Sergio Perez’s arrival has given Red Bull an extra card to play against Mercedes – but one that will not threaten Max Verstappen’s position, says Giedo van der Garde.
Three years after losing Daniel Ricciardo to Renault, Red Bull have moved on to Verstappen’s third team-mate, signing Perez for the 2021 season.
The 31-year-old joins the team on the back of his 2020 Sakhir Grand Prix win, capping a season in which he finished a career high of P4.
While his signing goes against Red Bull’s policy of promoting from within, team boss Christian Horner says it was the “grown up” decision as Red Bull’s youngsters were not up to the task.
Van der Garde says they will have no such difficulties with Perez.
“Max is, of course, a winner and one of the best drivers on the grid,” he told Motorsport.com. “But Perez is not very inferior to him – some, but not much.
“I think there will be a gap between them now and then in qualifying, but Perez is especially strong in the race.
“He is good at managing tyres, strategically strong and always fast on Sundays. I think he can play an important role on those days.
“I also do not rule out the possibility he will sometimes be very close to Max in the races.
“But that’s a good thing because that’s how you push a team to a higher level.
“In addition, Max can only learn and improve from strong mutual competition.
“He will no doubt see things with Perez that may be of interest to him.
“All in all, the arrival of Perez is a huge plus for the team.”
But team-mates being close to one another on the track is not always a good thing – just ask Perez’s former team.
— Red Bull Racing (@redbullracing) February 23, 2021
The Mexican driver had a few fights with his team-mate Esteban Ocon while racing for Force India, the Silverstone outfit using team orders and the threat of a race ban to bring their drivers into line.
“That was a different situation at Force India,” Van der Garde insists. “Ocon joined that team from nowhere, while Perez had been there for a while. Perez was more or less number one there and Ocon only just came to have a look.
“He was like ‘F*ck you, this is my team, I’m the man here. And then of course it gets hard.
“I think it will be very different now.”
But while the Dutchman expects Verstappen will be the main man at Red Bull, he does not “expect” Perez to just be a number two driver.
He added: “But it would have been discussed with him that it must be a team effort in the first place. And that will mean he could really help Max in some races.
“Max has had to do everything on his own in recent years. He could never even try a different strategy. That is possible with Perez now.
“Sometimes that will work out well for Perez, sometimes a little less. But the bottom line is it will only get better for the team.”