Sergio Perez helped Red Bull secure a commanding 1-2 finish at the Bahrain GP, utilising the RB19’s pace and recovering from a difficult first lap.
The Mexican driver, like his teammate, was comfortably ahead of the rest of the field – with Red Bull eventually instructing both drivers to slow down and bring the cars home at around the halfway stage.
Although it would be premature to declare Red Bull the 2023 F1 Champions, it seems that – at the very least – they will be contenders this season.
Mercedes and Ferrari need to rebound after lack-lustre performances in Bahrain, and Aston Martin’s progress – whilst impressive – is unlikely to topple Red Bull, though the situation could change as the season continues.
In any case, there is a good chance that Perez will represent the biggest threat to Max Verstappen in the Championship.
Verstappen continues to perform at an exceptionally high level, so there is plenty of debate surrounding Perez’s chances of challenging the Dutchman throughout the 2023 campaign.
After all, even with a strong start in 2022, the 33-year-old found himself consistently a step or two behind his teammate as the season progressed.
However, speaking after his P2 finish in Bahrain, the 33-year-old explained that he feels more comfortable in this year’s RB19 than he felt in the RB18:
“Well, I think today was really that start that really put me out of contention from the race [win],” Perez said post-race.
“But it was all about minimising the damage. So finishing second is the maximum I could do today. It’s a long season. I think I’m getting closer [to Verstappen] every single session.
“I think I’m feeling comfortable with the car, and we have a strong package.”
“I’m comfortable with the car. I’m happy. I think we’ve [still] got some work to do.
“I think we, both drivers, are pushing the car in the same direction, which is good.
“And yeah, I think it’s been an amazing start to the season. Our best start ever, so very different to last year.”
Even before the season opener, Red Bull’s Helmut Marko expressed his confidence that both drivers would feel comfortable with the characteristics of this year’s RB19.
The discussion of car-driver suitability is inevitable in Formula 1, especially concerning the two drivers competing at the best team.
When a team like Red Bull takes the majority of race victories, the performances of their drivers will be even further scrutinised.
Questions are posed surrounding the car’s drivability, for example, and whether one driver is more suited than another.
Ultimately, it is the responsibility of a driver to maximise their package – irrespective of personal preference – so this area is always difficult to quantify or accurately assess.
During pre-season, Verstappen dismissed the idea that Red Bull’s cars were better adapted to his style:
“I don’t think it’s necessarily just suited to my driving style. I think as a driver, you need to adapt to what you get.
“And that’s also what I did when I joined Red Bull.”
Still, it was encouraging to see Perez feeling more comfortable in his Red Bull package after voicing his concerns last season.
It remains to be seen how significantly – if at all – this will impact Checo’s head-to-head against Verstappen in 2023.