Sergio Perez’s 2023 title challenge is already over, at least according to Helmut Marko who can’t see the Mexican driver challenging Max Verstappen over an entire season.
But he shouldn’t take it personally, as Marko doesn’t believe anyone can beat Verstappen at the moment.
Verstappen clinched his second World title in 2022, the Red Bull driver unstoppable as he wrapped up the title with his 12th win of the season in Japan before going onto set a new single season record with 15 wins in total.
His team-mate Perez managed just two, Monaco and Singapore, and lost out on the runner-up spot at the final race of the season where he was beaten by Charles Leclerc.
Although Perez had a strong start to the season, sitting just 15 points behind his team-mate after claiming his first victory in Monaco, his challenge soon faded with the driver saying several times that Red Bull’s upgrades for the RB18 favoured Verstappen.
The team denied that adamant their updates were only to make the car lighter and faster, irrespective of whose style it favoured.
With 2022’s chapter closed, Perez is looking ahead to next season with the 32-year-old dreaming of becoming Red Bull’s next World Champion.
Marko seems to think that’s what it is, a dream.
“Checo can certainly win a race or two,” he told Sport Bild. “But at the moment I do not see that he can challenge Max for a whole season.
“In general, I don’t see that anyone with the same prerequisites can currently do this.”
Next season Perez will have added pressure on his shoulders after Red Bull signed their former race winner Daniel Ricciardo as their third driver.
While the Aussie has made it clear he’s not interested in racing next season, pundits believe he could find himself in the car at some point if Perez’s relationship with Verstappen deteriorates.
The two were at loggerheads at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix where Verstappen, in response to something that happened earlier in the season, refused to yield a position to Perez to help him in the fight for P2 in the Drivers’ standings.
Perez said that showed who Verstappen “really is” but later apologised for questioning his team-mate’s character.
Red Bull made it clear in Abu Dhabi that whatever the issue was it has been resolved, but 1996 World Champion Damon Hill reckons if the relationship “becomes unworkable, and the suspicion is Max has quite a lot of power in that team” then Ricciardo could find himself promoted.
Ricciardo was said to have a choice between Red Bull and Mercedes with his decision to return home to “Mum and Dad” opening the door for Mick Schumacher to take the Brackley squad’s third driver seat.
Marko was asked if Red Bull ever considered the former Haas driver. “No,” he said.
Pushed on that, he replied: “No we didn’t because he’s always been part of the Ferrari programme. That’s why he wasn’t interesting for us. Especially since our reserve driver takes part in many sponsor events in the USA.
“Ricciardo is exactly the right person with his profile and image.”