Max Verstappen let Red Bull know who’s boss, but was it boss-like?

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen pointing at Sergio Perez as he explains something. Monaco May 2022

Max Verstappen pointing at his team-mate Sergio Perez as he explains something. Monaco May 2022

Max Verstappen has potentially cost Red Bull a 1-2 in the championship because he could apparently not let go of his grudge over Sergio Perez’s one mistake as his team-mate.

Tangling with his 2021 title rival Lewis Hamilton early in Sunday’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix, Verstappen going into their Turn 1/2 battle saying to himself “OK if you don’t leave me space then we’re just going to collide”, it was the Red Bull driver who came off second best.

Not only did he need to pit for a new front wing, he was also solely blamed for the collision by the stewards and slapped with a five-second time penalty.

That meant as the race entered its final stint, marked by Lando Norris’ power unit failure that brought out the Safety Car, Verstappen was P7 to Perez’s sixth.

The Dutchman was given an easy route through to sixth, the aim of game being to attack Fernando Alonso and then Charles Leclerc, taking fourth off the Ferrari driver in order to help his team-mate in the points standings.

But, if he couldn’t pass Alonso, he was to give the position back to Perez with sixth place worth two points more than seventh.

This is how it went…

Engineer: “Max, on the final lap if you don’t pass Fernando let Checo pass.”
Engineer: “Don’t worry about the DRS, let Checo through.”
Engineer: “Max, let Checo through, please.”
Engineer: “Max, what happened?”
Verstappen: “I told you already last summer, guys. Don’t ask that again to me, okay? Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons and I stand by it.”

So what happened in the summer? What had the double World Champion so riled up he would not help his team-mate score two extra points? Never mind team-mate, his own team Red Bull as they want the 1-2 in the Drivers’ standings.

What heinous crime had Perez committed that was so knife-twisting awful it cancelled out Sunday’s easy pass for sixth, Spain’s overtake for the victory and Azerbaijan’s for the lead? Or even more baffling, that “what a legend” moment in Abu Dhabi last season where Perez did everything this side of legal to hold up Hamilton to help an off-the-pace Verstappen win the World title?

It’s being said the answer to that is Monaco.

At this season’s Monaco Grand Prix Perez was third fastest in the final segment of qualifying only to crash his RB16 and bring the session to a halt.

His accident meant he qualified third behind the Ferraris as there wasn’t time to resume the session. Verstappen was fourth, 0.028s behind his team-mate.

Perez went onto win the grand prix, the rain and Ferrari making it that little bit easier for the Mexican driver. It was his first win of the season, the driver joining Verstappen on the winners’ list with the Dutchman having already bagged four at that point.

Perez, it’s being reported in some circles of the F1 media, later admitted to his Red Bull bosses, Christian Horner and Helmut Marko, he had ‘intentionally caused an accident in order to stay in front of the Dutchman on the starting grid, which is particularly important in the street race’.

Such was Verstappen’s annoyance that six months, 10 wins, and one World title down the line he took his revenge.

Asked if his reason for ignoring the team’s orders in Brazil had anything to do with something that happened in the past, he replied: “Yes”.

Asked specifically if it had to do with Monaco, he said: “You have to decide that for yourself.”

As for Perez, he has “no idea” what it was that Verstappen was holding against him.

“Nothing to say really,” he added. “After all I’ve done for him, it’s a bit disappointing to be honest. I’m really surprised.”

Sky Sports’ Martin Brundle all but applauded Verstappen’s action, saying: “That’s a very powerful radio message from Max Verstappen. That is ‘I’m in charge around here – I call the shots’.”

But the immediate and predominant reaction from those watching was more bully than boss in this instance from Verstappen.

He has two World titles to Perez’s none and has claimed 24 wins in their two years together to his team-mate’s three. He is Red Bull’s star driver and Perez is their number two – that will always be how the hierarchy works.

It came across to a lot of people that Verstappen did nothing on Sunday but effectively kick the little guy while he was down, because, let’s be honest, no one really wants to be haggling over points to finish second, it’s just first loser as the saying goes.

You can argue that a true champion would have given the position back and he also could have spoken with his team-mate and cleared the air long ago regarding whatever grievances he had. Why wait six months to seek revenge?

The irony is that had he informed the world Perez had intentionally crashed in Monaco, leaked that juicy titbit as F1 has shown itself to be so good at doing of late, it would be Perez we’d be vilifying today.

There’s no question about it, if a driver deliberately crashes then he is in the wrong and in the worst way possible for manipulating a result.

Just think Michael Schumacher Monaco 2006 when his Rascasse moment was declared “deliberate”. The stewards deleted his pole position time and sent him to the very back of the grid.

But it’s for the FIA to seek atonement if Perez did intentionally crash. Not Verstappen. So instead, and because of the way in which he went about seeking his revenge, he’s the one being criticised.

He may have cost Perez second place in the Drivers’ Championship. He may have hurt Red Bull’s chances of a first-ever 1-2 in the standings. But what he definitely did damage, in the eyes of most, was his own reputation.

Read more: Conclusions from George Russell’s ‘changing-of-the-guard’ win at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix