Checo Perez is not alone in thinking he still has a title chance, Brazilian Formula 1 legend Emerson Fittipaldi thinks so too predicting the Red Bull driver will give his teammate and championship leader Max Verstappen a hard time.
As the season flips to its second half, ahead of the French Grand Prix, Round 12 of the 22-race 2022 F1 World Championship, the top three in the standings are first, Verstappen on 208 points, followed by Ferrari driver Charles Leclerc on 170 and 151 to Perez; thus the Mexican trails his teammate by 57 points.
In Fittipaldi’s latest LasVegasInsider column previewing the weekend at Circuit Paul Ricard, he said: “I’m sure both Verstappen and Perez will be strong contenders and will I go even further, in my opinion, Perez is growing, he’s getting more self-confidence, getting better and betterwith every Grand Prix.
“If his mindset is fixed to win this weekend, he has the talent, he has the speed to win. I think he’s going to give Max a hard time from now on. I have this feeling because he’s extremely self-confident now.
“He knows he has the talent, the speed and he’s not anymore a shadow to Max. His reality is that he’s there and he is a contender. This is my belief, that Perez which I think is going to create some friction because of his performance.
“Not that Max is slowing down, he’s an extremely talented driver. He’s the world champion and leading the championship but Checo’s there and he’s strong,” reiterated the double F1 World Champion.
Fittipaldi: Marko never expected Sergio to come to this high level
Perez coming on so solidly and Verstappen, always at the highest level, is good news for Red Bull says Fittipaldi, of a team that have for a long time been a one-man show: the Max Show.
“What makes Red Bull so good is because they never expected Perez to come to this level,” reasoned the 75-year-old from Sao Paulo. “Now that Checo is there and it is a very strong team because of their two drivers.
“Before, they had Max and a second driver and, in my opinion, Helmut Marko never expected Sergio to come to this high level of driving and performance.
“I think it could be very interesting, from now to the end of the year, the competition inside the Red Bull team.”
As Verstappen seeks back-to-back F1 world titles, Emerson pointed out other strengths the Bulls are tapping into during this campaign: “For sure, Adrian Newey’s genius ability of designing a car, to use the maximum performance of the new rules this year.
“Honda has tremendous power now. It is a combination of circumstances that make Red Bull a very, very potent force.”
At Paul Ricard, I expect Ferrari to be quicker than Red Bull and watch Mercedes
Ironically, at the French Grand Prix this weekend, Fittipaldi predicts Ferrari will have the quicker package: “Paul Ricard Circuit has a very special asphalt surface and you have some off-camber corners. Difficult to get the right apex. It looks a simple track but it’s not so simple.
“However if you look at this year’s average, Ferrari has been the fastest car, on very different circuits. Paul Ricard is quite a different circuit.
“My opinion is that Ferrari will be faster than Red Bull. For Ferrari to do that, they need to be reliable. They need to finish the race, when they finish, they’re good.”
As for a possible Mercedes resurgence in France this weekend, Fittipaldi said: “Mercedes has the capacity, the technology, has the people behind to be again, very competitive. They’re showing grand prix by grand prix, that they’re getting better and better.
“I think, to me, they should be running near the front with both their drivers, George Russell and Lewis Hamilton.
“Lewis is extremely talented. He’s a racer, he’s always very good in the race. He knows he can perform, he knows so much about driving. Possibly more than anybody else there.”
“His experience, his talent, when you put it all together, he’ll be very strong. And he’s showing it in the last few grands prix, concluded Fittipaldi, 1 14-time Grand Prix winner in a career that spanned 149 F1 starts.