Australian Grand Prix: Sergio Perez says he has Red Bull’s backing to challenge Max Verstappen

Verstappen won the first race of the season with Perez second before the positions were reversed in the second weekend
Date: Friday 31 March-Sunday 2 April Venue: Albert Park, Melbourne
Coverage: Live radio commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and BBC Sounds, plus text commentary, news, reports and analysis on BBC Sport website & app

Sergio Perez says he “fully believes” that he has Red Bull’s backing to challenge Max Verstappen for the world championship this year.

The Red Bull drivers have one win each this year and Verstappen leads Perez in the championship by just a point ahead of Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix.

“When I first came to the team, things were very different,” said Perez, who joined for the start of 2021.

“Basically, they were just going racing with two cars because they had to.”

The 33-year-old added: “I can now say that I really feel part of the team, have my place and am well respected.

“I really believe I have the team’s full support, as much as Max does, and that I will have every opportunity to win the championship, as much as Max.”

Red Bull are perceived as Verstappen’s team and in the past Perez has been used as a back-up driver to aid the Dutchman’s cause.

But following their dominant start to the season, Red Bull have found themselves essentially unchallenged and Perez is determined to use the opportunity to make his first bid for the F1 title.

That approach is likely to lead to tensions with Verstappen but Perez says he believes the two men will be able to handle any difficulties that emerge.

“I’m here to do the best possible thing for myself as well,” he said. “To be honest, we have a lot more respect for each other than people might think. Inside the team, there is a very high level of respect with each other.

“I think we are both mature enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong and, as long as that keeps being the case, I don’t expect anything to change.”

The potential for conflict between the two was made clear during the last race in Saudi Arabiawhen Verstappen insisted on going for the point for fastest lap when his engineer had said the team was “not concerned about that”.

Perez admitted on Thursday at the start of the Australian Grand Prix weekend that he believed in Jeddah that he was not free to go for fastest lap but insisted that it was “a bit of miscommunication between my engineer and myself – I don’t think there was any more to it. I think the team did a good job to let us race”.

However, his comments in Melbourne reflected an inconsistency of messaging at Red Bull.

Team principal Christian Horner said after the race in Saudi Arabia that Perez had also tried to go for fastest lap on the final tour of the race but had made a mistake at the first corner and had to abandon the attempt.

But Perez said: “No, I didn’t try. I spoke with my engineers and it was all clear. I had a word with Christian after the race and it was all clear.

“It’s nothing big. You guys like to create some stories when we’re not racing but I think it’s all good in the team.”

He added: “I probably regret not having a go at the fastest lap because I thought that was the case.

“But the communication that they’d told me something and told something different to Max… it was just down to us to go out there and do it.”

Last year, Perez also started the season strongly, only for the development direction of Red Bull’s car – particularly the team’s desire to reduce its weight and make its characteristics suit Verstappen’s driving preferences – to leave Perez struggling for pace.

The Mexican said he believed that would not be the case this year.

“Certainly last year when we started developing the car – or basically when we put the car on a diet – that suited Max more,” Perez said.

“I believe at the moment we are asking for the same things. In the first two races, we’ve been very close together on (car) balance and asking for similar sort of balance. In that regard, it’s probably good for now.”

Verstappen reveals effect of illness

Verstappen admitted on Thursday that an illness he had in the break between the Bahrain and Saudi Arabian races had affected his performance in Jeddah more than he admitted at the time.

“I refused to believe it myself for a long time because at home I was really ill and could barely walk around,” the 25-year-old said.

“I felt like I was missing a lung. I got to the weekend really believing it was gone because normally when you get sick, two or three days afterwards you’re alright, you can just do your work.

“But then when I jumped in the car in FP1, even with just one performance lap I felt like I had to recover for two laps to be able to breathe normally.

“It definitely affected me throughout the weekend. But this weekend it should be alright.”


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