result of the year for the #77. The wet German GP was a
prime opportunity to carve chunks out of Hamilton's points lead
following his off into the wall and near-minute pit-stop, but
Bottas too crashed out in an all-too easy to do spin at Turn 1. The
fact that Hamilton also did the same later in the race and survived
goes to show that the greats have a knack of earning that little
bit of luck that their faithful understudies do not. Perez 2.0? In
the end, Bottas 2.0 re-discovered his love for the art of driving,
the art of racing, but came to peace with the terms that he would
never be World Drivers' Champion as there was just someone better
than he was. Perez needs a similar mindset shift heading into 2024.
He needs to reconnect with driving, completely reset and refocus
his mind but do so in the knowledge that like Bottas and Rubens
Barrichello before him who might be able to defeat their great
team-mate a handful of times a year, it will never be enough to
wrestle the title away and that the dream will remain just that.

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