Ralf Schumacher has offered his thoughts on the circumstances under which Red Bull could look to split with Sergio Perez.
The former F1 racer turned TV pundit believes there are certain circumstances that could develop in which Red Bull could look to drop Perez from their driver line-up.
The Mexican racer, who won last weekend’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to make it two wins from four races, closed to within six points of Max Verstappen at the head of the Drivers’ Championship.
Perez also has a secure deal with Red Bull until the end of 2024, having signed a new two-year deal at last season’s Monaco Grand Prix, but Schumacher reckons a deteriorating relationship with Verstappen could lead to Red Bull looking to their crop of junior drivers to replace Perez when the time comes.
Ralf Schumacher: Red Bull have other options
Speaking about the developing Verstappen versus Perez battle, Schumacher believes that the Dutch drivers’ consistency will see him win out over the course of the year, even if Perez is keeping the pressure up through the opening handful of races.
“Sergio Perez drove strongly in Azerbaijan,” Schumacher wrote in his column for Sky Germany.
“He also has the potential here and there to be faster than Max Verstappen. But, with a view to the World Championship fight, I don’t think he has the consistency of Verstappen.
“He sometimes makes a mistake under pressure when he’s not too happy with the car. Verstappen doesn’t make those mistakes and so I think he’ll be the better driver throughout the year.”
With Yuki Tsunoda stepping up to lead AlphaTauri, and Liam Lawson impressing on the peripheries of F1, Schumacher believes a rocky relationship with Verstappen could be Perez’s undoing.
“There are many rumours circulating in the paddock about Perez’s future,” he said.
“Red Bull would have options: there’s a Yuki Tsunoda, Daniel Ricciardo is still there and there are enough drivers on the market too.
“If there is a troubled relationship between Verstappen and Perez, then it would make sense to part ways with the Mexican. If you look closely, you can see that the team-mates don’t get along well. And if a team has two pilots who don’t harmonise with each other, then that’s a big disadvantage for the team in the end.”
How do Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez view each other?
While rumours have abounded in recent months that the relationship between Verstappen and Perez has deteriorated, with the most egregious evidence being Verstappen’s refusal to cede position to Perez at last year’s Sao Paulo Grand Prix as Perez fought with Charles Leclerc for second in the Drivers’ Championship, the pair spoke glowingly of each other after their 1-2 finish in Azerbaijan.
Verstappen, having been bested by Perez on race day after a 40-lap pursuit on the streets of Baku, said Perez’s confidence is leading to an interesting title battle.
“We clearly have the fastest car at the moment but I’ve been in this position before and it’s about consistency,” he said.
“We all know that. It’s a very long season, a lot of different tracks are coming up. So far this year we have been at tracks that are a bit stop-starty, not the full-on racetracks.
“There are few really fast corners and fast straights out there, which I probably also seem to enjoy a little bit more.
“But clearly, you know, Checo [Perez] this year has really been on it, he’s been really performing well and that’s great to see. He’s feeling more and more confident in the car and for the team as well, we are really enjoying it.
“I think Checo and I, we’re having a good time, and we jumped out of the car… And that’s also what is very important: you need to acknowledge and also appreciate when somebody has done a great job. And that’s exactly what happened today. And we will continue fighting for the rest of the season but that’s normal, we have done that our whole life.”
Perez, sitting alongside Verstappen, responded: “I think there is a very high level of respect between Max and myself, and the whole team. The level we are operating at, we’re pushing each other really hard, we obviously want to beat each other, I want to win the Championship as much as Max wants but there is a lot of respect between us.
“I feel, in a way, we’re very similar in the way we approach or think about the sport so I do not believe he will change. We will be fighting each other like we did today, as much and as hard as we possibly can. But I think with a very high level of respect to us and to our team.”