Sergio Perez joked that he understands now why the media bill Max Verstappen as the “terrible” team-mate – but he is not the person they portray.
Pierre Gasly and Alex Albon have both lost their Red Bull seat in recent seasons following a struggle to compete with Verstappen’s performance level, so for 2021 Red Bull turned to midfield maestro Perez.
The Mexican had gained a reputation over many years as a stand-out performer in the midfield pack come Sundays, often nursing his Pirelli tyres well beyond their best-before date, and Red Bull hope he will be the missing ingredient as they attempt to get two cars back into the fight with Mercedes.
But first, Perez is in the process of adapting to the RB16B. He was left frustrated after throwing away a golden opportunity of a first Red Bull podium in Imola when he spun shortly after the race restart. That came after a spin behind the Safety Car earlier in the afternoon.
He did outqualify Verstappen in Imola, proving the pace is very much there to be paired with consistency, but Perez is now finding out exactly why the media promote Verstappen as the team-mate killer.
“You read over and over in the media how terrible Max Verstappen is to his team-mate. Well, it’s now completely clear to me why that is always said. They don’t say it for nothing,” he joked when speaking to Sky F1 ahead of the Portuguese Grand Prix.
But Perez made it clear that as a person, Verstappen does not match the image that is portrayed of him.
“I am positively surprised by Max’s attitude,” he explained.
“Of course, I already knew him a bit as we have been racing against each other for many years. But when you ride together for one team, you spend more time together and you get to know each other better.
“His image is very different from how he really is as a person. He is very approachable and of course he wants to be fast and of course he is very competitive, but I have not seen anything you hear in the media. I am very impressed with Max in that respect.”