Sergio Perez is wary of Ferrari providing a more challenging threat to Red Bull in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix this weekend.
Red Bull coasted to a 1-2 finish at the season-opening race in Bahrain as Ferrari’s promising pace from qualifying failed to translate into the race.
The Italian team struggled with excessive tyre degradation, leading to Carlos Sainz – its sole remaining car in the race – to be classified 48s behind winner Max Verstappen.
However, the high-speed nature of the Jeddah Street circuit and its less abrasive track surface should lend much more to the strengths of Ferrari’s 2023 package.
Perez is therefore mindful that Red Bull might not enjoy as dominant a margin as it had in Bahrain and is expecting Ferrari to emerge as its closest challenger.
“I think it’s a very different circuit here,” he said. “The requirements are very different; the degradation is not as severe as Bahrain.
“We certainly believe that Ferrari is going to be very strong around this place, so certainly Astons, Mercedes are going to be a lot closer to us because the requirements are very different here.”
During qualifying for last season’s Saudi Arabian GP Perez claimed his first Formula 1 pole position on the 215th attempt, becoming the record holder for the driver that has taken the most races to claim their maiden pole.
Although Perez has highlighted that hands him additional confidence in achieving a good starting position for Sunday’s race, he is insistent that past results will count for very little when qualifying commences on Saturday night.
“It certainly gives me good confidence because I feel comfortable in the circuit,” the Mexican expressed. “But every year it’s a new challenge.
“We come here with different car, different tyres. So it’s going to be different challenges. The track, it’s a little bit different. I think is the beauty of our sport, that it doesn’t really matter what you’ve done here in the past. Every year, it’s a new challenge.
“So yeah, I certainly enjoy a lot the circuit, I think it’s a great challenge for all the drivers, especially on Saturday in Qualifying.
“So yeah, hopefully we can get a good qualifying because it’s really important here,” he added.
Last season Perez accrued only two wins to Verstappen’s record-breaking number of 15 and finished a huge 149 points behind his Red Bull partner.
However, both of Perez’s victories in 2022 came at street venues in Monaco and Singapore to add to his solitary pole in F1 also being achieved at a circuit this weekend where the barriers lie exceptionally close to the drivers throughout the lap.
Having outlined ambitions to compete for the Drivers’ title this year, Perez’s slightly lethargic start in Bahrain meant he was unable to trouble Verstappen at any stage.
The ex-McLaren racer is aiming to utilise his expertise at street circuits to give his team-mate a tougher time this weekend.
“Yes, certainly that will be my target, to try to be on pole and try to win the race,” he issued.
“I think it’s important. It’s only the second race weekend, so we are in very fine margins. Bahrain was really close between us all. So yeah, looking forward to that.”
Perez ended the first practice session in second place, 0.483s behind his team-mate who led the way.
Meanwhile, it was a low-key affair for Ferrari as neither of its drivers featured inside the top five.
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