Calling for a review of Red Bull’s late-race communications with its drivers, Sergio Perez has all but announced he’s suspicious of his team-mate Max Verstappen.
And who could blame him after last season’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix?
Running 1-2 in the closing laps of Sunday’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix , Perez was holding his advantage over Verstappen at just over five seconds.
The duo were told to manage their pace, both receiving the message to run in the 1:33s. Verstappen, though, continued to lap in the 1:32s and didn’t reply to Red Bull’s message.
Immediately cutting into Perez’s lead, that falling to 4.2s, Perez was told to up his pace to a 1:32s. He asked Red Bull if they were “pushing for nothing” given the team’s various reliability concerns, adding that they “don’t need this” only to be told they were then still “free to push”.
As the team-mates began to wind up for the final lap, Perez held the fastest lap and the bonus point only for Verstappen to take it from him. Although Verstappen was told Red Bull are “not concerned with that [fastest lap]”, the driver replied: “But I am.”
Perez wasn’t impressed as it meant he was denied what would’ve been a first-ever P1 in the Drivers’ Championship standings.
“Two laps from the end, they told me to keep a certain pace, they told me I had the fastest lap and to keep the pace, a certain pace,” he said in the post-race press conference.
“I though the communication was the same to Max, so it’s something we need to review. Because I certainly got different information.”
As for Verstappen, he said it was normal to enquire about the fastest lap, after all it’s worth a point.
“We were first of all free to race,” said the reigning World Champion, “and of course we had a target lap time to the end, but you know, there’s a point on the line.”
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Team boss Christian Horner weighed in: “Inevitably, as Max said on the radio, the point for the fastest lap meant a great deal to him. And there was no reason for us not to let either he or Checo have a crack at it.”
One, though, could argue – as it seems Perez does – that the Mexican driver wasn’t given a fair crack at it given that he was he had the fastest lap, and he was told to “keep the pace”.
It was clear in the driver’s late-race communications with Red Bull, speaking to the team after his team-mate had moved up into second place, that Perez didn’t trust that his team-mate would adhere to the team’s orders.
When he was told to drop into the 1:33s, his response was: “Is Max doing the same?”
It wouldn’t be the first time Verstappen has taken points off Perez through ignoring team orders. Think back to last year’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix when, asked to give a position back to Perez who was fighting for second place in the standings, Verstappen blatantly refused.
“I told you already last time, you guys don’t ask that again to me, okay?” replied Verstappen. “Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons and I stand by it.”
Perez’s response to that: “He shows who he really is.”
Red Bull were at great pains in the aftermath of the race to insist that all was well between the team-mates and that they’d play the team game in the future.
But with that slap of ruthlessness coming through in Saudi Arabia, it begs the question: just how harmonious is it over at Red Bull?
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On a weekend when his RB19 wasn’t the world’s most reliable car, Verstappen risked it all to push it to the max to deny his team-mate a single point.
It was, one could argue, needless given that aside from Perez and Papa Perez there aren’t many in Formula 1 who believe the Mexican driver can beat Verstappen to the World title.
And if there comes a time he needs his team-mate to be a ‘sensational wingman’, well Verstappen was warned pre-season by Perez about how that game would have to play out.
“It’s always important to work as a team and obviously if I see that I don’t receive support when I need it, I won’t give it either,” he told Fox Sports Mexico. “That’s obvious, but I don’t expect any of that.”
Verstappen may have just dealt the final blow to intra-team co-operation, and all for the sake of single solitary point.