Red Bull boss Christian Horner hailed Sergio Perez’s Saudi Arabian GP as his best race yet, but why exactly does he think that?
From the outside looking in of course, it is very easy to agree with that suggestion on a weekend that began with Perez making it back-to-back Saudi Arabian GP poles, while Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen was forced to start P15 after a driveshaft failure eliminated him from qualifying.
And unlike on Formula 1’s last visit to Jeddah, this time Perez converted that pole position into the race win, keeping his team-mate at bay comfortably after a Safety Car restart which had bunched the pack up, Verstappen ultimately taking P2.
Horner said in several interviews after the race that this was Perez’s best display yet, and appearing on the F1 Nation podcast, he repeated this opinion.
“An amazing weekend of great recovery, obviously, after the difficulties with Max yesterday, so 15th to second and Checo his his fifth career victory, fourth victory for us, and probably the best drive of his career I would say,” Horner stated.
At that point, podcast host Tom Clarkson would ask Horner to explain why he considered that to be a peak Perez display?
Horner identified Perez’s rapid pace after the Safety Car restart as the real standout factor, stating that Perez and Verstappen were a second or more faster per lap than the rest of the field once they got out in front, Aston Martin’s Fernando Alonso being the last car which Verstappen had to clear.
“I think particularly after the Safety Car, getting on the restart he was strong, his pace was strong,” said Horner of Perez’s performance.
“And that was both the guys going for it. You could see at times they were a second, 1.2 quicker than the rest of the field and it was a great performance by them.”
But while further dominance in Jeddah was a fantastic sign for Red Bull, it will certainly worry teams greatly that right now there is the ‘best of the rest’ pack of Aston Martin, Ferrari and Mercedes ahead of the others, yet they are all a class below Red Bull.
For Red Bull though, it is all about maximising this start to the campaign, the first time ever that they have begun a season with a pair of one-two finishes.
“I mean, we’ve built a great car, it’s a testimony to the great work that’s going on behind the scenes, by the whole factory,” said Horner.
“Because of course, what you see at a Grand Prix weekend is only 10% of what the total team is, so for us to come out and achieve what has been the best start to a season I think we’ve ever had, we’ve never achieved consecutive one-two finishes at the start of the season.
“So, of course, we’ve had our moments, there’s a few little reliability things that we just need to make sure we’re on top of, but a phenomenal performance by the whole team.”
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And to that point, it really does feel like the only thing that can stop Red Bull in F1 2023 is Red Bull themselves, should these reliability issues like Verstappen’s driveshaft failure continue, especially if they strike at more unfortunate times.
Horner acknowledges that Red Bull actually got rather lucky that this issue for Verstappen cropped up in qualifying, allowing them to change the rear suspension, driveshafts and gearbox pre-race, but says what matters at this stage is ensuring that they get on top of their issues.
“Of course, it’s always an issue and you’re pushing the boundaries at all times,” Red Bull’s team boss stated.
“It was an annoying issue yesterday. In many respects, it was lucky it did happen yesterday because another three laps and it would have been the first lap of the Grand Prix.
“The most important thing is obviously to understand the issue and then address it.”
Verstappen was able to snatch the fastest lap bonus point in Jeddah which meant that he did not relinquish his lead of the Drivers’ Championship to Perez, and so now heads into Round 3 in Australia with a one-point advantage at the top.