Christian Horner reckons Red Bull telling Sergio Perez “no fighting” as Max Verstappen raced up to his rear wing in Baku “wasn’t strictly team orders”.
Red Bull used team orders as early as round six of this season when they ordered Perez to move over for Verstappen at the Spanish Grand Prix, handing the reigning World Champion the race lead and the win.
But while Perez called it “unfair”, Red Bull insisted the call was based on strategy and, one race later when he won in Monaco, said they were both in the “mix” for the World title.
That had Horner insisting before the start in Baku that Red Bull would not use team orders, saying the drivers must work “collectively” to beat Ferrari.
But then came the “no fighting” order.
Perez was leading the race after overtaking Charles Leclerc at the start but it was Verstappen who had the better pace, prompting Red Bull to tell the Mexican driver “no fighting” as his team-mate used DRS to fly by.
Horner says that cannot be classified as team orders.
“I think today wasn’t strictly team orders,” he told Crash.net on Sunday evening.
“It was just a question of you’ve got a faster car and a slower car and Max had a significant pace advantage on Checo at that point, and Checo had quite heavy graining on his tyres.
“So it was a question of ‘guys, let’s not put each other against the pit wall here if one car is quicker…concede and let’s focus on getting the best result for the team’.”
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Horner applauded Perez for not balking at the non-team order, the driver having already said it was the “right” call from the team.
“I think Checo, he’s a mature guy and he gets the bigger picture and that it’s a long championship,” Horner said.
“He’s in the form of his career off the back of Monaco and his qualifying performance here.
“I think maybe, with the benefit of hindsight coming into this weekend, perhaps there was too much weight put behind his qualifying set-up with the rear deg he experienced.
“So that’s something to look at because Max was certainly in better shape in the race than Checo at the back end of that first stint.”
Horner did, however, concede replays of Verstappen versus Daniel Ricciardo from 2018, when the Australian piled into the back of his team-mate, were playing in his head.
“The pace difference between the two drivers was so significant,” Horner added. “We’d discussed it in the morning that if you are racing, just give each other space and they did that.
“2018 isn’t too far away at the back of our minds. So it was very important the drivers, at this stage of the championship, are fair with each other because the priority is to maximise the points against Ferrari.
“We know they have a very quick car at the moment and we’ve seen how quickly things can turn around, so as a team we need to prioritise that.”
Verstappen won the race by 20 seconds ahead of Perez to move 21 points ahead of his team-mate in the Drivers’ Championship. Charles Leclerc fell to third as he again retired because of an engine problem.