Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko has expressed his relief that Sergio Perez was allowed to rejoin the Japanese Grand Prix to serve his penalty, revealing the team’s strategy “is to prioritise” team-mate Max Verstappen.
As Verstappen claimed his 13th victory of the F1 2023 season to secure the Constructors’ Championship for Red Bull, team-mate Perez had yet another disastrous day.
Perez was forced to pit for a replacement front wing after contact at the start at Suzuka, before incurring a five-second penalty for passing Fernando Alonso under Safety Car conditions on his way into the pits.
Red Bull relieved by Sergio Perez penalty loophole
The Mexican then picked up another penalty for colliding with Kevin Magnussen at the hairpin, yet retired from the race before serving his punishment.
With F1 rules allowing unserved penalties to be converted into grid drops at the next race, Lap 40 saw Perez return to the track almost an hour after he initially retired to serve his five-second penalty. He returned to the pits for the final time on Lap 43.
A strange sight it may have been, but Marko has been left thrilled that Red Bull managed to get Perez’s penalty out of the way in Japan.
Now 177 points ahead of Perez in the Drivers’ standings with six rounds remaining, Verstappen can clinch his third World Championship with a sixth-placed finish in the Qatar sprint race next month.
Marko believes Red Bull can now put all their focus behind Verstappen in Losail, telling Sky Germany: “Thank God we were able to serve the penalty here.
“If we did not serve the penalty here, then we would have had to do it in the next race and our strategy is to prioritise Max. For example, in the case of a Safety Car, we would send him out in a way where Max would not be hindered.”
After the record winning runs for team and driver ended in Singapore, Red Bull and Verstappen hit back hard in Japan by claiming pole position by six tenths and winning the race by almost 20.
Marko was full of praise for the 25-year-old, claiming Verstappen’s tyre management is now on the same level as his 2021 title rival and seven-time World Champion Lewis Hamilton.
He explained: “[Verstappen] has improved his speed and he goes on with such ease and drives so well. He’s also gotten even better with his tyre management. He’s fast and can control his tyres the way Hamilton used to.”