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Sergio Perez still the street king but has to do better to claim F1 title

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Perez hailed as ‘King of the Streets’ after double Baku success but the Mexican must raise his game everywhere to be a real title threat.

Mexican Formula One driver Sergio Perez (left) of Red Bull Racing celebrates on the podium next to his teammate Dutch Formula One driver Max Verstappen after he won the 2023 Formula One Grand Prix of Azerbaijan at the Baku City circuit, Azerbaijan, 30 April 2023. Picture: Ali Haider, EPA

London – Sergio Perez was hailed as ‘King of the Streets’ after his double success in Baku but the Mexican will have to raise his game everywhere to be a real title threat to Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen.

Red Bull are also streets ahead of the rest in a private Formula One battle, with their drivers on two grand prix wins apiece after four of 23 rounds and no sign of anyone else getting close.

Double world champion Verstappen left Azerbaijan on Sunday six points clear at the top and nothing in his demeanour suggested he is remotely concerned about 33-year-old Perez’s challenge.

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The Mexican can claim to have won more races than Verstappen in 2023, when the Saturday sprint in Baku is included, but the score was 15-2 to his Dutch teammate last season.

Five of Perez’s six career wins have been on street circuits, Baku the first time he had won twice at the same track, and he has yet to win more than two races in any season.

If Baku was an outlier, then the two Red Bulls are at least sufficiently evenly matched – at present – to provide some suspense amid the domination.

The rest are otherwise fighting for scraps from the Red Bull table, hoping upgrades and the pace of development will eventually close the gap.

Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc, who was third on Sunday after starting on pole position, finished 19 seconds behind second-placed Verstappen.

The Australian Grand Prix was a safety car finish but in Saudi Arabia Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso was 20 seconds adrift of the Red Bulls in third place. In Bahrain that gap was 38 seconds.

“They are in another league once it comes to the race,” observed Leclerc.

Verstappen was the victim of circumstances on Saturday and Sunday, contributing to the first in a sprint clash with George Russell’s Mercedes that left the Red Bull with a hole in its sidepod.

On Sunday the timing of the safety car also played into Perez’s hands, and against Verstappen, but the Mexican was already putting the pressure on.

Damon Hill, the 1996 world champion and Sky Sports television pundit, felt Verstappen had been surprisingly “off-tune” all weekend and that may give Perez hope for the future.

Verstappen had cast doubt on his future, blasted the new sprint weekend format and clashed with Russell.

“I get the sense there’s something a bit out of sorts with Max at the moment,” Hill told viewers. “He’s talked about not wanting to race beyond 30 or whatever it is, weird stuff. Why is he talking about this now?

“He’s right in the middle of a championship and it’s a bit odd.”

Whatever the reason or reality, Verstappen currently has only one rival for the title and that is a man he has been able to beat consistently in the past.

The Dutch driver is secure in his top status within Red Bull, who brought in Perez to back him up, and also has a string of favourite circuits still to come.

“So far this year we have been at tracks which are a bit stop-starty, not the full-on racetracks,” Verstappen said on Sunday.

“There are few really fast corners and fast straights out there, which I probably also seem to enjoy a little bit more.”

Miami is next up followed by Imola, Monaco and Spain. Verstappen won three of the four last year with Perez triumphant on the streets of Monte Carlo. The Mexican will need to do better this time.

Reuters

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