Lewis Hamilton believes new Red Bull recruit Sergio Perez will make life significantly harder for Mercedes than Alex Albon was able to this year.
Perez will partner Max Verstappen in 2021, replacing Albon who had a disappointing season and rarely threatened the Mercedes drivers. Albon was a close fourth behind Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas in Abu Dhabi, preventing any strategic gambles from the Mercedes pair as Verstappen led the race and went on to win, and Hamilton says the form Perez showed this year will mean Red Bull provides a tougher challenge.
“With all due respect to Alex, in the races that we’ve had it’s been me, Valtteri against Max,” Hamilton said. “I’ve been in the position where Max is, when I was at McLaren when I was the lead car and the second car wasn’t in the fight. When we were fighting against Ferrari, they could play — they could move around with the strategy and make it a lot harder for us.
“Naturally, this makes Red Bull stronger, particularly with the way Sergio is performing. I think Sergio has driven incredibly well this year, and truly deserved a drive. I was so, so, so happy to hear he was taken on by one of the top teams and given this opportunity. I think it’s going to be an exciting battle to watch him up against Max.
“That’s going to make it much harder for us as a team; we’re going to have to really step up our game, because that’s going to be a battle we haven’t seen for some time, having the two drivers there fighting against us. But we relish that as a team, that’s what we work towards — we love the challenge and it’s going to make it that much more exciting.”
Verstappen also thinks Red Bull will benefit from both increased pace from his teammate but also stronger race craft, with Perez having won in Sakhir after being last on the opening lap.
“Well, just be faster, and closer to the cars,” Verstappen said. “Checo’s a good guy, he’s good on his tires, he’s a good racer, he’s intelligent…. That’s what’s going to make the difference.”