‘I fully believe I can be champion’: Perez doesn’t want to be Verstappen’s wingman for long

Sergio Perez ended the 2021 campaign fourth in the Drivers' Championship in his first season with Red Bull.

Sergio Perez has said he is confident that he can mount a challenge for a Drivers’ Championship following a positive first season with Red Bull.

Following 190 race starts since 2011, Perez claimed his first race win for Racing Point at the frenetic Sakhir Grand Prix in 2020 and was snapped up by Red Bull, who had released Alex Albon due to a disappointing season for the Thai-Brit.

The 25-year-old had also been preceded by Pierre Gasly, who managed a best finish of fourth in 12 races with the team in 2019, while Max Verstappen had won two races in the half season they spent together.

READ: Perez claims Verstappen would struggle at Mercedes

The Frenchman was demoted back to the junior Toro Rosso team halfway through the year, and continues to race for the squad now known as AlphaTauri.

Perez therefore knew what he was up against, and it is well known that Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko’s patience rapidly attenuates with underperforming drivers, as Daniil Kvyat can also testify.

The Mexican achieved five podiums last year and took victory at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix in June.

He out-qualified the Dutch superstar in only his second Red Bull outing at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, but would manage this feat just once more throughout the entire year.

Previously, he has admitted that he needed to take time to learn “how to drive” the new car, particularly given that he had never before found himself in a position to race at the front, but Dr Marko has also gone on record to speak of his delights at his driver’s efforts.

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All in all, the former McLaren and Sauber driver is pleased with life at the Milton Keynes-based team.

“I really enjoy working with the team, to be honest, with a group of people, with engineers, with Red Bull,” he said on the Tag Heuer, The Edge Podcast.

“I really feel great to be part of it, working great with Max with the race engineers, with all the team in general.

“To me at this stage in my career the most important is I enjoy it, the time I don’t enjoy it will be the time I have to go home because I don’t need any more to be here,” Perez added.

Perez played a significant role in his team-mate’s title success last year, notably fending off Sir Lewis Hamilton at the Turkish Grand Prix and the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, prompting Verstappen to call him a “legend.”

But the Guadalajara-born driver has no interest in remaining the bridesmaid, insisting that he is at the team to win.

“I am here because I fully believe I can be a World Champion,” he stated.

With 10 podiums in as many seasons before his arrival at Red Bull – and conspicuously none at McLaren during their woeful 2013 campaign – Perez has barely had fleeting glimpses of the business end of the pinnacle of motorsport.

He details life at a top team compared to racing further down the field, having now enriched himself in both.

“First of all, the brand Red Bull, you have a lot of commitments, we have a lot of partners,” he began.

“But also on the track-side it’s different, you fight for the World Championship, if not, you’re trying to.

“So off track and on track, it’s a lot of work, a lot of demand, you’re in the spotlight all the time. So that makes it very, very intense.

“Compared to a team that is not fighting for the F1 World Championship or, is not as big a brand as Red Bull makes it far more challenging.”

READ: Marko insists Perez slowed Hamilton down in ‘very fair way’

All-new technical regulations ahead of 2022 will make for a significant change in appearance to this year’s cars, and Perez has previously joined Lando Norris in predicting a vast distinction to the handling of the 2022 machines compared to last year’s cars.

The unknown element of how the cars will perform is something that excites the Red Bull driver.

“I think every time there is a new challenge, every time you face a new… this is the beauty of this sport that it is not always the same,” he explained.

“I have been in this sport for 11 years and I am still learning new ways because the sport is constantly evolving, so you are always facing new challenges, new ways of driving, new ways of communicating to your team.”

The 31-year-old is an avid fan of the way the evolution of F1 keeps the drivers on their toes.

“So I think you don’t stop [pushing]. It is not like [when] you have experience, you know what to do and you don’t have to work anymore.

Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez at 2021 Turkish GP.v1

“This sport pushes you to your absolute maximum and it is not only on track, it is off track as well.

“It’s why I love and I enjoy Formula 1 so much because it is always a new challenge. It never gets boring, it never gets old.

“There is always a lot of changing involved, a lot of things you have got to learn.”

Perez has been retained at Red Bull alongside Verstappen for 2022, and the Dutchman has gone on record since the end of the 2021 season to say that he wants the team to give the Mexican a fair shot at the Drivers’ Championship this upcoming season.

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