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Perez says field ‘a lot closer than people think’ as he reveals shock at Red Bull’s RB20 concept

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BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 22: Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing prepares to drive

Sergio Perez was treated to an unexpected full day of running in Red Bull’s RB20 on Day 2 of 2024 pre-season testing in Bahrain – with the Mexican calling the car “a step forward in the right direction” over its dominant RB19 predecessor.

On Thursday, Perez clocked up 129 laps of the Bahrain International Circuit, setting the second fastest time on the medium compound C3 tyres – 0.758s behind the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, who clocked his lap on the softer C4 rubber.

READ MORE: Sainz sets pace on Day 2 of pre-season testing as he improves on Leclerc’s earlier benchmark

With Red Bull having given Perez an unexpected full day in the car after a red flag cut short his morning run, the Mexican was asked about his first impressions of the RB20 – which he’ll drive again tomorrow morning, before handing over to team mate Max Verstappen for the final afternoon’s running.

“Generally speaking, it’s definitely a step forward in the right direction with the car,” he replied. “It’s obviously a very tricky track, with the morning to the afternoon, dialling in some set-up, and getting to understand some set-up compound. It’s very tricky because the track is changing pretty much every outing, so you have to base everything pretty much on your feeling.”

A 'step forward' for Perez on day 2 of testing in Bahrain

Asked about the growing sentiment from Red Bull’s rivals that they start the 2024 season as favourites – team mate Max Verstappen having gone comfortably quickest during his first outing in the car on Wednesday – Perez countered: “I believe that things are a lot closer than we are thinking, definitely.

READ MORE: Leclerc and Sainz give their verdicts on where Ferrari stand relative to Red Bull

“I don’t really think that we’ve had much of a look [at our rivals] in that regard,” he added.

“At the moment we’re basically focused on our job, we’ve been so busy with our programme. I think tomorrow, there will be a bit more of an idea, but I think we will find out next Sunday [following the Bahrain Grand Prix].”

BAHRAIN, BAHRAIN - FEBRUARY 22: Sergio Perez of Mexico driving the (11) Oracle Red Bull Racing RB20

Perez ran a full day in the RB20 on Thursday

Having won 21 out of 22 races in 2023, Red Bull have wowed the field in 2024 with an apparently radical shift in design for the RB20, which bears some resemblance to Mercedes’ now-abandoned concept for the W13 and W14 cars from the previous two seasons.

WATCH: Ride onboard with Sainz as he sets the quickest time of the pre-season test so far for Ferrari

Asked if he’d been shocked when he first saw the car, Perez replied: “Yeah. Obviously we had a very dominant car last year. I think we all expected to carry on with a similar concept, but Red Bull always surprise us, and the people back at the factory are really brave and they’ve done a great job.”

Perez goes into 2024 hoping to emulate his start to the 2023 season – which saw him take two victories in the first four races – but kick on in the second half of the season in order to build a proper championship tilt, having failed to win again after that second victory in Baku last year.

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