‘Christian Horner has his work cut out managing Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez’

Michelle Foster
Max Verstappen explains to Sergio Perez while the race winner drinks a Red Bull. Saudi Arabia March 2023

Max Verstappen explains to Sergio Perez while the race winner drinks a Red Bull. Saudi Arabia March 2023

With Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez seemingly on course for a Red Bull-only battle for the World title, David Croft says one can “empathise with the paranoia” Perez could’ve felt late in the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix.

Perez was gifted a bit of good fortune at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, the driver qualifying his RB19 on pole position while his team-mate Verstappen, despite being the faster of the two all weekend, was down in 15th place.

The Dutchman wasn’t able to put in a lap time in Q2 after his Red Bull’s driveshaft failed but he was able to put in a recovery drive on the Sunday, racing his way from 15th to second.

Up into second place he closed within 4.2s of Perez, the latter questioning his team-mate’s actions as his race engineer Hugh Bird had given him a “target lap time 33.0” only to drop that to “target 32.6.”

Perez asked if Max was “doing the same” and was told that he was lapping into the 1:32.6s, Perez replied: “So why are you telling me 33.0?”

Speaking to the media after the race, the Mexican driver, who won the grand prix but lost the fastest lap point to Verstappen on the final lap, called for a review of Red Bull’s communications as he felt he was being told “different information” to his team-mate.

Sky Sports F1 pundit Croft says one can understand Perez’s concern.

“When you’re alone in the cockpit,” he said, “you can empathise with the paranoia that must go on in Checo’s brain where he’s had this perfect weekend but he knows that at some stage his team-mate is going to be scheming to get as much out of it as he possibly can.

“Because that’s what Max does. And that’s what any racing driver does.”

He added: “Max was there safe in the knowledge that he could put that fastest lap in on the last lap and Checo would not be able to respond.

“He’d saved everything up for that because he knew with four laps to go there was no way he was going to catch his team-mate.

“He got a bit lucky in the race. The Safety Car helped him because he hadn’t pitted at that stage when it came out. But you need a bit of luck to slice your way through the field from 15th.

“And it was a super drive once he got going and realised that the Red Bull is a difficult car to handle in traffic and that he was going to have to put up with a bit of understeer from time to time.”

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With that fastest lap point on the board, Verstappen leads Perez by a single point in the Drivers’ Championship standings.

Natalie Pinkham reckons Red Bull team boss Christian Horner is going to have a trying time managing his drivers as they both chase the biggest prize of all.

“Had he [Max] not been starting P15,” she said on the Sky Sports F1 podcast, “and perhaps slightly unnerved by those driveshaft issues, he could have won the race.

“But I just do predict Christian is going to have his work cut out to manage those two this year.”

Although after two rounds it does seem as if the battle for the World title will be between Verstappen and Perez alone, should another team get involved in the races to come, Croft has ruled out Perez assisting Verstappen.

Calling it the “fractious nature between Perez and Verstappen”, he reckons unless there is “another deal coming, what’s in it for Sergio to start helping his team-mate in the way that Red Bull would quite like.”

Perez’s current Red Bull deal expires at the end of the 2024 season.