Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez labelled ‘sidekicks’ in Verstappen and Charles Leclerc fight

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Carlos Sainz and Sergio Perez have been dubbed ‘sidekicks’ and members of the supporting cast in Max Verstappen and Charles Leclerc’s title fight. The Spaniard finished five seconds behind his Ferrari teammate in second in Sunday’s Miami GP, while the Mexican crossed the line fourth behind his Red Bull counterpart.

Neither Sainz or Perez have won a race so far this season, with their highest finish being P2, behind either one of the championship leaders. Last season we witnessed Perez and Valtteri Bottas quickly play second fiddle to teammates Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton as they battled it out for the world championship.

In his column, 1997 F1 champion Jacques Villeneuve described Perez and Sainz as drivers currently incapable of fighting for the crown. “Carlos Sainz and Sergio Pérez – let’s call them the sidekicks – can win races. But they are not yet at the level of the respective number 1s,” he wrote.

“In the last two races, Max has certainly shown that he deserved the title. A car can always break down, but apart from that, he’s always competing for the win. He drives almost flawlessly, and when he makes an error, he corrects it. He drives at the peak of his abilities, on the edge.

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“He makes the best of what he can control. There has not been a single race in which he’s given less than the best – we saw that again in Miami.” He added: “In any case, this result is good for the championship. We have two teams up front which are fighting it out and are very close to each other. 

“They each have a leader who is not determined by the team but simply on the track. Verstappen and Leclerc have become number 1 in a natural way. Red Bull and Ferrari will make a decision about that at some point, but as a whole, both teams are quite balanced.”

The former Williams racer also took aim at Hamilton for his poor start to the season, labelling him ‘bitter’ and claimed the seven-time champion is trying to stop himself from ‘drowning.’ “I think we have seen the final changing of the guard at Mercedes. George Russell is riding the wave, Lewis Hamilton is trying not to drown,” he added.

“After many years of winning without competition, it’s hard to wake up and realise it’s not that easy. He now has to drive like he did in his first two years in Formula 1, which is what Russell is doing now.”

The Mercedes driver was upbeat following his sixth-place finish in Miami on Sunday, marking a vast improvement on the Imola disaster. Reviewing how his time in America went, on Monday night Hamilton reached out to his 28 million Instagram followers with an upbeat message: “Reflecting on Miami. 

“We picked up some good points for the team, and again what an amazing drive from George Russell. Overall it’s a good sign that we’re moving in the right direction. We still have some snags to sort out, but I’m confident the team will pull through. They always do.”

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