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.
“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.”