Red Bull team boss Christian Horner has heaped praise on Sergio Perez, with the Mexican driver appearing to have found another gear for his second season at the team.
Having endured a tough start to his Red Bull career, aside from a popular victory in Azerbaijan, the veteran racer showed signs that he was starting to get to grips with the RB16B in the closing stages of the 2021 season, as he played a crucial role in helping Max Verstappen to secure his World Championship.
With Formula 1 introducing revolutionary new rules and cars for 2022, Perez has had a storming start to the campaign.
While fortune hasn't been on his side so far, such as when an unfortunately-timed Safety Car spoiled his chances of victory in Saudi Arabia after dominating from pole position, his slightly better reliability than the sister car means that Perez leads Verstappen in the Drivers' Championship.
Perez finished second in Australia, having overtaken both Mercedes drivers on track and picked up the pieces for Red Bull after Verstappen's retirement.
Horner thrilled with Perez's performances
His performances have earned him the praise of Horner, which is good news for Perez, who has previously stated that he'd like a longer-term deal when his current contract expires at the end of 2022.
"It's always gonna be easier for Checo [Perez] coming into his second season," Horner told media, including RacingNews365.com.
"He knows the team, he knows the infrastructure. We've also had a reset in terms of regulations, so the car has been a complete reset.
"I think he's driven very well so far. I think that the gap between him and Max has converged.
"He was very unlucky in Bahrain, he did a stunning job in qualifying in Jeddah and he was unlucky in the race.
"We've been delighted with his performance so far."
Viewed by others:
What has changed for Perez this season?
While Perez's 2021 season was somewhat hit-and-miss, he explained that the main reason for this was having to adapt to a completely new car – unlike Verstappen, or even many of the other drivers on the grid.
For 2022, that's no longer the case, thanks to F1 introducing a 'hard reset' of the rules.
"I think one of the main differences is that we are all starting from zero," said Perez ahead of the Australian weekend.
"Last year when I came [in], you've got to remember it was the third year of the same regulations, so the cars were fairly similar.
"When you join a new team, it's quite hard to catch up. But, when we are all starting from zero, it certainly makes a difference.
"I believe that everyone is just figuring out how to drive these cars [as best as possible]. I don't think there's anyone at the moment who is at 100 per cent [happy] with their cars.
"Similarly with the teams, so there will be a lot of improvements coming from here."
F1 Podcast: Can fast but fragile Red Bull respond to Leclerc's charge?
RacingNews365.com F1 journalists Dieter Rencken, Mike Seymour and Thomas Maher look back over the Australian Grand Prix, where Ferrari's Charles Leclerc triumphed and Red Bull's Max Verstappen retired.