Red Bull team principal Christian Horner traces the crumbling of Sergio Perez’s title bid back to a missed “open goal” in Miami.
F1 2023 was been a story of relentless Red Bull dominance, the Austrian outfit having won 19 of the 20 grands prix so far as they retained the Constructors’ Championship title at a canter.
The battle between their drivers has also been a one-sided contest though, with Max Verstappen claiming 17 of those victories, setting a new record for most in a single F1 campaign.
Sergio Perez missed “open goal” in Miami
We were teased with the prospect of an all-Red Bull title fight in the early stages of F1 2023, Verstappen and Perez on two wins apiece after the opening four rounds, but then came Miami, and the point where Horner believes the unravelling began for Perez’s title push.
Verstappen started P9 for that race, a casualty of the red flags after Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc crashed out in Q3, while Perez was confirmed on pole, which he failed to convert into the win as Verstappen took that honour with a solid recovery drive.
Perez therefore saw his chance to lead the Drivers’ Championship for the first time evaporate, the start of a slump which saw only one podium finish in his next five outings as Verstappen pulled away.
“I think there was a decisive moment this year, which was probably in Miami, where Checo had if you like an open goal,” said Horner, as per Motorsportweek.com.
“He’d won two races in Azerbaijan and Saudi, and you could see his confidence was high. And I think that Max winning that race, having been caught out by a red flag in qualifying, starting down in ninth and that he took the lead within a very short period of time, I think mentally that was quite a brutal one for Checo to deal with.
“And then on top of that, then came Monaco the next race, and then things compound. I think that Max is just relentless. He’s then just hitting aces every race from there onwards.”
With Perez long since reduced to focusing on potential threats behind to secure P2 in the Championship, criticism has grown to the point where speculation arose that Perez may not be allowed to contest the final season of his Red Bull deal in F1 2024.
Horner has made it abundantly clear though that Perez is Verstappen’s team-mate for next season, arguing that this task is the toughest any driver on the grid could face.
“I think being Max Verstappen’s team-mate is probably the hardest job in the pit lane,” said Horner.
“He’s operating at such a high level and it’s relentless. So the mental aptitude that you need to be able to deal with that every time you see a piece of data, it’s like, ‘Wow, how did he do that?’. That takes a certain strength of character to be able to deal with that.
“The form that he’s in and been in for the last three, four years, he’s just operating at such a high level that it would be tough for any driver on the grid.”
Perez now looks very likely to see off Lewis Hamilton’s challenge for P2 in the standings, Perez’s advantage 32 points with two rounds of F1 2023 remaining.