Formula 1: Sergio Perez hype train already derailed?
After winning in Baku, Sergio Perez was seen by a number of Formula 1 pundits as having the edge over Max Verstappen. Verstappen responded in a big way.
With Sergio Perez starting four rows up the grid from teammate and two-time reigning Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen on Sunday in Miami, he had a massive opportunity to take the lead of the championship standings for the first time in his career.
Even a Verstappen runner-up finish with the fastest lap would have done no more than tie Perez, in which case the 32-year-old Mexican driver would have had the edge due to having one additional victory.
Verstappen’s qualifying mistake and Charles Leclerc’s subsequent session-ending incident played to Perez’s advantage when it came to setting the order for Sunday’s 57-lap race around the 19-turn, 3.363-mile (5.412-kilometer) temporary street circuit outside Hard Rock Stadium.
Perez, dubbed by many as the “king of the streets” after winning in Baku to pull to within six points of his teammate, had an opportunity to win for the fourth time in the last five street course races on Sunday. He was even the odds-on favorite to do so.
Instead, it was Max Verstappen again standing atop the Formula 1 podium outside the home of the Miami Dolphins.
Despite Perez being known for his street circuit prowess and tire management, it was Verstappen who carved his way through the field and eventually past his teammate to take the checkered flag, in large part because of the fact that he made his hard tires last for more than 40 laps to start the race.
Verstappen was setting fastest laps and gaining time on Perez on hard tires that were 20 laps older than those which Perez had put on during his pit stop.
But now the road just gets tougher for Perez, no pun intended. He is yet to secure a win in a road course race since joining Red Bull in 2021, while Verstappen has won 10 of the last 11 races on such courses, including eight in a row at one point.
Four of the season’s seven street course races are already in the books, and believe it or not, Verstappen actually took seven more points (94 to 87) than Perez did in those events, despite twice starting in ninth place or lower.
Of the 2023 Formula 1 season’s remaining 18 races, 15 are on road courses, which historically bodes well for Max Verstappen.
It’s hard not to notice the parallels between this situation and those of Valtteri Bottas during his Mercedes years. In 2019 and 2020, he opened up the season with a win to begin ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton. In 2019, he and Hamilton split the first four races, and Bottas even had a lead in the standings.
In 2019, Hamilton went on to win the championship with nine additional victories, including seven before Bottas won again, while Bottas could only add two more. In 2020, Hamilton won it with 11 wins (despite a missed start), while Bottas could only add one more.
After Baku, there was a sense of hope that Verstappen would have a true challenger this year in Perez, unlike last year when he won it by 146 points. There was a belief among a contingent of fans that Perez could be that challenger. Some even saw Perez as having the advantage.
What that hope more along the lines of “hopium”?
Time will tell if Perez can actually challenge Verstappen. He certainly isn’t out of it after a second place finish, and he certainly won’t make it easy on his teammate as long as he continues to capitalize in races he can’t win.
But Sunday’s race illustrated why calling Perez the favorite after his win in Baku was a bit premature. He continues to search for his first instance of back-to-back victories, while Verstappen has more instance of winning consecutive races than Perez has total wins since joining Red Bull.
Perez will likely need multiple instances of back-to-back wins — and in road course races — if he is to truly challenge the 25-year-old Dutchman this season.
Imola is scheduled to host the next race, the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix, on Sunday, May 21. Verstappen led a 1-2 finish there last year as well. Before that race, Red Bull hadn’t secured a 1-2 finish since 2016.