This is the only driver who has a chance of defeating Max Verstappen

Sergio Perez currently sits 15 points behind Max Verstappen in the Drivers' Championship.

Sergio Perez has been labelled as the ‘only’ driver who can take the fight to Max Verstappen this season, by Mail Online journalist Jonathan McEvoy.

He certainly has a point, with Red Bull being by far the most superior team on the grid.

Even if the Austrians budget cap penalty does start to hurt them in the latter stages of the 2023 F1 season, the likelihood is that they’ll already be so far out of reach by that point.

Aston Martin, Mercedes and Ferrari need a miracle if any of them truly want to battle Red Bull for the Constructors’ Championship, with that miracle again seemingly depending on Perez.

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Perez is the only driver this season who can ruffle Verstappen’s feathers, with the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Charles Leclerc not set to be close enough to the Dutchman on a consistent basis.

For that to happen, though, the Mexican must remain consistent and drive to perfection at every Grand Prix, meaning he can’t afford a repeat of his error during qualifying in Australia.

Whilst he did well to recover to fifth in Melbourne, his mistake gave Verstappen an easy win, something which has seen him extend his lead to 15 points in the Drivers’ Championship.

This weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix is a venue where Checo can certainly give Verstappen a scrap for the win, given that the 33-year-old claimed second in Baku 12 months ago.

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Perez also capitalised on Verstappen’s tyre failure in Baku in 2021, with the Mexican having inherited a race win after Hamilton locked-up at the opening corner.

One thing which is for absolute certain is that Perez can’t let Verstappen build a championship lead of over 25 points, with the Dutchman effectively having the ability to retire from a race and still sit pretty at the top.

At the same time, a Red Bull duel would work perfectly in their rivals’ favour, with the likes of Hamilton, Leclerc and Fernando Alonso being on hand to pick up the pieces.

Perez does think he’s got what it takes to win the title this season but even he recognises that the only way to defeat the reigning World Champion is to have his “A-game” at every round.

“Certainly,” Perez said a few weeks ago, when asked if he can win the title, as reported by Sky Sports.

“We have a very strong car, a very strong package, a car I feel comfortable with, a car I am working well with and a car I believe, with the direction we are taking in development, I can get the most out of.

“I think that is important to be able to stay in the fight throughout the season – to have a car that you can be competitive whatever conditions you are in.

“When you are in the fight for the championship you have got to take your A-game into every single race, you have to try everything you possibly can.”

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As well as that, Perez knows that he must “beat Max” at almost every Grand Prix to keep the Dutchman at bay, with “consistency” being the key to defeating the double World Champion.

“If I want to win the championship I have to beat Max weekend in, weekend out and keep this level of consistency throughout the season,” said Perez.

“It think it’s all about consistency and taking it race by race. You can win 15 races but in the other races if you crash and have DNFs it is not enough.”