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4 title-challenging 'second drivers' to INSPIRE Perez championship pursuit

4 title-challenging 'second drivers' to INSPIRE Perez championship pursuit

4 title-challenging 'second drivers' to INSPIRE Perez championship pursuit

4 title-challenging 'second drivers' to INSPIRE Perez championship pursuit

If F1 had Oscars-style awards, then Sergio Perez would undoubtedly be a multiple winner of the "Best Supporting Driver" gong for his excellent work with Red Bull over the past couple of years.

It is a role that no racing driver dreams of having but one that some must begrudgingly accept, and Perez has certainly been a model professional in his two-and-a-bit year stint with the Austrian side.

Is that the height of the Mexican's ambitions? Of course it isn't. Like all racing drivers, Perez was born to win. And 2023 might just be the year he gives Max Verstappen repeated prods in the back.

With four races gone, Verstappen and Perez have shared the victories out equally - the Dutch defending champion in Bahrain and Australia, and the Mexican contender on the street circuits of Saudi Arabia and Azerbaijan.

This year looks like it could be a genuine battle between the two racers as Perez tires of the almost dreaded, dogsbody-esque 'second driver' role. If he needs some inspiration, he could do worse than to look at these stellar names who challenged for the title on their own terms.

Eddie Irvine - `1999

Okay, Irivine's inclusion does come with a bit of a caveat. While he began the season as the clear number two, a nasty leg break suffered by Michael Schumacher at the British Grand Prix meant he was promoted by proxy to be the number one driver.

"Fast Eddie" relished the role however and was the closest challenge to Mika Hakkinen in 1999.

Even at the beginning of the season, when he had a then two-time world champion for company at Ferrari, Irvine took the chequered flag in the Australian Grand Prix.

Accompanied by Finn Mika Salo for the second half of the season, the Ulsterman won back-to-back races in Austria and Germany to give himself an eight-point advantage over Hakkinen.

Irvine won the penultimate race in Malaysia to go into the curtain closer at Suzuka in the box seat. However, he was off the pace all weekend and finished a distant third to the Flying Finn, losing out on the title by a mere two points.

David Coulthard - 2000

In 1998 and 1999 David Coulthard was the Perez to Hakkinen's Verstappen. Two years of essentially being treated like the younger sibling in the McLaren team.

The most ignominious moment for the Scot came in the opening round of the 1998 season when with a couple of laps remaining, he pulled over and let Hakkinen overtake him for the lead of the race, owing to an agreement prior to the start of the race.

He finished 44 and 28 points behind Hakkinen in 1998 and 1999 respectively but 2000 marked the first year where Coulthard looked like a genuine contender.

Wins at Silverstone, Monaco, and Magny-Cours, plus a spate of podium finishes meant Coulthard was just six points off the championship lead heading into the final five races of the season.

Sadly, the McLaren team ran out of steam just as Michael Schumacher finished the season like a train. He won each of the last four races to win the title comfortably while Coulthard was once again beaten by Hakkinen.

Mark Webber - 2010

Webber often watched Vettel take first place

Aside from the 2021 soap opera, 2010 arguably produced the most dramatic final race of the season for many years with a four-way battle on the streets of Abu Dhabi.

Webber's situation in 2010 was like Perez's now. He had more races and more experience under his belt than Sebastian Vettel. But like Verstappen, Vettel was the golden boy. He was branded as the heir to Michael Schumacher. Few were going to argue with that moniker.

Nevertheless, Webber won four races that season and looked the most likely Red Bull champion heading into the Japanese Grand Prix, one of four races remaining on the 2010 calendar.

As it happened, Vettel won three of the last four races, including in Abu Dhabi to snatch the title away from the Webber, Fernando Alonso's Ferrari, and Lewis Hamilton's McLaren.

Sadly for Webber, he would not get any closer to the title in terms of points with Vettel dominating the next three years of the sport.

Nico Rosberg - 2016

Rosberg and Hamilton collide in Catalunya

Finally, a number two driver actually winning the title! Again, Nico Rosberg was a very capable driver but he was up against the pin-up of the sport in Lewis Hamilton, regarded by fans as the driver of the generation. Overcoming the Brit was always going to be a big ask.

The pair, who karted together in their childhood days, linked up for the first time in 2013 as Hamilton finished fourth, 18 points and two places above Rosberg.

2014 and 2015 saw Hamilton lift his second and third world titles, beating Rosberg by 67 and 59 points respectively.

All was to change in 2016 with Rosberg refusing to bow down into the nice guy role. A flashpoint that season came in the Spanish Grand when the duo collided on lap one, ending their races prematurely in the gravel trap.

Rosebrg's strong start ensured he had the advantage for the remainder of the campaign and the German's consistent brilliance meant Hamilton's four straight wins to end the season were all in vain. Rosberg finally won his title by just five points.

In the aftermath, he concluded he achieved all he wanted in motor racing and shockingly announced his retirement. Maybe the prospect of slipping back to being number two made his mind up?

READ MORE: Nico Rosberg: Sky F1 pundit and former world champion

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