Red Bull tensions grow with Perez 'inconveniently' on Verstappen's case: MPH


Armed with a new two-year contract and on the back of a Monaco win, Sergio Perez is set to test Red Bull's claim that the team doesn't have a No1 driver. How will it end? asks Mark Hughes

Sergio Perez pumps his fist on the podium nbext to Max Verstappen at the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix

Perez's Monaco win threatens to disrupt the harmony in the Red Bull garage


There’s something about circuits with the walls up close which seems to suit Sergio Perez. He arrives at Baku fresh off his Monaco win, both circuits at which he has always been super-strong. He set pole position at Jeddah earlier in the season where lap time is all about how committed you can be at very high speed between the unyielding concrete.

With Monaco, Baku and Montreal following in succession, and a new two-year contract in his pocket, ‘Checo’ is perfectly placed to press home his recent run of form. This year’s Red Bull is much more to his liking – and less to Max Verstappen’s – than last year’s.

Already, after just one race in which he was able to beat Verstappen straight, his form has introduced tensions within the team. Jos Verstappen was critical of the team in how it ‘exerted little influence to help Max to the front’ at Monaco, where Perez – as the car ahead and therefore the first to reach a pit stop window to the traffic behind – was able to jump both Ferraris.

There’s the implicit assumption there that Verstappen is the team’s number one and title-challenger – hardly a controversial view before. There was no comparison in their performance last year. With Verstappen going into his seventh season with the team and having been very definitely its cutting edge for the last five of them, it’s become a very Max-centric operation. Which is perfectly natural – a race team will always coalesce around its winning driver. But both Christian Horner and Helmut Marko are publicly saying there is no number one, that Verstappen and Perez have equal opportunity.

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They will be saying this in the full confidence that Verstappen will reassert his pace advantage and it would be a big surprise to all if he was unable to do that. But there’s little doubt that Perez is currently exceeding team expectations and it’s creating a potential headache. There have now been two consecutive races where one or the other Red Bull driver has been dissatisfied that his strategy was compromised by that given to the team mate. In Barcelona it was Perez complaining that he twice eased Verstappen’s passage but was refused the same service when he felt he was losing time to Max and his faulty DRS. Then Monaco, with the boot on the other foot.

Perez was recruited as an able support, someone who could be close enough to the fight that he would restrict the strategic options of the competition as Verstappen fought for the victories. Someone there to pick up the pieces if Max hit trouble – such as at Baku last year.

Perez has always been a highly effective F1 driver, good racecraft, great with the tyres, someone with a very full understanding and feel for how to maximise a result. But he has never been a driver with the last word in outright, raw qualifying pace. Yet to date this season, his qualifying average is within less than 0.1sec of Verstappen’s. The benign, slight understeery balance of the RB18 is suiting him perfectly. Unlike last year’s car it doesn’t demand the skills of Verstappen in living with rear instability on corner entry to extract its maximum. It’s a much more conventional drive in terms of its natural balance.

Sergio Perez close to the wall in the 2022 Saudi Arabian Grand prix

Perez in Jeddah: the RB18’s balance is giving him the confidence to commit


“Last year we came here when the regs had been stable for a while,” says Perez now, “so those who’d been a long time in their teams had a good advantage. Coming new to that car was very difficult for me to adapt to. It had a unique driving style it took me a while to adapt to… Starting from zero [this year] it was a good opportunity, especially as it was my second year with Red Bull. I feel comfortable with the car and am able to extract the maximum.”

“We are working on getting more front end from the car,” confirmed Verstappen in Baku. “But it’s not like I’m unhappy with it. These cars are so heavy and long and wide, with the increased weight as well, you want a car which turns better because it’s just faster and you can extract a bit more in qualifying when you really push it. Which I cannot at the moment. But it isn’t very dramatic – I still won four races this year.”

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Verstappen has still usually found a way to be quicker in it, but all it takes is a particularly difficult weekend for him – and Perez is there, inconveniently on his case. Given the sequence of three wall-lined tracks in succession (and therefore Perez’s likely continuing strong form), it’s quite feasible that the small tensions we’ve seen so far are going to intensify.

Horner understands that it’s his job now to prevent this from happening. That he must maintain harmony. But it’s easier said than done. “Checo is in the form of his career,” Horner said after Monaco. “He’s doing a great job. And it’s not a one off. We saw his pole position in Jeddah, and he’s really hitting a rich vein of form. So that’s fantastic for us.

“But we need both drivers working the way they are together… Ferrari are massive opponents and we’ve got to work collectively to make sure that we get both drivers ahead of them.”

He will surely be hoping that normal service will soon be resumed and no further tough pitwall calls need to be made. But that’s far from a given. Especially this weekend around a track where Perez qualified a very average Force India second-fastest (before a gearbox penalty) in 2016.