Sergio Perez blames Charles Leclerc for failure to challenge Max Verstappen

Sergio Perez finished the Bahrain Grand Prix in second place, behind his teammate Max Verstappen.

Red Bull’s driver pairing has very much been Max Verstappen as the undoubted number one with Sergio Perez as his wingman for the past two seasons.

Perez has however claimed that heading into the 2023 season, he is more than capable of stepping out from Verstappen’s shadow and challenging the Dutchman for the championship.

The Mexican came close in qualifying but was forced to settle for a second place start for the Bahrain Grand Prix, where he still would have hoped that a good start could see him pass his teammate.

Unfortunately for Perez, he was almost immediately passed by Charles Leclerc at the start of the race, allowing Verstappen to drive off into the distance while he was forced to battle the Ferrari driver.

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Leclerc did not make a final fast lap attempt in qualifying which saved him a set of fresh tyres heading into the Grand Prix and Perez has claimed that it was this tyre difference that saw him miss out to the Monegasque driver.

Perez did eventually manage to pass Leclerc but Verstappen was way too far ahead by this point for the 33-year-old to challenge for the race win.

“Yeah, that was really the case, missing out to Charles on that first stint. It was really difficult to get by him, he had the new tyres so you could see the difference on that first stint,” said Perez when asked if his battle with Leclerc cost him the race.

“As soon as I was getting a bit closer to him, trying to attack him earlier on, I got deg and destroyed my tyres, so I had to be really patient and get my way through it. Once I did, I was able to drive some fast laps and my tyres and on the second stint were in better shape than his and I was able to get through.

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“But it was just too late. It was just a few laps too many, too late, and that put us quite a bit behind Max. Once that happened, we basically just maintained the gap throughout the race so we had no chance to fight for the win.

“But [the race] was all about minimising the bad start, and we’ve got plenty of things to analyse, to try to improve and get this consistency throughout the season.”

Perez missed out on the runner up spot in the drivers’ championship to Leclerc last season so even if he is unable to win the title, the Mexican will at least be hoping to go one step further than last year this season.