Former Red Bull driver David Coulthard says Sergio Perez has “serious work” to do over the winter to rise to the Max Verstappen challenge, or “accept” he is better, the latter far from a bad route to take.
Perez started F1 2023 strong, sharing two wins apiece with Verstappen across the opening four rounds as it became clear that the Red Bull RB19 was the undisputed cream of the crop.
Just as Perez was talking up his title bid though, it unravelled fast, Perez finishing the season on two wins to Verstappen’s mind-boggling 19.
Sergio Perez told of “serious work” ahead for Max Verstappen challenge
As host of the Formula For Success podcast, Coulthard looked back at the average qualifying gaps between team-mates for F1 2023, noting that Perez’s average deficit of three-tenths to Verstappen was not the biggest out there, that being Logan Sargeant’s half a second average underperformance against Williams team-mate Alex Albon.
Nonetheless, with a year remaining on Perez’s Red Bull deal, Coulthard said that Perez has to put the “serious work” in this winter if he and his management team are to stick to this stance that he is World Champion material, which he advises they ditch.
“The gap between Checo and Max on average was just over three tenths, so Checo wasn’t as far away from his team-mate as some, but unfortunately for him of course, when Max was winning, and he’s not finishing second, it really puts a very difficult spotlight on him,” said Coulthard.
“He survived it, but he’s definitely going to, in my opinion, have to do some serious work over the winter to fully understand or accept the differences between himself and Max.
“Because beginning of the year, he was talking about World Championship battles and he was kind of getting his shoulders and his chest out. And I suspect part of that was his management team who are not only there to see him trying to win grands prix, but they are there to sell him commercially.
“So if the message is this guy is a World Champion in wait, then that helps in negotiations.
“I think now they probably need to take a slightly different view, which is he is the best partner to a Max, a phenomenon, and then you could knuckle down in the way that Eddie Irvine did with [Michael] Schumacher or Gerhard Berger did with Ayrton Senna, two examples of drivers who just accepted they weren’t as quick as their team-mates.
“And that allowed them actually to get some really good stability within the team and relax into doing some great performances and winning grands prix.”
Coulthard then brought his co-star, former F1 team boss Eddie Jordan into the conversation, as Coulthard doubled down on the scale of the challenge Perez faces against Verstappen.
Placing Verstappen alongside the “supercharged phenomenons” Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton, both seven-time World Champions, Coulthard highlighted Verstappen’s “stunning” racecraft as the area where he did the damage in F1 2023.
“EJ, you know well, having run a Formula 1 team and I know from having done 240 odd grands prix, how difficult it is to win grands prix,” said Coulthard.
“And even, you have supercharged phenomenons like Schumacher and of course now Max is up there, Lewis, a number of guys that have won 10s of grands prix, but most grand prix drivers, even World Championship grand prix drivers, if you win double-digit grands prix in your career, that’s considered a successful career.
“So it’s just phenomenal to see the level of dominance and success.
“But what has made it really interesting for me is it hasn’t been a dominance that’s shown itself throughout all qualifying sessions. I’ve been in teams and cars where we’ve been half a second or three quarters of a second quicker than third place on the grid.
“A lot of the time and even in the last race in Abu Dhabi, Max was less than two tenths quicker than Charles Leclerc. So the outright pace and single lap performance is not that different between McLaren, Ferrari, Red Bull, but where Max particularly has been stunning, is his race pace and his management of the tyres. And that is very Schumacher-esque or Hamilton-esque.”
Eddie Jordan sees Max Verstappen as “cut above” that analysis
Rather than placing Verstappen among the F1 greats, Jordan felt that was not doing Verstappen justice as he waxed lyrical about a campaign of unseen record-breaking dominance.
Jordan then expressed “pity” for Perez, who simply could not keep pace with the Verstappen-Red Bull dream team.
“I’d have to say that Max is a cut above what you’ve just mentioned,” said Jordan in response to Coulthard, “and that takes some saying.
“Even though he’s only won three World titles at this stage, when you compare what he’s just achieved, and you know he’s done 1000 laps in the lead of a race [in F1 2023], but the thing that strikes me more than anything, not just the 19 races that he won, but the three races that he didn’t win, he finished on the podium in two of those and seventh in the other.
“So he had a 100 per cent finished record. David, that could never have happened in your day. And it never could have happened in my day. I mean, just absolutely phenomenal.
“And that says two things to me. One, the Red Bull, not alone is it the quickest car, is it the best car and clearly is the best team, but it’s also the most reliable of the cars.
“And when you’ve got all those things together and I have some sort of pity for poor old Checo, because he had the job of trying to keep up with this and he just wasn’t able to do it.”
Verstappen’s finally F1 2023 tally of 575 points was more than double Perez’s total, who secured the runner-up spot in the Drivers’ Championship.