Helmut Marko has dropped a not-so-subtle hint to Sergio Perez about his importance in this year’s World Championship battle.
Perez was signed by Red Bull over the winter as a vital second string to their bow in the fight with Mercedes, which has intensified for 2021.
For the past couple of seasons, Max Verstappen has had to take on Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas virtually single-handedly with Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon more often than not racing further back in the field.
What Red Bull needed was to make it a four-cornered tussle with their second driver, now Perez, trying to take points off Bottas while Verstappen vies with Hamilton for the individual crown.
So far, Bottas, with four years’ experience of racing for Mercedes, has had the better of the No 2 battle, finishing third behind Hamilton and Verstappen in three of the season’s first four races while Perez settles into his new car.
But the Mexican will need to start making his presence felt at the front as soon as possible, according to Red Bull’s driver development boss Marko, if Red Bull are to sustain a proper challenge for the Constructors’ Championship – they currently trail Mercedes by 29 points.
“This World Championship will also be decided by the second driver in the team,” said Marko, quoted by Auto Motor und Sport, in a clear signal to Perez that he will need to start multiplying the 32 points he has collected so far this term.
But at least Marko is seeing some benefits of having the 31-year-old with the team, most notably that he is not hankering for changes to the RB16B like Gasly was with the car’s 2019 predecessor.
“Perez is constantly improving,” said the 78-year-old Austrian. “He doesn’t want to reinvent the car like Gasly. Instead, he looks at Max, analyses his laps and recognises where he needs to improve.”
The next chance for Perez to show progress will be in this week’s Monaco Grand Prix at a venue where Red Bull team principal Christian Horner sees a chance to reduce their deficit to Mercedes, based on performance at a comparable part of the circuit for the last race in Spain.
“Sector 3 [at Barcelona] sometimes gives a good indicative view of how the car could be in Monaco, where hopefully we should be competitive,” said Horner.
“We need to make sure we beat Mercedes in Monte Carlo but we know that will be incredibly tough.”