Motor racing: No surprise at Perez's pace after COVID absence, says Szafnauer

BARCELONA (Reuters) - Sergio Perez picked up where he left off on Saturday, qualifying fourth for the Spanish Grand Prix in his first race back from COVID-19 quarantine.

Formula One F1 - Spanish Grand Prix - Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain - August 15, 2020 Racing Point's Sergio Perez in action during qualifying Alejandro Garcia/Pool via REUTERS

The Mexican had also lined up fourth in Hungary, the last Formula One race he started before testing positive for the new coronavirus and missing the subsequent two rounds at Silverstone.

If anyone was surprised at Perez’s strong return, with Canadian Racing Point team mate Lance Stroll qualifying fifth, those around him were not.

“Not really,” said team principal Otmar Szafnauer in a video conference. “He felt well in himself almost the entire time. He had a headache one day and he couldn’t understand why he wasn’t in the race car last race.

“He was exercising in his apartment while he was quarantined. So he was keeping fit, felt great. I don’t want to call him asymptomatic but it was pretty close because he only had that headache symptom for one day.

“If he didn’t have the virus would he have had the headache that day anyway? I don’t know. I’m not surprised... you’ve got to remember too that the drivers drive this track so often they know it like the back of their hand.”

Barcelona’s Circuit de Catalunya is the sole track used for pre-season testing and drivers have done more laps there than anywhere else.

“That was a challenging qualifying but I’m really happy,” said Perez.

“It was extremely hot out there and there were changes in wind direction in the final sector throughout the session... it was also a physical challenge having missed the last two weekends.

“I’m very pleased that, once again, we’ve been able to show the strengths of the car in different conditions and on a different circuit.”

Reporting by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Clare Fallon