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Perez är F1:s enda hopp om Red Bulls bil blir ännu bättre

De båda fredagsträningarna inför Australiens GP är avklarade. Scott Mitchell-Malm vädrar sina tankar kring hur det hittills sett ut på banan och vad helgen kan komma att bjuda på.

Very little could be learned from the on-track running in Friday practice in Australia. Even extrapolating the few available signs – like Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez both having off-track moments across the two sessions – is a stretch.Despite the illusion of Fernando Alonso setting the fastest time in a rain-hit FP2 and the Red Bulls looking a bit ragged, everybody still expects Verstappen and Perez to be in a class of their own.
There was even a slight sense of doom when the FIA sent out the regular list of car upgrades that all the teams have to submit before a race weekend, and it showed the Red Bull has a new front wing here.

The best car, it seems, is only going to get better. Meanwhile there is nothing new on the Ferrari, nothing new on the Aston Martin, and the Mercedes only has a minor tweak as it is still a few races away from its first meaningful upgrade of 2023.
There may be hope in the unpredictability of the Melbourne weather. Teams are scrambling for relevant data after such limited dry running in FP2, which scuppered their high-fuel.
That makes it more difficult to get their set-ups nailed for qualifying and the race. Even if we have a straightforward and dry rest of the weekend, which looks likely, teams have a lot of work to do overnight Friday to be ready.

If Red Bull emerges from the confusion ahead, as is entirely possible, then there seems little reason to think Verstappen will not take pole and win this weekend. Of course, Perez intends to do everything to stop that. And it would do F1 a favour if he can.
Perez was wonderfully punchy on Thursday before this weekend started, throwing a little dig at Red Bull’s recent history of prioritising Verstappen by claiming that the team only entered two cars because it was obliged to! The obvious implication there is that it only really cared about Verstappen.
Now though, Perez says, he’s doing too well to be ignored. Red Bull has to take him seriously. He says he believes the team will give him an equal chance to fight Verstappen and if he’s not given it you can bet Perez will not take it lightly.

Obviously, the question is whether Perez can actually fight Verstappen over a season. Previous form suggests he can do so only very occasionally. This year’s sample set of races is too small to really claim it will be different, although Saudi Arabia proved that fate can intervene too.
If Verstappen has the odd setback, Perez can strike. And clearly that’s enough to stoke the fire.  
There’s an entire race weekend to go before we can really ponder such permutations though. There’s an obvious way for Melbourne 2023 to play out. But on a track like this, which runs so close to the walls, the grass and the gravel, anything can happen.
Especially if the weather intervenes again.