Damon Hill backs Sergio Perez to withstand Max Verstappen pressure at Red Bull
Max Verstappen made his displeasure clear to Red Bull while Sergio Perez won in Jeddah, but Perez will not surrender, believes Damon Hill.
After an all-conquering start to the F1 2023 campaign in Bahrain for Verstappen, taking pole position and the win comfortably, it seemed like the Dutchman may have an easy road ahead to a third successive World Championship.
But at the following round in Saudi Arabia Perez made it 1-1 in that Red Bull intra-team battle.
It may well have been a different story if Verstappen had not started P15 following a driveshaft failure, but the fact was that after Verstappen had cleared George Russell and Fernando Alonso following the Safety Car restart, he was unable to reel in his team-mate.
Verstappen did at least snatch the fastest lap bonus point from Perez, something which Red Bull had told him they were not interested in, only for Verstappen to say he was, and that now means he goes into the Australian GP a point ahead of Perez at the top of the Drivers’ Championship.
Nonetheless, Verstappen criticised the team post-race after the reliability issues left him with that recovery effort, while his father Jos also took a subtle dig at Perez by suggesting that it is not often he gets the chance to win.
That being said, 1996 World Champion Hill believes Perez differs to several past Red Bull drivers who perhaps wilted under the pressure at the team.
So, believing that this and the Verstappen-effect will not derail Perez, he hopes that the Mexican racer can continue to take the fight to his two-time World Champion team-mate.
“Sergio fought hard to win in Saudi Arabia, and that’s another factor that could make things interesting,” Hill told Motorsport.com.
“I think the problem is that Max is a force of nature, and within the team it’s a question of how much pressure he can put on to make sure his championship aspirations are not hampered by Checo.
“From a sporting point of view, I think we need to give Checo every opportunity to fight on equal terms within the team. Because I know the pressure from Verstappen, with his father as well, will be intense on Red Bull. He will say: ‘I am your future, everything is built around me’, and he will take advantage of that. Checo knows what’s coming, but he won’t go down without a fight. It could be very interesting.
“Checo has a very interesting manager in Julian Jacobi. Julian worked for Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, he’s been around for a long time, he knows the sport and what goes on in the Formula One teams.
“Checo is a confident man. When he left [for Red Bull], he was one of the few who could be strong enough not to be intimidated by the team. We’ve seen young guys go in there and find themselves without friends, they might have been intimidated, and they had to go somewhere else, like [Pierre] Gasly and [Alex] Albon. You could even say Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo have experienced that.
“Red Bull is a tough environment. They don’t hug you and tell you not to worry and that they will look after you. Checo has got people with him, and we’ll see how it goes.
“Whatever happens, Verstappen won’t let it happen. We saw that after Saudi Arabia, Max was… to say he was sulking would be too strong. He looked very unhappy with the way things went. These people don’t like being second.”
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The vital test for Sergio Perez is still to come
F1 2023 has started in a similar fashion to last season, in the sense that Perez has begun on a level at least high enough to keep Verstappen on his toes.
Even Jeddah was effectively a mirroring of 2022, Perez then having claimed pole even without needing Verstappen’s absence, while the untimely appearance of the Safety Car then played a key role in him not getting the chance to convert that into a victory.
As last season went on though, Verstappen would once again establish a huge advantage over Perez, and so this is the part of history which Perez must now prevent from repeating itself.
With another 21 races still to go, it really is a marathon for Perez if he is to sustain a challenge against Verstappen, but next up is Melbourne’s Albert Park for the Australian Grand Prix, where Perez will hope to continue this trend of his best performances coming on street tracks.
He may need a little bit of luck along the way like he had in Jeddah, but if Perez can deliver another stellar display at Albert Park, then it would suggest that maybe Verstappen really will have a challenger on his hands from within his own team?
It would certainly be the shot of excitement and interest desperately needed for the remainder of the campaign.