Whether they have the best car is very much unclear, but with Sergio Perez performing, Red Bull do have the best driver line-up.
Before the start of the 2021 campaign – Perez and Verstappen’s first as team-mates – we did a piece ranking each team’s drivers, and gave them the top spot.
After all, the Mexican had been one of the most impressive on the grid in the previous season, winning a race for Racing Point, scoring more points than anyone outside the top two teams and looking very much good enough to drive for one of them.
However, he didn’t really take his chance to prove that in his first year at Red Bull. There were signs of promise for sure, and he was undoubtedly an improvement on his predecessors, Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon, but he was still a long, long way off Verstappen more often than not.
Now though, he’s performing as well as ever, and giving his team the most formidable pairing in the sport as a result.
Checo’s first campaign alongside Verstappen wasn’t a terrible one by any means.
He won a race, put in some strong recovery drives and had an excellent final seven rounds in which he finished inside the top four every time that he made it to the chequered flag.
'Sergio Pérez, moved teams… in his 6th race for his new team, SERGIO PÉREZ WINS THE AZERBAIJAN GRAND PRIX!'
Even today, the emotions as he approaches the finish line is unreal 💛💛 Manifesting many more moments like these this season 🕯️🕯️pic.twitter.com/DRvKcmpcOT
— 🌟💚Checotivation💚🌟 CHECOPODIUM | fan account (@checotivation) March 1, 2022
Perhaps more importantly, in that period he was a huge help to his team-mate, holding off Lewis Hamilton with some excellent defensive driving in both Turkey and the season finale in Abu Dhabi.
While he did exactly what Red Bull wanted of him in the latter stages of the year though, he simply wasn’t fast enough to play a significant part at the very front of the field for most of the season.
It’s in that area – outright pace – in particular where the 32-year-old looks to have made big steps forward in 2022.
He has already claimed his first-ever pole position in Saudi Arabia with a lap that Charles Leclerc described as “exceptional” and “amazing” and that Verstappen couldn’t get within two-tenths of.
While that was the only time so far this year that he out-qualified the Dutchman, he was less than a tenth off him in Australia while his P4 finish on the opening Saturday of the season in Bahrain was respectable too.
Crucially, he’s carried his much-improved pace into Sundays as well. He was comfortably leading the field before a badly-timed Safety Car dropped him back down to P4 in Saudi Arabia, was well in the mix for a podium before retiring in Bahrain and claimed P2 in the other two races.
Thanks to such progress, while Red Bull can’t definitely state that they have the best car after the first four rounds, they can confidently say that they have the best performing drivers.
Their main rivals at the top, Ferrari, have one driver doing excellently in Leclerc, but Carlos Sainz has had a shaky start to the season, to say the least.
To be fair to him, the Spaniard has had a lot of bad luck, but he’s also made multiple errors too, crashing at the start of the race in Australia and in qualifying at Imola.
If any other team is to join the fight at the front at some point, it will probably be Mercedes, but while George Russell is impressing, Lewis Hamilton has looked a long way from his best thus far.
The same can still be said of Daniel Ricciardo too, who continues to be second best to Lando Norris at McLaren, while the teams lower down in the standings all also have at least one driver not yet looking seriously good.
It is still, of course, early days and far too early to jump to any conclusions; there’s every chance that Sainz, Hamilton and Ricciardo will find their feet again sooner rather than later.
Right now though, Red Bull are the only team that have two drivers delivering strong performances every weekend, and the importance of that can’t be overstated.
For proof of that, you need only look at what happened last time out in the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix.
Perez got himself a starting position of P3 with an excellent performance in the sprint, and then made a strong start to get ahead of Leclerc, who was left to fight the Red Bulls alone with Sainz retiring immediately.
The two battled it out for the rest of the race, with the Monegasque close behind the Mexican throughout. All the while, Verstappen was extending his lead at the front.
It looked like Red Bull would claim their first 1-2 since 2016 with Leclerc having to settle for P3, but things then got even better as the championship leader crashed out while chasing Perez down.
— Formula 1 (@F1) April 24, 2022
Had the Mexican not been there, the Ferrari man most likely would have taken P2 comfortably and might have even challenged Verstappen for the win. Instead though, he crossed the line down in P6, causing his and his team’s leads in the standings to decrease significantly.
For years, Red Bull’s lead man would find himself alone at the front against two Mercedes drivers, fighting a losing battle.
Towards the end of the last campaign, he got a wingman in Perez, and it looks like he’ll have him for the entirety of this one as he takes on Leclerc.
Throughout his time spent in the midfield, many would say Checo was good enough to go toe to toe at the top with the very best, and he’s finally proving them right.
His improvement doesn’t guarantee that his team will claim their first title double since 2014 – that is far more dependent on the development of the cars – but it does do their chances the world of good.
Ferrari could end up with stronger machinery, but even if Sainz’s form improves, they won’t have the stronger line-up if Perez maintains his.