1996 Formula 1 World Champion Damon Hill has backed Sergio Perez to deliver Max Verstappen a heightened challenge during the 2023 season.
Verstappen won the opening round of the 2023 season, held in Bahrain, in dominating fashion while Perez cruised to victory last time out in Saudi Arabia.
Verstappen’s race weekend in Jeddah was hampered by a drive shaft failure during qualifying that forced him to line up at toward the back of the field.
The Dutchman stated after the event that he was sure he would’ve won the grand prix had he had an uninterrupted weekend.
2023 marks the third year that Verstappen and Perez have been partnered at Red Bull, and in that time, Verstappen has largely held the upper hand.
But Hill says that he expects Perez to mount a stronger challenge this year.
“Checo [Perez] knows what he’s up against, but he’s not going to go down without a fight,” Hill told Motorsport.com. “It could be quite interesting.
“I think the problem that you have is that Max is a bit of a force of nature, and it’s how much pressure he can put on the team to make sure his championship aspirations are not interfered with by Checo.
“From the point of view of the sport, I think that they need to let Checo have every opportunity to fight with a level playing field within that team.
“Because I know the pressure from the Verstappens, his dad as well, on Red Bull will be intense.
“He’ll be pulling out the card of saying, ‘I’m your future. The whole opportunity is built around me’ and he’ll be leveraging them.”
Perez is the fourth driver to team up with Verstappen since the latter joined the Milton Keynes-based squad in 2016.
Verstappen has often been the more superior driver at the team throughout the last several years.
Hill believes that the environment at Red Bull is structured in a way that is unwelcoming to drivers that struggle for performance.
“We’ve seen young guys go there and find themselves without friends and they can be intimidated, and they’ve had to go elsewhere, like Gasly and Albon,” Hill said.
“You could even say Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo have experienced that. It’s a tough environment, Red Bull.
“They don’t put their arm around you and go, ‘we’ll look after you, don’t worry’.
“Checo has got people in his corner and we’ll see how it plays out.
“Whatever happens, the Verstappens won’t be taking it lying down. You saw after Saudi Arabia that Max was… I would say sulking is not too strong a word. He looked very unhappy about the way things went. They don’t like coming second.”