Jenson Button believes if Sergio Perez beats Max Verstappen in Miami then he should be considered a genuine title contender, and that’s not something he ever thought he’d say.
Four races into this season Perez is tied with reigning World Champion Verstappen on grand prix wins, the Red Bull drivers having won two apiece.
It is, however, the Dutchman who’s ahead in the standings by six points with the bulk of Perez’s deficit blamed on his Australian Grand Prix nightmare where an off in qualifying led to a pit lane start from which he could only recover to P5.
He bounced back from that with a win in Baku, the Mexican driver lucky, as Christian Horner put it, in the timing of the Safety Car handing him a free pit stop while Verstappen was relegated to P3 and had to fight back against Charles Leclerc.
But while Perez has two wins on the board, one thing he has never done – ever – is achieve back-to-back wins with consistency letting him down.
As such 2009 World Champion Button reckons if he can pull off another win this Sunday in Miami, the driver must be considered a genuine title contender.
“I’ve been really impressed with Sergio,” Button told Sky Sports F1.
“He did a really good job at the weekend [in Azerbaijan]. Back-to-back wins, if you like, with the sprint race and the main event. That will give him a lot of confidence.
“We haven’t seen him throughout a season be as competitive as Max.
“He is on it every weekend. Lewis [Hamilton] is on it every weekend, although maybe not so with the car this year. That’s the way they go racing and it’s why they’re so difficult to beat over a season.
“Consistency is where Sergio has been lacking. But if he can do it in Miami – kind of a street race as well – I think he has a chance to fight for the championship. And I didn’t think I would be saying that – I really didn’t.
“It’s good for the sport. Red Bull has an advantage at the moment and we need both of them to be fighting it out.
“It adds to the title fight, so ‘come on Checo!'”
Perez goes into this weekend’s race in Miami, the third street race of the season, slightly behind Verstappen in the bookies’ odds as while he has shown himself to be good on street courses, Verstappen is still a double World Champion.
Red Bull team boss Horner has backed the 33-year-old to take the fight to his team-mate.
“Checo is definitely living up to his nickname of king of the streets or whatever his latest docu series is going to be called,” said Horner. “Obviously, he got a little bit lucky with the timing of the Safety Car.
“But, having got the lead, he built close to a four-second lead at one point and controlled the race, so he used his opportunity, and converted it into a great win.
“You’ve got Max Verstappen behind you. He’s not taking it easy. And he was able to build up I think a 3.7 seconds lead at one point. And all credit to Checo, he drove a great race today.
“They were pushing each other hard. I think they were comparing times that they touched the wall under the podium there.
“But we let them push all the way through, that was always the plan going into the race.”