Marko suggests Perez could challenge Verstappen at Red Bull in 2022

Sergio Perez earned his sixteenth podium in Formula 1 with his second-placed finish at the 2022 Australian Grand Prix.

Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko has praised Sergio Perez’s development in the early going of the 2022 season after the Mexican’s second-placed finish at the Australian Grand Prix.

Max Verstappen was set to take second place in Bahrain in the opening round of the season before a fuel vacuum failure put him out of the race, but Perez looked on hand to secure a podium as a result before he suffered the same failure.

The 32-year-old then took pole a week later in Saudi Arabia, and looked on course to win before an untimely Safety Car caused by Nicholas Latifi after he had already pitted to deny the undercut from the chasing Charles Leclerc, Verstappen and Carlos Sainz.

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Perez was adversely affected by another Safety Car in Australia, but made an exceptional recovery to pass Fernando Alonso and George Russell to get back into the podium places, before another reliability-induced retirement saw him take second place behind Charles Leclerc, who grabbed his second victory of the year.

The former Sauber, McLaren and Racing Point driver remarked during the 2021 campaign that he needed time to learn “how to drive” the front-running Red Bull, and Dr Marko is pleased with the progress his driver has made.

“Checo drove a great race, he was on par with Max,” he said, quoted by

Perez needed to recover after being past into Turn One by the fast-starting Sir Lewis Hamilton, but this was the only blemish in what was an otherwise fine display.

“He lost a position at the start because Hamilton made a sensational start, he had a little slip there, but he showed a good race and we expect the same from him,” Dr Marko added.

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“He has improved a lot this year in qualifying and in the race he is also there.

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“Actually, we should have got at least second and third places. But we are happy that Checo finished second.”

The Mexican was passed by Hamilton during the pit stop phase when the seven-time champion executed the undercut, but a stupendous move round the outside at Turn Nine earned him the place back again before the Safety Car was deployed, and he enjoyed the “fun” battle with the Briton.

“Always with Lewis it’s very entertaining,” he told Mark Webber after the race.

“[He’s a] very hard racer but very fair and yeah we always have fun together.”

Perez sits fourth in the Drivers’ Championship, 41 points behind current leader Charles Leclerc.