Apr.7 - Sergio Pérez appears to be rising to the challenge as his contract comes up for renewal at Red Bull.

Although dominant teammate Max Verstappen was not happy with his lap, Perez was less than a tenth of a second off the pole-time at Suzuka.

"I have to think," said the team's top F1 consultant Dr Helmut Marko, "because it was a long time ago."

Not too long ago, Red Bull was in talks with Fernando Alonso about replacing the 34-year-old Mexican for 2025. Verstappen said at Suzuka that it would be "strange" for the energy drink company to hire a 42-year-old.

Marko now appears to agree.

"I think that would be difficult," Marko said when asked about a prospective Alonso-Verstappen lineup. "I don't know why, but they don't belong together at Red Bull," he told formel1.de at Suzuka.

Alonso has also been in contention for the vacant Mercedes cockpit for 2025, but now appears to be shaping up to stay at Aston Martin instead.

Carlos Sainz is also available.

"He had a very good year at Toro Rosso back then," Marko told Sky Deutschland. "Sainz is certainly a name to consider too.

"He is in incredible form. Sainz came into Formula 1 through Red Bull and he is certainly a name that you have to take into account."

However, Ralf Schumacher commented: "He (Sainz) won't be the number 1 priority, because Marko already let him go. He already had him against Max and he said then that Max is clearly the better one. So it would be difficult for Carlos if Dr Marko makes that decision now.

"But what is clear is that it has to be done now. It has to be decided now when Sainz and Alonso are still on the market."

Indeed, the 2025 driver 'silly season' is already in full swing, but Perez appears to have improved enough so far this year to secure the deal.

"Checo has started with a different attitude this year," Marko told ORF. "He is no longer trying to follow his own technical path. The cars are almost identical in terms of setup, and that's what makes the difference in the end.

"It looks like he can do it, but perhaps it is very motivating for him that next year's contracts are at stake, this year much earlier than usual. Normally, we don't talk about driver decisions at all in April," the Austrian added.

"But it's still too early for us. We will certainly wait a while before we make a decision."

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