Christian Horner said Red Bull need Sergio Perez to support Max Verstappen at the front in the final two races of the season.
Perez was unable to match Verstappen’s pace in either practice session in Saudi Arabia on Friday – lapping a second slower than his team-mate in FP1 in particular.
The Mexican has been lauded for his improvements in recent races, having moved to within 13 points of Mercedes’ Valtteri Bottas in front of him with an ongoing streak of five races finishing in the top four.
Even though Horner admitted he needs his driver to get closer to Verstappen in front, the team principal said Perez is simply biding his time in getting to grips with the Jeddah Corniche Circuit.
“Sergio, he’s a slow starter, but he gathers momentum, and you can see he’s building, building, building,” Horner said to Sky F1 after Friday practice.
Mucho por mejorar para estar mañana en la pelea💪
— Sergio Pérez (@SChecoPerez) December 3, 2021
“He’s a wily old fox. He knows not to take huge risks too early on a street circuit. And I think that he’s always gone well at circuits like Sochi, Azerbaijan [where he won the race] and Monaco.
“I’ve got no doubt he’s building those foundations.”
Horner added that the team have been “doing our best to support [Perez] as best we can,” as the season has progressed, and he has steadily improved as 2021 has moved along.
Red Bull remain locked in a tight fight with Mercedes in the Constructors’ Championship, with only five points separating the teams heading into the final two races of the year – in which Perez’s performances will have a strong influence.
But Horner said his performances cannot be discounted in the fight between Verstappen and Lewis Hamilton for the Drivers’ Championship crown, as having a rear gunner for the Dutchman will be crucial in the title showdown in terms of strategy options.
“He’s found some form the last few races, he’s been qualifying well, racing well,” Horner said.
“We need that. We desperately need him to be in that battle in these remaining two races.
“Because having two cars, as you’ve seen when we’ve had two in play, it gives you other options. And we want to make sure that we’ve got both cars in play, not just one of them.”
Hamilton finished top in both practice sessions on Friday, while Perez ranked in P11 and P9 respectively as he finds his rhythm in Saudi Arabia.