Red Bull's Sergio Perez says he wouldn't be racing in Formula One if he didn't think he could beat his teammate and the reigning world champion Max Verstappen in a straight fight.
After racing for midfield teams for ten years, Perez joined front runners Red Bull in 2021 and was partnered with Verstappen in a car capable of winning the title.
By his own admission, the Mexican struggled to get the most from last year's car and finished the season in fourth place in the drivers' standings, 205.5 points off Verstappen.
On several occasions, such as the Turkish Grand Prix or the season finale in Abu Dhabi, Perez played a support role for Verstappen in his title fight against Lewis Hamilton, but says his experiences in 2021 have not taken his eye off his ultimate goal of becoming champion.
"That's what I'm here for -- I prepare myself to be a world champion," Perez told ESPN in an exclusive interview. "I really hope that I can have a good car this season to be able to fight for it."
With a new set of regulations forcing teams to start with a blank sheet of paper in 2022, there is no guarantee that Red Bull will be capable of fighting for titles again this year, but either way Perez knows he has to beat Verstappen to stand a chance of fulfilling his dream.
"I think there is no secret that I have got the fastest teammate in the whole grid," Perez said. "But I am working into it.
"I wouldn't be here if I didn't believe in myself and if I didn't work through it. I am only here because I am working to be a world champion and I am giving everything I possibly can."
Perez hopes a year of experience with Red Bull has helped him unlock the necessary performance to fight with Verstappen in 2022.
"Definitely knowing my team and knowing the car [will help]. Knowing how this team works and how it operates, just learning every day -- it's what made the difference as [my performance] went up through the year.
"But we also had very big lows and it was difficult at times. Pressure was kicking in.
"At Red Bull you are exposed to it a lot. Just being honest, just focusing hard on the right things and then delivering for the team is what really matters. I feel much better prepared for this season."
Asked if the pressure came from within the team or externally, he added: "Both. Red Bull expects another Max Verstappen. And the media too, and the fans too. All of that comes with it. I feel I'm pretty strong in that regard but it requires a lot of resilience to it.
"The car [last year] was tricky, or it was tricky to get to know it, but at the same time that car was winning races and winning the championship, so it was extra pressure. Rather than changing teams and having some time to adapt, you go straight into a team that is fighting for victories all the time."
Perez said comparing his data to Verstappen's gave some insight into the performance gap between them, but hopes the new generation of F1 cars this year will be better suited to his style of driving.
"Obviously I look at what he does, but you cannot always match what he is doing," he said of Verstappen. "It takes time, it takes some work and it will be interesting, obviously, to see [what happens] with new cars.
"Of course, he is going to be mega fast. He has a great capacity to adapt to different situations, so I have got a great benchmark on him.
"I think on the races I got pretty close to him [last year], especially towards the end of the season. On qualifying I am still lacking a bit and that's one of things we have been working on over the winter to understand what has happened.
"I think we have got a really good picture of that, and hopefully we are able to take another step, find another gear, in qualifying and if we are able to do the same in the race we will be very strong."
Perez recently turned 32 and is the fourth oldest driver in F1, but says he is not planning to retire for at least five years.
"I am really motivated. I have never had the opportunity to be at a top team in my career. But I am only 32 and still, I think I have got the best years ahead of me, and as long as I stay motivated I will carry on.
"If I keep working to be a world champion, every year you need to have that motivation. Once your motivation goes down it's time to go home because there are great things out there without Formula One as well. I look forward, I want to stay at least 5 more years in Formula One."