Perez: Red Bull support my title challenge to Verstappen

By Sports Desk March 30, 2023

Sergio Perez is adamant Red Bull will not steer him away from a battle with Max Verstappen for the Formula One title.

Red Bull have dominated the opening two rounds of the season, securing one-two finishes in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, with Verstappen holding a narrow one-point lead over his team-mate courtesy of the fastest lap in Jeddah.

Verstappen's push for the extra championship point last time out saw sparks flying at Red Bull, with Perez unhappy he was not given a similar message over team radio and ultimately not making a bid himself to set the fastest time.

Suggestions that tempers are flaring in the paddock have been downplayed, however, and Mexican driver Perez feels he has support within the team to launch his own bid for the title.

The season continues this weekend at the Australian Grand Prix in Melbourne.

"When I first came to the team [ahead of the 2021 season], things were very different.  Basically, they were just going racing with two cars because they had to," Perez said, quoted by BBC Sport.

"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."

While going wheel-to-wheel with Verstappen could lead to tensions over the course of the season, Perez feels the pair have the maturity to deal with any rivalry that could emerge on track.

"I'm here to do the best possible thing for myself as well. To be honest, we have a lot more respect for each other than people might think," Perez said.

"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."

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    Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen are confident they can claim victory from the clutches of Lando Norris ahead of Sunday's Spanish Grand Prix. 

    The pair, who have won the previous eight Spanish Grands Prix between them (three for Verstappen and five for Hamilton), start second and third on the grid in Barcelona. 

    The seven-time world champion out-qualified team-mate George Russell for only the second time this season as the Mercedes drivers took third and fourth, underlining their re-emergence as contenders close to the front after a series of car developments. 

    “I’m really happy, thank you everyone I’m super happy to be here in the top three," Hamilton said. "It’s been a difficult year and a huge amount of work from everyone back at the factory, and finally we are starting to see those incremental steps moving closer to the guys ahead.

    “I didn’t expect us to be fighting for pole necessarily, but there were bits there where I thought maybe we will be close and so to be there I’m just grateful.”

    On the team making steps forward, he added: “We’ve made huge steps forward and it’s really just down to every single individual back at the factory who is pushing and designing and making the new parts that we get to bring as early as possible to these races.

    "Slowly the car is crafting into a racing machine that we can hopefully fight the guys at the front.

    “George did a great job today so hopefully tomorrow we can apply pressure to the two cars ahead.” 

    Red Bull's Verstappen will start on the front row, but in second place after being pipped by Norris to claim his second career pole. 

    The Dutchman appeared out of reach when he improved his own time, which was already fastest, by more than 0.2 seconds on his final run, only for Norris to cross the line moments later to beat Verstappen by 0.02 seconds. 

    However, Verstappen is confident of claiming a seventh victory of the season to grow his lead over Leclerc at the top of the driver's championship. 

    "I think in qualifying it was all coming together a bit nicer," Verstappen said. "We have been trying to find the balance because the practice sessions have been difficult.

    "So I was quite happy in qualifying - I even got a nice little tow from Checo to Turn One to really extract everything we could. But unfortunately, it was just not enough. That is how it goes sometimes and overall we can still be very happy with this performance in qualifying and definitely all to play for tomorrow.

    "Even throughout qualifying, the wind started to pick up a little bit, maybe that made it a bit more difficult for us. Overall, a good performance again in qualifying.

    "They are never easy qualis because you're always in a battle with yourself. of course now, there's more teams. And when it's that close for pole position, it's always great."

  • Norris celebrates 'pretty much the perfect lap' after pipping Verstappen to pole Norris celebrates 'pretty much the perfect lap' after pipping Verstappen to pole

    Lando Norris celebrated "pretty much the perfect lap" after he claimed pole position for the Spanish Grand Prix ahead of Max Verstappen.

    McLaren's Norris set the best time of 1:11.383 in Barcelona on Saturday, which had started dismally for the team when their hospitality facilities had to be evacuated due to a fire.

    Norris, who was 0.2 seconds quicker than Verstappen, showed no sign of distraction though, and with all staff having been safely ushered from any danger, it was a day to celebrate for the team, whose second driver Oscar Piastri rounded out the top 10 despite failing to set a time in Q3.

    "It was pretty much a perfect lap, when you are on a good lap and getting excited but the whole thing went perfectly in the end," he said.

    "It was close but super happy, it was my best pole position, I've not had many. We've been close all weekend but really this was about a perfect lap and that is what I did today.

    "It's not just this weekend, we've been quick the last two months, and since Miami we've been very strong.

    "We probably missed out on pole by not doing a perfect lap but today was the perfect lap."

    It was also a good day for Mercedes and Lewis Hamilton, who qualified in third, one place ahead of team-mate George Russell.

    Ferrari duo Charles Leclerc and Carlos Sainz placed fifth and sixth respectively.

    Top 10

    1. Lando Norris (McLaren) 

    2. Max Verstappen (Red Bull)

    3. Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes)

    4. George Russell (Mercedes)

    5. Charles Leclerc (Ferrari)

    6. Carlos Sainz (Ferrari)

    7. Pierre Gasly (Alpine)

    8. Sergio Perez (Red Bull)

    9. Esteban Ocon (Alpine)

    10. Oscar Piastri (McLaren)

  • Norris: Catching Verstappen more likely than previous seasons Norris: Catching Verstappen more likely than previous seasons

    Max Verstappen is still the favourite to win the Formula One world title, but Lando Norris is more confident that the Red Bull driver can be caught.

    Verstappen is in the hunt for his fourth straight world championship crown, and leads the drivers' standings with five race wins to his name in 2024.

    However, only 31 points separate the Dutchman, who is on 169, and second-placed Charles Leclerc, while McLaren's Norris sits third with 113 following his victory in Miami last month.

    Mercedes, meanwhile, have come back into contention in recent races, with both George Russell and Lewis Hamilton impressing in qualifying, albeit they have been unable to translate that into a victory as of yet.

    But with more contenders, Norris feels the field is opening up.

    "There is more chance and possibilities now, especially if Mercedes are in the fight; more chance of having a bigger swing of points." he said, as per BBC Sport, ahead of the Spanish Grand Prix.

    "A bad weekend for Max was third but it could be fifth or sixth.

    "And if you can be the guy who wins, within one weekend you can turn quite a lot of points around fairly quickly. If it goes like that, there is a higher chance."

    Norris conceded, though, that Verstappen is still at the very top of his game.

    He added: "Max's bad weekend is never going to be a bad weekend. It's still going to be a good amount of points. He is just strong in all areas. It is rare he makes mistakes or messes up qualifying.

    "But with more pressure you never know how that changes, and always with pressure it is always easier to make mistakes."

    In the world of Mercedes, Hamilton has urged the team's fans to give backing to Russell, who has faced accusations of the team favouring him, given his team-mate is set to join Ferrari next season.

    "I think they know if you look over the years, we've always been a strong team. We've always worked really hard together," Hamilton told reporters.

    "I think we need support, not negativity, and I wasn't actually aware that George was experiencing negativity.

    "George has done nothing but his best every single weekend and is delivering for the team, so he can't be faulted at all.

    "Of course, there can always be things done better within the team, and that comes through conversation, through communication, and that's something that we are consistently working on.

    "But we're all in the same boat. We're all working hard together. We want to finish on a high and feel that we owe that to our long-term relationship that we've had."

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