Formula 1: The major obstacle Sergio Perez must overcome

Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images)
Sergio Perez, Max Verstappen, Red Bull, Formula 1 (Photo by Vince Mignott/MB Media/Getty Images) /

Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen are level on wins through the first four races of the 2023 Formula 1 season, but the former must overcome a significant obstacle to challenge for his first world championship.

Red Bull’s Sergio Perez drove to his second win in the last three Formula 1 races, matching his career-high total for a single season, on Sunday at Baku City Circuit, making him the first driver to win the Azerbaijan Grand Prix more than once since it was added to the calendar back in 2016.

The win, coupled with his sprint victory in Saturday’s standalone event at the 20-turn, 3.73-mile (6.003-kilometer) temporary Baku, Azerbaijan street circuit, more than halved his deficit to teammate and two-time reigning world champion Max Verstappen in the driver standings.

Verstappen came into the race leading Perez by 15 points, while he now leads by only six points heading into this coming weekend’s Miami Grand Prix.

Perez’s success has prompted many to label him the “king of the streets”, and with Miami International Autodrome being another street circuit, many have pegged him as the favorite to not only win the race but to take the lead of the standings for the first time in his career.

Should Perez win that race, Verstappen could tie him in the standings with a runner-up finish and fastest lap, but Perez would own the tiebreaker due to having an additional victory.

But there is still one major obstacle separating Perez from where he is now and being a true Formula 1 world championship contender.

He is still seeking his first win in a road course race since joining Red Bull. All five of his wins since 2021 have come on city streets, including both of his wins this season.

While three of the four races contested so far this year have been street course races, with Miami set to host the fourth in a row this coming Sunday, road course races make up the overwhelming majority of the remaining schedule.

Following the Miami Grand Prix, which is only the fifth of 23 races on this year’s schedule, there are 15 road course races and just three street course races remaining on the calendar.

Verstappen has won 10 of the last 11 road course races going back to last July, including eight in a row at one point. In one start this year, he has more road course wins than Perez does since joining the Milton Keynes-based team.

Perez’s lone road course win came back in December 2020, when he won at the “Outer Circuit” configuration of Bahrain International Circuit. He was competing for Racing Point at the time.

If Perez can’t stand atop the podium — and often — after some of the upcoming road course races, it will be challenging for him to remain within striking distance of his teammate.

And it’s not like Verstappen is weak in street course races, either. We can’t just assume Perez is going to win in Miami, for instance. Verstappen is simply not as strong in street course races as he is in road course races.

He won three street course races last year, including the one in Miami, compared to Perez’s two, and excluding Saturday’s sprint race, he has actually outscored his teammate by a point (62-61) in street races so far this season, despite being down two to one in the wins category.

Perez does have a one-point lead (69-68) on Verstappen in that category if you include the standalone non-Grand Prix event, but there are no more sprint races on street circuits this year. All five remaining on the schedule are set to take place on road courses.

As for Perez performing in road course races, there is a sense of optimism that the RB19 suits his style more so than the RB18 did. But he will have to do more than finish 12 seconds behind Verstappen, as he did to open up the year in Bahrain.

The next road course race on the schedule is the season’s sixth race, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix. It is scheduled to take place at Imola Circuit on Sunday, May 21.

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Will Sergio Perez be the Formula 1 world championship leader for the first time in his career heading into the Imola event? The Miami Grand Prix is set to be broadcast live on ESPN from Miami International Autodrome beginning at 3:30 p.m. ET this Sunday, May 7. Begin a free trial of FuboTV today and don’t miss it!