Helmut Marko reveals two drivers as the ideal Max Verstappen team-mate

Michelle Foster
Sergio Perez in serious conversation with Helmut Marko. Britain July 2023

Red Bull driver Sergio Perez in serious conversation with Helmut Marko.

As rumours about Red Bull’s driver line-up continue to do the rounds, Helmut Marko has put forward his perfect team-mate for Max Verstappen but it’s going to take two drivers to fill the role.

But there is a glimmer of hope for the current incumbent with Sergio Perez one half of Marko’s wish list. Nico Hulkenberg is the other.

Falling behind Verstappen after a flying start to this year’s championship, Perez not only watched his title hopes go up in smoke but also, pundits claim, his chances of holding onto his Red Bull race seat.

Sergio Perez as one half of the perfect driver combo

Although he seems to have shaken off his qualifying hoodoo with the driver breaking his five-race streak of Q3 failures with a P9 in Hungary that he followed up with a third at Spa, his qualifying troubles have hurt him on Sundays.

Trailing Verstappen by more than 100 points, Perez is all but mathematically out of the championship fight and now has to set his sights on holding onto second place.

And he’s having to do that while dealing with a constant barrage of questions about his form, and his future.

But there is some good news as Marko believes in Perez’s ability in grands prix, it’s qualifying that’s the problem.

So much so he reckons the perfect team-mate for Verstappen would be Haas’ qualifying star Nico Hulkenberg on Saturday with Perez back in the car come Sunday.

“That’s the right thought,” he told Motorsport-Total.com when asked about Hulkenberg’s one-lap pace together with Perez’s tyre whisperer reputation.

“The two would be the perfect qualifying and race combination.”

Sergio Perez’s ‘only mistakes’ are in qualifying

For now though Marko says Red Bull have no thoughts on replacing him, after all he’s still P2 in the Drivers’ standings.

“We have a contract with Perez until the end of 2024. He’s second in the World Championship. Why would there be a need for action?” he said.

Declaring Perez has to “find himself again”, Marko added: “He has now woken up from his World Championship dream. Maybe that will help him to concentrate on getting the best possible performance again.”

The 80-year-old accepts Perez is facing arguably the most difficult team-mate challenge in Formula 1 given Verstappen’s sublime form that has seen him secure nine wins this season with the driver on a seven-race streak.

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“Verstappen is a completely different benchmark,” Marko said. “The fact that Perez has to be within three-tenths of Max is interpreted benevolently by us. Sometimes it was more. Perez is second in the World Championship. That’s all for him possible. And he’s currently doing that.”

“He delivers very good races, he overtakes well. Only the mistakes in qualifying are there.”

But that he says “was always his weakness. Even when we saw juniors years ago in Estoril. [Danie] Ricciardo and Perez were very young at the time. We have qualifying runs and Simulated long runs. The two were the fastest, but Perez wasn’t there in qualifying.”

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