RACING

Mark Hughes: Sergio Perez causing Red Bull headaches as he begins to challenge Max Verstappen

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Sergio Perez is only 15 points behind his team-mate Max Verstappen in the championship standings; Last year he took his first win for Red Bull at the Azerbaijan GP; the whole weekend from Baku is live on Sky Sports F1, with Sunday’s race at 12pm

Last update: 07/06/22 4:30 p.m.

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Sergio Perez will ask the Red Bull team to discuss his strategy moving forward as he seeks to join teammate Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc in the fight for the World Championship.

Sergio Perez will ask the Red Bull team to discuss his strategy moving forward as he seeks to join teammate Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc in the fight for the World Championship.

Sergio Perez claimed his first Red Bull victory a year ago at the Baku circuit which he will revisit this weekend, following his second Red Bull win at Monaco two weeks ago.

He’s currently flying, a true World Championship contender in theory at least, in third place just 15 points behind team-mate Max Verstappen, less than a tenth slower in qualifying on average over the season so far, with a pole and a win already to his name in just seven races.

Baku 2021 has been the basis for such success. It was the first race in which he showed he could fill Verstappen’s supporting role. He was there to pick up the pieces when Verstappen’s tire blew while he was in the lead.

The best of the Monaco Grand Prix action

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The best of the Monaco Grand Prix action

The best of the Monaco Grand Prix action

Prior to that, he had overtaken early leader Lewis Hamilton at pit stops, demoting Verstappen’s main rival. He then held off Hamilton as Verstappen rode away without having to give his fresh tires a hard time.

Neither young Red Bull graduates Pierre Gasly nor Alex Albon had consistently been able to do so when they held Red Bull’s second seat in 2019 and 20.

The aggressively sharp cars produced by Red Bull at this time – influenced by Verstappen’s ability to live happily with the resulting rear-end instability – ensured that whoever climbed into the second seat found it difficult to come close to Verstappen’s pace.

Initially, this was also the case with Perez. Baku, round six last year, was the first time Verstappen could take advantage of Perez holding up his rivals. Previously, Verstappen had fought pretty much alone on race days, with Perez invariably too far to compromise the Mercedes drivers’ strategy.

As the countdown continues to this weekend's highly anticipated Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a look back at last year's memorable race in Baku

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As the countdown continues to this weekend’s highly anticipated Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a look back at last year’s memorable race in Baku

As the countdown continues to this weekend’s highly anticipated Azerbaijan Grand Prix, a look back at last year’s memorable race in Baku

But Perez has always flown over the city track in Azerbaijan – he qualified second fastest here (penalty before gearbox) in a Force India in 2016 – and that seemed to fuel his breakthrough with Red Bull the year last.

Thereafter he was generally effective support for the lead car, engaging the Mercs in battle in France, being close enough to Hamilton in Austria and Turkey to prevent Mercedes from changing strategy, applying reduced pressure to Hamilton at Austin to pull him away from Verstappen’s back, engaging Hamilton in the battle for second place in Mexico as Verstappen won, delaying Hamilton’s advance in Brazil and doing so spectacularly in the Abu Dhabi final, allowing Verstappen to get back in line with the Mercedes.

It was only at Silverstone, Monza, Sochi and Qatar that Perez couldn’t help Verstappen’s runs.

Johnny Herbert thinks Sergio Perez is starting to close the gap with Max Verstappen at Red Bull as F1 heads to Baku and could be a

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Johnny Herbert thinks Sergio Perez is starting to close the gap to Max Verstappen at Red Bull as F1 heads to Baku and could be a ‘thorn in the side’ for the rest of the season

Johnny Herbert thinks Sergio Perez is starting to close the gap to Max Verstappen at Red Bull as F1 heads to Baku and could be a ‘thorn in the side’ for the rest of the season

In 2019/20, Albon had only been able to play this supporting role twice and Gasly not at all. Perez, with his experience and reputation, was able to achieve respectable performance despite his similar discomfort with the handling characteristics of the car. This is what earned Perez his 2022 extension with the team.

But while he was often the perfect support driver last year, with the 2022 Red Bull RB18 – a much more stable and understeered car – he progressed further and gave the team headaches. In a car he is completely comfortable with, he is much closer to Verstappen in speed than last year and twice (Jeddah and Monaco) he even overqualified him.

At Barcelona, ​​he was forced to help Verstappen’s strategy by letting him pass (twice), to the detriment of his own run. In Monaco, by qualifying in front and ahead of the race, he was able to embark on the winning strategy refused to Verstappen. These were the circumstances behind Jos Verstappen’s critical comments about the team after the race.

Christian Horner says Sergio Perez understands decision to put Max Verstappen first at Spanish Grand Prix

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Christian Horner says Sergio Perez understands decision to put Max Verstappen first at Spanish Grand Prix

Christian Horner says Sergio Perez understands decision to put Max Verstappen first at Spanish Grand Prix

From last year unable to back Verstappen, Perez had been backing him regularly since mid-season and has now progressed to challenge him. And now we head to perhaps his best bit…

Watch the Azerbaijan Grand Prix live on Sky Sports F1, with coverage starting Friday at 11.40am.

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