Perez ‘looking forward’ for final three races as Hamilton ready to take fight to Red Bull in Sao Paulo
Sergio Perez is feeling optimistic for the Sao Paulo Grand Prix weekend after vowing to put his early exit last time out in Mexico behind him, while Lewis Hamilton – his increasingly close rival for P2 in the drivers’ standings – has warned that he’s ready to capitalise should Red Bull not be on their A game in Brazil.
There was heartbreak for Perez in front of his home fans at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez when his attempt to battle for the lead into Turn 1 on the opening lap backfired. The RB19 made contact with Charles Leclerc after attempting to pass the Ferrari on the outside, resulting in Perez being launched into the air and off the track.
Despite managing to return to the pits, the damage to Perez’s car proved to be beyond repair and he was forced to retire from the event. While the Mexican has admitted that this was tough to take in the immediate aftermath, he has now moved on and is fully focused on the remaining three races of the season, starting with this weekend’s outing at Interlagos.
“I was sad on Monday, for half a day more or less, and then I put it behind me,” Perez explained on media day in Sao Paulo. “I’m a sportsman and I know how this goes, with the passion I live my career, and yeah just put it behind me and hold my head high because I gave my best and I’m proud of that. Now looking forward for the last three races.”
One week prior to his DNF in the Mexico City Grand Prix, Perez progressed from ninth on the grid in Austin to end the race in P4, a result that seems to have given him hope for what he can achieve in Brazil, the final event of a triple-header.
“I think the last two races have been really positive, we haven’t managed to really put it together,” Perez added. “I think we definitely have made a lot of progress and I’m optimistic for this weekend that we’ll finally get to show the pace that we have.”
While Perez left Mexico with no points, Hamilton finished second to Max Verstappen, meaning that the Mercedes driver has now closed the gap to Perez in the drivers’ championship to just 20 points. The fact that the final Sprint will take place this weekend also means that additional points are on offer in Sao Paulo.
It was at this venue that the Silver Arrows scored their last victory in F1 back in 2022 with George Russell, a race in which Hamilton finished second. However, with the team having struggled to maintain this form in the early stages of the 2023 campaign, Hamilton is wary of drawing too much optimism from their recent good form.
When asked if the Sao Paulo Grand Prix offered the squad their best chance to win this year, Hamilton responded: "I really don’t know. After the last couple of races, you get messages from people like, ‘ah, it’s looking good’. I’m like, ‘yeah, it was looking good at the end of last year too’, but we started 1.5 seconds behind at the start of the year.
"I’m not dazzled by where we are currently. I’m happy and proud [of where we are], the only reason I’m on the podium is the great work that’s gone on in the background. I’m thinking quite long-term at the moment, and then short-term just trying to solidify second in the constructors’, because that’s so important for everyone within the team."
In terms of his expectations for the event, Hamilton believes that Red Bull are the firm favourites. However, should this not pan out as expected, the seven-time world champion is up for the battle and remains determined to claim a strong result this weekend.
"I anticipate that Red Bull’s gonna blitz it, because the car has been great," he said. "But if that’s not the case, then I’ll be ready to take the fight to them. If it can be anything like Austin and we can get our strategy better then that would be incredible. I came away empty-handed last year, so I don’t plan on that this year."