Sergio Perez handed boost in fight with Max Verstappen after Helmut Marko makes surprising claim

Sergio Pérez claimed third in the standings last season, after being an early title contender.

Despite Max Verstappen being as dominant as he currently is, Red Bull advisor Dr Helmut Marko believes Sergio Pérez “might be a challenge” for the Dutchman, with the Mexican having entered 2023 in “very good shape”.

Pérez enjoyed a strong start to the season at the Bahrain Grand Prix, where he claimed second behind his team-mate in both qualifying and the race.

It was a significantly better start to the season than he endured in 2022, where he retired on the final lap following a failure.

He just seems much sharper this season, with the Mexican continuing to dream of becoming a world champion.

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Pérez was amongst the title fight for the first half of last season, before falling comfortably behind Verstappen who streaked away to claim a second consecutive title.

Marko, though, believes Pérez could be in with a shout this season of the crown, due to how “seriously” he’s taking this year.

“He’s certainly in very, very good shape,” Marko told ntv.

“Also physically – he hardly sweats. That means he takes it really seriously and might be a challenge for Max.”

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2023 is Pérez’s third season at Red Bull and alongside Verstappen, meaning he’s successfully lasted longer than any of the Dutchman’s former team-mates.

Verstappen has a tendency to overwhelm whoever is alongside him, due to supreme speed and talent.

Marko believes Pérez managing two years with Verstappen is a “great achievement”, with the Austrian admitting that Checo hasn’t been “broken like most others” by the 25-year-old.

“Sergio survived two years alongside Max without being broken like most others,” he said. “That’s a great achievement.”

The team’s advisor has also stressed that Verstappen is not given special treatment in regard to the title, with Red Bull’s priority being “first and second place” come the end of the year.

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Pérez was told to allow Verstappen past multiple times last season, with Marko’s comments suggesting that perhaps the same won’t happen this year, given that they are happy for Checo to win the title.

“Overall, our goal is that we want to win first and second place in the world championship,” added the Austrian.

“We don’t specify that first place is for Max.”