Red Bull believe Sergio Perez can match Max Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton in 2021

F1: Red Bull's Verstappen gets in shape for new season

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Red Bull Racing team principal Christian Horner is hoping that new arrival Sergio Perez can provide a tough challenge for star man Max Verstappen and reigning world champion Lewis Hamilton this year. The Mexican was announced as Alex Albon’s replacement in December after the Thai driver was axed for failing to close the gap to his more successful team-mate last season.

Perez will bring additional tenacity and proven quality to Red Bull’s ranks, with the 31-year-old joining the illustrious list of F1 race winners at November’s Sakhir Grand Prix.

His appointment marks a change in recruitment policy for the Bulls, who have previously called upon young drivers from their junior team or academy programme to partner Verstappen with varying degrees of success.

Daniel Ricciardo pushed the Dutchman hard on a regular basis before joining Renault in 2019, while his successors Pierre Gasly and Albon struggled to find their feet and were promptly replaced.

Horner has claimed that Red Bull’s choice to recruit a seasoned competitor this time around will put the team’s driver pairing on a more equal footing going into the new campaign.

The 47-year-old, who oversaw Sebastian Vettel’s period of dominance between 2010 and 2013, also suggested that despite a condensed pre-season testing programme, Perez’s qualities behind the wheel could allow him a real shot at dethroning Hamilton and Mercedes at the top of the pile.

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“It will be very difficult for him to get up to speed because there is only one test,” Horner told Motorsport.com. “But he has the advantage of having a lot of experience.

“We expect him to be close to Max and to be able to challenge him, similar to the situation we’ve had those three seasons with Daniel Ricciardo and Max.

“And hopefully Sergio can ensure that we have two cars that are close to the Mercedes on a consistent basis and play an important role for the team.”

Horner’s comments have been echoed by his Mercedes counterpart Toto Wolff, who suggested last month that the Silver Arrows could face a trickier battle to ward off the challenge of Red Bull this year with Perez racing alongside Verstappen.

“I think that Red Bull with Perez will be a much stronger opponent for the Constructors’ Championship,” said Wolff. “I expect Sergio to do very well. It will also be interesting to see how Sergio fares compared to Verstappen.

“We use the same equipment as last year. But I think Honda will continue to work hard to compete in their final year for the championship. It will be quite interesting for that reason.”

Perez is entering his tenth year in F1 and will be hoping to trouble his younger team-mate this season despite the latter’s reputation as arguably the fastest out-and-out racer on the grid.

The Mexican has already warned Verstappen that he is not simply looking to make up the numbers at Red Bull.

He claimed in January that he is more than ready to seize the opportunity to fight for regular wins and podiums.

“It’s a dream come true,” Perez told the Red Bull website. “When I put my Red Bull shirt on or drink a can, I think, ‘wow, this is the brand I drive for!’. It’s amazing and hard to imagine.

“It’s an opportunity that I have worked so hard for, for more than 15 years. I think it’s come at the right time, I’m ready for that and I will grab it with both hands.”

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