Is Sergio Pérez a real title challenger?
By definition, yes. He’s just six points behind teammate Max Verstappen in the championship standings in the only other car that looks capable of winning races at this point in the season.
He’s also fresh from dominating the Azerbaijan Grand Prix weekend, besting Verstappen in both the sprint and the race in a way the Dutchman’s teammates have rarely managed.
“Clearly Checo this year has really been on it,” Verstappen had to admit. “He's feeling more and more confident in the car.”
Pérez is in a golden run of form, having won two of the opening four grands prix plus the sprint. Not only has he never started a season this strongly, but it’s the most lucrative purple patch of his entire Formula 1 career.
“Having three kids at home, I wouldn’t be travelling around the world if I didn’t believe I could be world champion,” Pérez told British broadcast Sky Sports.
“I’m fighting for it, but I also know that it’s long, a massive road ahead. I need to keep my head down and just keep delivering.
“Definitely there’s everything to believe that we can do well this year.”
He has the experience of two seasons at Red Bull Racing. This year he has a car that suits his driving style better than in previous years. He’s also high on confidence and in strong form.
Okay. But is he really a title challenger?
Red Bull Racing boss Christian Horner isn’t one to mince words, and while he refrained from openly doubting his driver, he did raise one serious weakness yet to be addressed.
“I think he just needs to do it on a normal track now,” he said. “He’s excelled at street circuits … he just needs to get going on the proper circuits.”
Five of Pérez’s six career victories have been on street tracks, including the two wins he’s collected this year in Jeddah and Baku. He also has a higher strike rate for podiums on public roads.
But that he’s stronger on street tracks isn’t news. It is, however, important this weekend.
The car park in which the Miami Grand Prix circuit it built is effectively a street track, with the walls close in on the drivers. It’s one of six street venues in the first nine races.
Pérez can worry about his supposed weaknesses later once he’s finished flexing his strengths. Miami must be his time to shine.
Quite possibly this falls under the category of tipping with my heart rather than my head — not that I’m not neutral; I just really want to believe we’re going to get a championship fight this year. Ferrari’s one-lap pace will be neutered by the warm circuit, neutralising its tyre warm-up advantage. Fernando Alonso to return to his podium-getting ways.
Pole position: Max Verstappen
Podium: Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Fernando Alonso
Winning margin: Five seconds
The views expressed in this article are those of the author. Quotes have been obtained from team press conferences and issued press releases.