The exact moment in which Max Verstappen stamped his authority over Sergio Perez this year has been guessed by a former Red Bull driver.
After a strong start to the 2023 F1 season, Sergio Perez’s performances fell away through the middle part of the campaign as mistakes and an overall lack of speed – particularly in qualifying – hampered his efforts to challenge for the title.
Having won two of the first four races, Perez wouldn’t win again all year and, indeed, his best results were three second-place finishes and two third-places.
Despite the lack of top results, particularly in comparison to Verstappen as he won 19 of 22 races, Perez secured the runner-up spot in the Drivers’ Championship.
Christian Klien picks out where Max Verstappen enjoys advantage over Sergio Perez
Speaking in an exclusive interview with RacingNews365.com, former Red Bull F1 driver Christian Klien, who drove for the outfit in 2005 and 2006, was effusive in his praise of Verstappen after the Dutch driver’s ‘incredible’ season.
“Max was tremendously good and consistent,” he said.
“But it wasn’t all a piece of cake for him. Look at qualifying in Monaco, where he certainly didn’t have the fastest car.
“During the second half of the season, the other teams were closer to him, especially in qualifying. He showed every time that he was on top of it and made the difference.”
But while Verstappen and Red Bull couldn’t put a wheel wrong all season, Perez’s many mistakes and visible discomfort through the season was highlighted as being symptomatic of the pressure the Mexican driver was putting himself under, according to Klien.
“Every high level of sport is a mental game as well,” the Austrian said.
“I would say Max is definitely one with the car and with the team. It feels like pressure is not getting into his head at all.
“That was the difference to Checo [Perez]. He had a very good start to the season and maybe he had in his mind, ‘OK, maybe this year I can beat Max or at least on the same level’.”
But it was the fifth race weekend of the season, the Miami Grand Prix, where Klien believes Perez suffered the mental blow that set his season back. On a day where Perez started from pole with Verstappen in ninth after being caught out by a red flag in Q3, Verstappen sliced through the pack to catch and overtake Perez for a straightforward win.
“I think Miami was already the turning point where [Perez] realised, ‘OK the guy on the other side of the garage is really unbeatable’,” Klien said.
“I think, mentally, that broke him a little bit. It took him a really, really long time, maybe until the last couple of races where he got back [on track]. He’s not a bad driver and you cannot unlearn how to drive a car fast. But in the end, it’s a mental game.”
But, with Perez publicly urged to bounce back with greater consistency and speed in 2024 as he enters the closing stages of his current Red Bull career, Klien had some advice for Perez on how he can ensure he can continue beyond next season if he wishes to – simply accepting Verstappen’s superiority.
“I think he realised now that he’s at the end of his career,” Klien said.
“He’s in the best team, in the best car. He realises ‘I have a driver next to me that I probably cannot beat’.
“[But he can] enjoy it, go for podiums and go for race wins. I think he was already thinking this way during the last races of 2023.”