‘Team Verstappen were perhaps surprised that Perez could match their pace’

Henry Valantine
Max Verstappen looking glum in the post-race press conference with Sergio Perez. Saudi Arabia March 2023

Max Verstappen won't do Sergio Perez favours in his race for P2.

Sergio Perez earned plaudits for how he was able to match a charging Max Verstappen for pace in Jeddah, which Sky Sports commentator Martin Brundle believes may have caught the reigning World Champion’s team off-guard.

Perez led for the majority of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix and, crucially, was able to maintain a five-second gap to his team-mate heading into the closing stages, matching his faster lap times when both Red Bull drivers had been told to drive at the same pace in the final laps, with Verstappen looking to reel in his colleague.

Verstappen took the bonus point for fastest lap of the race on the final lap around Jeddah, though the speed of Perez may even have taken the Dutchman’s support team by surprise, according to former Formula 1 driver Brundle.

“Perez out front matched whatever his team-mate Verstappen could muster speed-wise and duly won the race in fine style,” Brundle wrote on his post-race column for Sky Sports.

“His fifth victory, four of which have been on street circuits – but more significantly his first victory when Max was second.

“Verstappen stole the fastest lap championship point on the final tour and that clearly annoyed Perez, who was surprised the team didn’t call off the fight when they had a one-two easily in the bag and he was suffering with a longer brake pedal, and unbeknown to him, Max was feeling a vibration in his transmission.

“Team Verstappen were perhaps surprised that Perez could match their pace, and they were no doubt annoyed that it was ultimately the qualifying car issue which prevented Max setting a new record of 16 victories in 21 races.”

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Could a tighter fight between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez be on the cards?

It’s one win apiece for the Red Bull drivers in the opening rounds of the season and, while Perez was undoubtedly aided by Verstappen’s driveshaft failure which ended his qualifying session early, he raced hard to keep up the pace and fend off pressure from his team-mate in Jeddah.

Verstappen’s father Jos made a somewhat sly dig at Perez by suggesting “I don’t think he gets the chance that often” to fight for wins, but should the Mexican show form as he did in Jeddah on a more regular basis, there is no reason to suggest he cannot take the fight to his team-mate more often this season.

It could well end up being an in-team fight for glory this season as well, should Red Bull continue to show the dominance they have in the first two rounds of the year.

Both drivers would be up for the battle too, even though it is likely still too early to draw conclusions on what a title fight might look like.

When asked if the title could be decided between the two Red Bull drivers, Verstappen told reporters in Jeddah: “Well, if that’s the case it’s fairly simple, right? We are allowed to race so the best one will finish in front.”

Perez added: “If that’s the case, then it will be fantastic news for the team, because that means that we are pretty far ahead and it comes down to us so it will mean that we are in a great position.”