Lewis Hamilton said he is “so happy” to see Sergio Perez earn an opportunity with Red Bull, which he says will put the team in a stronger position to fight for wins in 2021.
Perez will partner Max Verstappen in 2021 after being confirmed as Alex Albon’s replacement. Albon struggled for form this season and, despite two podium finishes, was often a long way off the pace of his teammate, leaving Verstappen to fight the Mercedes drivers on his own.
By contrast, Perez capped off a standout 2020 campaign with his first F1 win at the Sakhir Grand Prix and Hamilton said his form deserved a move to a stronger team.
When asked if he is excited by facing a more experienced Red Bull, Hamilton said: “Yeah definitely.
“With all due respect to Alex, in the races that we’ve had it’s been me, Valtteri [Bottas] against Max. 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 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 said Albon’s stronger performance at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, when he put pressure on Hamilton late on, showed the benefit of having two competitive cars at every race.
“I don’t think it’s going to change anything from my performance, but it’s more we’re going to have a second car which is capable of being up there, the whole race, trying to put a bit of pressure… for example in Abu Dhabi, at the end Alex was quite close and it just prevents, most of the time, Mercedes trying to go for an extra stop of whatever, and I’m in more difficulty.
“Most of the time when we were competitive this year, I was the only car trying to beat them and trying to do something different. But they can always do the right strategy with one of them, because they will cover me with one car.
“It was always a little bit difficult to fight them, I hope that Checo will first of all of course, push the team forward but also to keep me on my toes, which is always nice, to have a team-mate pushing you, it’s exciting.
“Hopefully with a bit more of a competitive start, hopefully make it just more interesting and difficult for them to make decisions.”
When asked if he had a say in the final decision, Verstappen said: “Of course we spoke about it, I just gave my honest opinion. I think it was quite clear that throughout the whole year, it was sometimes quite tricky for Alex.
“He’s a great guy, I’m happy he’s part of the team still. But at the end of the day, it’s Helmut, Christian and of course Dietrich making the decisions. I knew a bit before, but at the end of the day, that doesn’t matter.”