Red Bull insist this time ‘the goal is clear, we want Sergio Perez to finish second’

Michelle Foster
Sergio Perez congratulates and thanks Max Verstappen. Abu Dhabi November 2022

Sergio Perez congratulates and thanks his Red Bull team-mate Max Verstappen. Abu Dhabi November 2022

After last Sunday’s drama, Christian Horner has made it clear that in Abu Dhabi both Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez will be racing for the Mexican driver to grab second in the championship.

Last time out at the Sao Paulo Grand Prix Red Bull once again found themselves embroiled in controversy when Verstappen ignored team orders to give Perez sixth place in the race.

The Dutchman was frustrated that the team had even asked him to do so, saying: “I told you already last summer, guys, don’t ask that again to me. Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons, and I stand by it.”

Perez in turn was left fuming at his team-mate, although the two have since cleared the air.

Although Verstappen answered “yes” to a question about whether his actions in Brazil had anything to do with something that happened in the past, Red Bull have played the entire saga down saying they never spoke to the drivers before the race about the potential for a swap.

They have, however, made it clear that will be necessary this Sunday if it means Perez finishes second in the Drivers’ Championship and Red Bull bag their first-ever 1-2 result with Verstappen having already wrapped up the World title.

The double World Champion will line up on pole position with Perez alongside him, the two Ferraris behind them with Charles Leclerc, tied with Perez on 290 points, P3 on the grid.

“Max got pole for the 20th time in his career and he did it with a brilliant lap,” Horner said after Saturday’s qualifying. “In addition, he gave Checo a slipstream in the second sector – and thus helped him to take second place on the grid.

“We couldn’t have asked for a better result.

“But there is still a lot to do.

“Now we have to concentrate on using the good starting position to achieve the best possible result in the race and enable Checo to finish second in the Drivers’ World Championship.”

Verstappen understands his job is to help Perez and Red Bull if it comes down to it.

“We have both cars on the front row of the grid, which is the best possible starting position,” said the 25-year-old. “Now it will be about handling the tyres carefully, working strategically and being prepared for all eventualities.

“The goal is clear, we want Sergio Pérez to finish second.”

“It is not entirely clear to me how fast we can be in the grand prix compared to the others,” he added. “Okay, we were fast in the endurance runs, but Ferrari made a nice step forward from Friday to Saturday, so I’m hoping for what they can show on Sunday.”

Leclerc and Ferrari, though, also want P2 with the Monégasque driver confident his team-mate Carlos Sainz will help him if needed.

“We’ll have to see once we are in the race and what are the opportunities at that moment,” said Leclerc. “Obviously Carlos is starting right behind me and hopefully we can put a bit of pressure on Checo by doing different things.

“I’m confident we did a step forward. How much? We’ll have to wait and see. It’s going to be a very close battle with Checo I’m sure, and if there’s an opportunity, I’ll go for it.”

Ferrari are also involved in a fight for runner-up in the Constructors’ Championship, Mercedes have slashed their advantage to 19 points with their 1-2 result in Brazil.

This Sunday, though, the Brackley squad are behind Ferrari on the grid with Lewis Hamilton P5 to George Russell’s sixth.

Sainz said: “The fight is with Merc, the fight is to try and defend that P2 in the championship.

“I think it’s going to be tough, I think in the race they are going to be quicker than us, but we are going to try everything we can to keep them behind, to beat them. I think we are in a good position to do so.”

Read more: Winners and Losers from Abu Dhabi GP qualifying: Mercedes take a backward step