After finishing in third place in the Las Vegas Grand Prix, Sergio Perez has secured the runners-up spot in the 2023 drivers championship and claimed his first podium since Monza.
But he wasn't able to make it a Red Bull one-two this week, after he was ambushed by Ferrari's Charles Leclerc for second place behind race winner Max Verstappen on the final lap.
Perez started the Grand Prix from 11th place after his Q2 run programme was mis-timed and he was eliminated at the end of the second round.
The start of the race didn't go to plan either and he damaged his front wing on the opening lap forcing him to make an earlier than planned pit stop under a Virtual Safety Car. “It started really difficult with a lot of damage.
“Initially we broke the front wing," he reported. "So we basically went all the way to the back of the grid. And then progressively we were [overtaking cars] one-by-one and things were going well,
That initial setback proved to be a big boost, as he was able to stay out on his second set of tyres until lap 26 where he was able to use a full safety car to pit again and come back out in second place.
"We had really strong pace on that first stint, so we put back ourselves in contention," he agreed. "Then with the safety car, that brought us into the race.”
With Leclerc having pitted before that, Perez was able to use his fresh tyres to take the lead on lap 32. “I overtook Charles, but I couldn’t pull away from him,” Perez said.
“I was just carrying a little bit too much wing in my car, so my straight line speed was a little bit down," he reflected.
"It wasn't easy to basically pull away from the people behind. It’s a little bit like Baku - being the lead car makes life a little bit harder for you out there, so I think it did deliver.”
The Monegasque was able to get back ahead, but both Red Bulls subsequently re-passed Leclerc setting up a potential team 1-2 with Verstappen having moved into the lead. "Max came, he passed us both," Perez said.
“With Charles, he went straight," he added. "It was quite difficult out there with the gusts of wind that we had a few times. I ended up locking up a few times, but luckily we kept it on track."
However Leclerc hadn't given up, and on the final lap of the race he sailed past Perez by late-braking from far behind into turn 14 to steal second place - a move that Perez admits he didn't see coming.
“At the end with with Charles, I wasn’t expecting him," Leclerc admitted. "He was 0.7s [behind], but then in the braking zone he was there, so well done to him and to Max.”
While annoying, third place in the race is more than good enough to secure P2 n this year's championship. A troubled race for Lewis Hamilton means that Perez has moved 41 points ahead of the Mercedes man with just one race remaining.
It's the first time in the team's history that Red Bull has managed to take the top two spots in the drivers championship, in addition to taking the constructors crown.
"What more can you ask for from your drivers and first and second enter in the drivers world championship?" team boss Christian Horner asked on Sky Sports F1. “It's something as a team we've never achieved before.
"His pace was right there again. The last two or three races, he's really been finding his form again," he added. "Coming from the back of the grid, after a nose change on the first lap, I thought he drove a great Grand Prix.
“Max was dropping back at the end of the race to try and give him a bit of a tow but it just wasn't quite enough today."
Overall, Perez himself was happy that the event as a whole had bounced back from the controversial water valve cover incident at the start of FP1. “I think it did, because it was good for racing," he insisted.