Red Bull’s Sergio Perez has heaped praise onto team-mate Max Verstappen, calling him the “best in Formula 1” with the exception of himself.
Verstappen was crowned F1 world champion for the first time at the 2021 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, and Perez believes this is largely owed to the touch and unity that the 24-year-old has with his car.
“There is no other driver that is at one with the car like Max is. He’s been at Red Bull for a long time, and you can see that straight away. You still see some weaknesses with other cars, with other drivers’ cars,” Perez said.
The Mexican believes that Verstappen has a relationship with his car that nobody else on the grid can match.
“But Max, the way that he’s at one with the car, I don’t think there’s anyone that compares to him in that regard. He’s really, really into it.
“He’s at a very high level, as we can see, and I think I have a tremendous benchmark with him. I see it as a very positive thing because you have a fantastic benchmark on him since FP1.”
Perez maintains that working with a driver of Verstappen’s calibre has helped him improve – despite his own vast experience in the sport.
“You have a great reference to him, to lead up to great results. Ultimately, as a driver, you want to be working with the best, and I think, right now, he is the best in Formula 1.”
Perez was then quizzed on whether he believed Verstappen is the best driver in Formula 1 right now, to which Perez simply replied: “I think, if we discard [myself], yes.”
Perez finished fourth in the Drivers’ Standings in 2021, claiming five podiums – including one at his home Mexican Grand prix – but he understands that he has to be realistic of his own expectations when faced with the qualities that Verstappen possesses.
“I have to accept that. As a driver, you have to be realistic and he’s at a tremendously high level. The way he drives this car is… He’s just at one [with it]. It’s years of experience with it, and he’s at a very high level.”
Verstappen himself has previously stated that he wants Perez to be given a fair shot at the title by Red Bull, and the 31-year-old sees no reason he cannot compete for championship success in 2022.
Asked whether he can contest the championship, Perez stated: “I think so. I think next year it’s a new opportunity to all start from zero and grow from there. I think that’s something that can be very good for me.”
Continuing, Perez said he has been hard at work on the 2022 car.
“[I’ve been] quite involved in next year’s [car]. We’ve done a lot of sim, we’ve done some following and [given] comments.”
He also detailed the key differences between the brand-new cars for 2022 and the ones the drivers have just been racing with.
“[There’s] less grip, [it’s] much heavier, so it’s just very different. It’s not as agile as this year’s car.”
Perez has been in Formula 1 since 2011, and his two victories have both come in the last 11 months (one with Racing Point in Bahrain, the other with Red Bull in Baku.)