Max Verstappen ‘surprised’ by Sergio Perez as serious threat emerges

Martin Brundle believes Sergio Perez has surprised Max Verstappen's side of the garage with his pace.

Sky Sports F1 commentator Martin Brundle has suggested that Sergio Perez could be much closer to Red Bull teammate Max Verstappen over the course of the 2023 season, following a landmark victory at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix which ‘surprised’ team Verstappen.

Having secured pole position despite not emerging for a second lap in Saturday’s final qualifying session with Verstappen out due to a driveshaft issue in Q2, Perez led for the majority of the race in Jeddah and was able to maintain a gap to the two-time world champion as he clawed back up to second place.

And while the Dutchman was able to steal an extra point by securing the fastest lap at the end of the race, Perez securing the win to make it one a piece for each Red Bull driver so early into the season could set the tone for a closer scrap between the two teammates this year.

In his column for Sky Sports, Brundle noted the significance of the victory: “Perez out front matched whatever his team-mate Verstappen could muster speed-wise and duly won the race in fine style.

READ: Max Verstappen’s entourage ‘angry’ with Nico Rosberg

“His fifth victory, four of which have been on street circuits – but more significantly his first victory when Max was second.”

He continued, discussing how Perez’s win has likely settled among the camp in Verstappen’s side of the Red Bull garage.

“Team Verstappen were perhaps surprised that Perez could match their pace,” he claimed, and drew on the fact that Perez had to defend his lead while suffering from a longer brake pedal, shocked that the team didn’t stop the pair from racing at the front in order to protect a one-two finish.

Too fast to care for Red Bull?

Without discrediting Perez for a sensational victory so early on in the season, his Dutch teammate was also suffering during the race, having to manage a similar driveshaft problem that had reared its head a day earlier in qualifying.

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But with near enough every team on the grid hitting forks in the road as they become acclimatised to their new 2023 challengers, the one key aspect setting the Red Bulls apart remains their unrelenting pace, which Brundle believes other teams desperately need to try and chase down, in a bid to stop their ‘total domination’.

He closed his column by concluding: “And so, as we watch the tensions between the drivers at Red Bull, we patiently await the rest of the field to find some speed.

“In fact, lots of speed.”

READ: Several drivers complain after 2023 Saudi Arabian Grand Prix

Charles Leclerc was able to put his Ferrari within around two tenths of Perez in Saturday’s Q3 session to secure P2, but had to start from a lowly 12th on the Sunday after taking a 10-place grid penalty.

The prancing horse never looked capable of winning on race day, with himself and Carlos Sainz having to settle for seventh and sixth place finishes, respectively.

Marry that to the fact that Mercedes’ identity crisis continues, it leaves only Aston Martin as viable competition to the reigning champions right now, with Fernando Alonso securing his second podium finish of the season despite back-and-forth drama involving penalties.