‘Sergio Perez is the first driver to challenge Max Verstappen since Daniel Ricciardo’

Oliver Harden
Max Verstappen applauds Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez. Azerbaijan, April 2023.

Max Verstappen claps as Red Bull team-mate Sergio Perez celebrates victory in Baku. Azerbaijan, April 2023.

Sergio Perez’s former McLaren team-mate Jenson Button believes the Mexican is the first driver to challenge Max Verstappen at Red Bull since the days of Daniel Ricciardo.

Perez enters this weekend’s Miami Grand Prix after taking his sixth career victory last time out in Baku, where he followed up a win in the sprint race by finishing P1 in the main event.

He was considered fortunate to inherit the lead during a Safety Car intervention, but proceeded to defeat Verstappen – the reigning double World Champion – in a head-to-head fight on hard tyres over the remainder of the race.

With Perez also taking an assured win in Saudi Arabia earlier this season, expectations are growing that he could beat Verstappen to the 2023 title.

Ricciardo took four wins in three years as Verstappen’s team-mate between 2016 and 2018 before joining Renault, with first Pierre Gasly and then Alex Albon struggling to fill the Australian’s shoes across 2019/20.

But with the Red Bull drivers equal on two wins apiece after the first four rounds of the new season, 2009 World Champion Button believes Verstappen has not faced as big a threat from a driver in identical machinery for five years – and that Perez will never have a better shot of winning the title.

He told Sky Sports F1 in Miami: “It’s definitely his best chance.

“He [showed] so much confidence in the last race.

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“He won the sprint race and he’s like, ‘We’re going to do the same tomorrow.’

“It was just fantastic to see that confidence.

“Max hasn’t really had a challenger, I wouldn’t say, since Daniel Ricciardo.

“So for him now to have competition, people [to] even talk about it, it’s frustrating but it’s also great that we have that challenge for Max Verstappen.

“It makes this season a lot more exciting for us.”

Now in his third season at Red Bull having arrived at the beginning of 2021, Perez revealed in Miami the key to his success where others have failed as team-mate to Verstappen, which is regarded as one of the toughest jobs in F1.

“I’m mentally very strong,” he claimed. “That’s my biggest strength and that has always been.

“It is not easy being Max’s team-mate because he’s delivering all the time and he’s winning all the time.

“We’ve seen it in the past that it’s not easy for a team-mate to survive.

“I believed in myself but I had to go very deep into understanding the whole concept of the car and making sure that I put the right tools in place to be able to fight.”