After his victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix, Sergio Perez is as confident as he has ever been that he can challenge Max Verstappen for the 2023 world championship.
Perez had an almost perfect weekend in Baku, winning both the Sprint and main race, and with just six points now separating him and Verstappen in the championship, he could take the lead if he wins in Miami this weekend.
Miami is a track that suits Perez as he continues to excel on street circuits and with the close fight at the top boosting his confidence, he has firmly set his sights on becoming world champion.
Indeed, he believes that without the issues he suffered in Australia, crashing out in Q1, he would be leading the championship already.
“We delivered under pressure massively, every single session was so critical in this format, it was really important to be able to deliver when it mattered,” Perez told Sky Sports F1.
“It’s a track where you require a lot of confidence, a lot of corners, and you see that a lot of drivers clip walls during the race. It’s all about confidence, lap after lap and making sure you’re on top of your car.
“Having three kids at home I wouldn’t be travelling around the world if I didn’t believe I could be a world champion.
“I’m working towards that, there’s so much you can talk about outside the car, it’s important to deliver on the track.
“I think with all the issues we had in qualifying in Melbourne we should be leading the championship, definitely there is everything to believe we can do well this year.”
Although a world championship battle inevitably breeds tension, especially between team-mates, Perez believes his “similar mentality” to Verstappen will allow them to remain respectful while fighting it out.
“There is a very high level of respect between Max and myself, and the whole team, I mean the level we are operating, we are pushing each other really hard, we obviously want to beat each other, I want to win this championship as much as Max does,” he added.
“But, there is a lot of respect between us. In a way, we are very similar in the way we approach or think about the sport.
“I do not believe we will change, we will be fighting each other like we did today as much and as hard as we possibly can, but with a very high level of respect to us and to our team.”
Horner: Verstappen and Perez are free to race
Red Bull team principal Christian Horner says Perez must deliver at every track, not just street circuits, and with 19 races remaining this season, consistency will be crucial in deciding the championship.
The team’s performance on track is even more important due to their reduced development time, their win in the constructors’ championship last year plus their cost cap punishment reducing their wind tunnel time significantly.
“He just needs to do it at a normal track now,” Horner joked.
“He’s excelled at street circuits, all his victories for us have been at street tracks. We just need to get him going on the proper circuits.
“At the moment the two of them have a slight gap over the rest of the field. There are 19 races still to go and five Sprint races so there is a huge amount of racing at a whole variety of different circuits to go through.
“It could ebb and flow between the two of them, reliability will be a key factor and of course we’re more focused on building a buffer with both of the drivers as when we get back to Europe there are going to be sizeable upgrades and we have a reduced capacity to develop this year. That’s where our focus is, trying to build a gap.
“Until the team’s interest – if you are competing against a competitor – becomes bigger than the drivers’ interests but as it is at the moment they are free to race.”
Despite repeated questions on the rivalry between Perez and Verstappen, Horner praised Perez’s performance and stressed the skill he demonstrated around the Baku circuit.
“He has had a sensational weekend. He has always been amazing at this track, I don’t know what it is about Azerbaijan,” Horner added.
“He absolutely excels here and he got a little lucky with a Safety Car [on Sunday] but he converted that and pulled a gap and had the pace.
“He really controlled the race so a phenomenal drive by him all weekend.”
Verstappen: It is ‘great to see’ Perez performing well
Verstappen was also on hand to praise Perez’s performance in Baku, “appreciating” the weekend he had put together, and is also excited to fight against his team-mate for the remainder of the season.
“Clearly, Checo this year has been really on it, he’s been really performing well and that’s great to see, he’s feeling more and more confident in the car,” said Verstappen.
“The team as well, we are really enjoying it, Checo and I are having a good time, I mean we jumped out of the car.
“That’s also what is what is very important, you need to acknowledge and appreciate when someone has done a great job, and that’s exactly what happened [on Sunday].
“We continue fighting for the rest of the season, but that’s normal we have done that our whole life.”
The Formula 1 season continues immediately with the Miami GP from May 5-7. Watch qualifying at 9pm on Saturday with lights out at 8.30pm on Sunday. Get Sky Sports