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Perez admits Ferrari’s ‘very strong’ pace in Australia took him by surprise as he eyes Red Bull fightback at Suzuka

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 24: Charles Leclerc of Monaco driving the (16) Ferrari SF-24 leads

Sergio Perez has conceded that he did not expect Ferrari to be so strong over the course of the Australian Grand Prix weekend as the Scuderia scored a one-two finish and Red Bull walked away with only a handful of points.

Carlos Sainz passed pole-sitter Max Verstappen in the early stages of Sunday’s race before the Dutchman retired with brake problems, paving the way for Ferrari to record a one-two finish as Charles Leclerc backed up his team mate.

READ MORE: Sainz storms to victory amid drama in Australia as Verstappen retires and Russell crashes out

Perez, meanwhile, found himself in a fierce fight behind after dropping from third to sixth on the grid due to a penalty for blocking Haas rival Nico Hulkenberg in qualifying, with fifth – also behind the two McLarens – the maximum he could achieve.

Race Highlights: 2024 Australian Grand Prix

Speaking after the race, Perez said: “We just struggled to put the car in the window. I think the first stint I was very rear-limited [with the tyres], we were trying to protect the front, but we overdid it.

“Then, going onto the second and third stint, we just degged off the front-left tyre, so it wasn’t ideal, unfortunately, and I think there is some work to do in that regard.”

READ MORE: Verstappen explains ‘really weird’ cause of early retirement from Australian Grand Prix

Asked about Ferrari’s ability to pull away in race-trim, he added: “Yeah, I was a bit surprised to see they were so strong. They were able to maximise their package and it worked well for them.”

Perez ’surprised to see Ferrari so strong’ in Melbourne

Perez believes that track characteristics played their part this weekend, though, and hopes the RB20 will be back to its best at the upcoming Japanese Grand Prix around the flowing Suzuka circuit.

“I think when we go to a track like this, already last year in Las Vegas, for example, Ferrari was very strong,” he said. “We struggled a lot for front graining, so I guess it is a bit track dependent, so hopefully when we are back in Suzuka, we are back on top.”

READ MORE: Hamilton brands Melbourne weekend ‘a real struggle’ even before Lap 17 retirement

Red Bull remain at the top of the constructors’ standings despite their Melbourne dramas, but Ferrari have closed the gap to just four points thanks to Sainz and Leclerc’s strong haul.

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