Sergio Perez praised Fernando Alonso for their battle late in the Sao Paulo Grand Prix, insisting he’s among the “few drivers” on the current grid such a fight is possible.

Having caught Alonso in the closing laps for third position, Perez had been unable to fathom a way past the Aston Martin until he finally got close enough to dive down the inside into Turn 1 on the penultimate lap.

However, Alonso remained close enough to the Mexican to capitalise on him making an error into the Senna S to regain the place on the run to Descida do Lago on the final tour.

Alonso would narrowly pip Perez by only 0.053s on the line for the final podium place, leaving the Red Bull racer to revel in a “very hard” but “very fair” duel despite missing out.

Perez contends that falling behind the Mercedes drivers at the start dealt the biggest blow to his aspirations as it enabled Alonso to build a near-10s advantage.

“It took me a while to get through the Mercedes, and I basically damaged my race,” he reflected. “And then, after that, we were always a bit on the back foot with Fernando.

“We were chipping away from him towards the end. We came really close to get to the podium, but I have to say “well done” to Fernando, because it was a great fight, very fair racing, and I think that’s something really good, because the way how we raced each other, very hard but with always lot of room, I think there are very few drivers who can do that on the grid.”

Asked if he can trust Alonso wheel-to-wheel, Perez replied: “Yes, yes. Fernando will always try to play any game, but he’ll always be fair. It was great racing and I think whoever would get on the podium would deserve it.”

Sergio Perez (MEX) Red Bull Racing RB19. 05.11.2023. Formula 1 World Championship, Rd 21, Brazilian Grand Prix, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Race Day.

Although Perez had successfully dispatched the Mercedes duo, he had to overtake Hamilton for a second time when the Briton undercut him at the first round of pitstops.

Perez initially queried the call, with the early stop leaving him at a critical disadvantage in his late tussle with Alonso, who had been able to extend each of his race stints.

“Obviously the team has more information, but I felt our race wasn’t with Lewis, at the time, and we’re pitting a bit too early, given how hard the degradation was, but we’ll analyze everything back home and see what was the best decision,” he explained.

Despite failing to retain third place, Perez believes he was powerless to prevent Alonso from coming back at him, citing Aston Martin’s straight-line speed as a factor.

“Looking at it, I had the opportunity, I went for it, I drained a bit my battery and he was really fast on the straight,” he recounted. “He was 0.8s away from me and he got by.

“I don’t think I could have done anything different in those two laps. It was just the way we raced.”

Perez rued sluggish getaways compromising him in both of the weekend’s races, while he was also resigned to ninth in Friday’s qualifying due to an incident ahead in changeable conditions on his solitary Q3 run.

But the 33-year-old is convinced that he has finally got on top of his woes, making him optimistic that he’ll be able to showcase his improvement with a cleaner weekend.

“I think the pace has been here for the past few weekends, but for one reason or another we haven’t been able to put it together.

“I think it’s just a matter of time before it will come, but it was a good weekend for the championship, because we’re getting closer to that second place. Now let’s look forward to Vegas, which I believe it’s just a matter of time before we show what we got.”

After only scoring five points in the trio of rounds before the United States Grand Prix, Perez spent three consecutive days in the Red Bull simulator to arrest his plight.

But having been noticeably closer to team-mate Max Verstappen since, Perez is optimistic that his recent breakthrough has placed him back on the right track.

“I think after Qatar, when I went back to the factory, we understood a lot of things that we were doing wrong, since then, Austin it was just we compromised a bit the weekend, but since then, Mexico was quite good – I mean, I went off but I was very close to the lead – so, all in all, we’re making good progress.”

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