‘Max Verstappen wanted to reassert himself after Sergio Perez was quicker in Baku’

Michelle Foster
Red Bull driver Max Verstappen leads Sergio Perez at the Miami Grand Prix. Miami, May 2023.

Red Bull's Max Verstappen leads Sergio Perez at the Miami Grand Prix. Miami, May 2023.

Adopting an alternate strategy in Miami that proved to be the winning one, Christian Horner believes Max Verstappen was keen to “reassert himself” after losing to Sergio Perez in Baku.

Perez closed the gap to Verstappen to a mere six points in the Drivers’ Championship at the Azerbaijan Grand Prix when the Mexican driver claimed not only the sprint race win but was also P1 in the grand prix.

Although he benefitted from the timing of a Safety Car, one that cost Verstappen positions, once the Dutchman was up to second behind Perez the 33-year-old was able to hold him at bay, maintaining a gap of roughly four seconds.

It was the second time this season Verstappen had finished P2 to Perez but while in Saudi Arabia he was recovering from a P15 start due to car trouble in qualifying, in Baku he was beaten on pace.

Horner reckons he arrived in Miami determined to “reassert himself” over his team-mate.

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“Max left Baku I think feeling… he obviously didn’t enjoy that Checo was a quicker driver that weekend [in Baku] and obviously had a huge weekend,” he told the F1 Nation podcast.

“I think he was very keen to come here and reassert himself.

“Wen you look back at that middle section of the race was an impressive performance and both guys just going hard at it against a stopwatch.”

Verstappen did just that, racing from ninth to first to extend his lead in the Drivers’ standings to 14 points.

Verstappen ‘pushed hard’ to run the alternate strategy

Verstappen started the race ninth on the grid, the Dutchman’s qualifying having been wrecked by a late red flag that meant he wasn’t able to put in a time having aborted his first attempt.

Despite running the hard tyres, he was up to second by lap 16 and took the lead when Perez, who started on the mediums, came in for his pit stop.

Verstappen relinquished it to Perez when he stopped late in the race and left the pits just under a second behind his team-mate before making short work of the pass and taking the lead.

He won the race by five seconds with Horner saying it was the driver who wanted to run the alternate tyre strategy.

“The medium tyre statistically through all our simulations showed that it was a better outcome race wise,” he revealed.

“Max pushed very hard to run the hard tyre with his engineering team. And statistically, it looked like it was less preferential race in terms of race time.

“But I think the way Max was able to make that hard to work from lap 20 to 42, was truly outstanding. And that was what really won in that race.”

Red Bull discussed rules of engagement prior to the race

Verstappen overtook Perez, his rival for the World Championship, powering down the main straight with the help of DRS to make the move around the outside at the first corner.

Although the two were close, Perez not wanting to give up the lead, it was a clean move and one that Horner applauded.

He revealed Red Bull had a chat with the drivers prior to the race about the rules of engagement.

“We discussed it this morning. I said ‘look guys, you’re free to race but keep it clean and just give each other respect and respect the team and and all the time that you do that we will let you race’.

“I thought they did exactly that. They were firm but they were very fair with each other and showed respect to each other and the team.”