Sergio Perez has rubbished suggestions of a rift with Max Verstappen, revealing they actually have “a lot more respect for each other” than most people might think.
But that doesn’t mean he isn’t intent on beating his team-mate to the Drivers’ Championship title.
Although their first season as team-mates in 2021 ended with Verstappen praising Perez as a “legend” for his efforts in blocking Lewis Hamilton at the season finale, a year later the Dutchman blatantly refused to help his team-mate as he fought Charles Leclerc for second place in the standings.
At the penultimate race of the season in Sao Paulo he refused to give a position back to Perez, telling Red Bull “don’t ask that again to me” and one race later in Abu Dhabi said it wouldn’t have been “fair racing” had he blocked Leclerc in order to help Perez.
Red Bull insisted at the time that all was well with their drivers and denied reports of growing tension.
There was more of the same – niggles and denials – after this year’s Saudi Arabian Grand Prix where Perez questioned Red Bull’s communication as he felt Verstappen had received different information.
He also wasn’t impressed that his team-mate ignored the delta time set by the team to take the fastest lap point away and prevent him from leading the standings for the very first time in his career.
But despite his recent complaints, Perez says there is genuinely “a lot” of respect between the two team-mates.
“To be honest we have a lot more respect for each other than people out there might think,” he said.
“There’s a great atmosphere in the team, there’s a very high level of respect between each other, with all the engineers on his side and mine.
“I think we’re both mature enough to know what’s right and what’s wrong, and as long as that’s the case I don’t expect that to change.”
But just because there’s respect, that doesn’t mean Perez is going to roll over for Verstappen in the championship fight.
Although after a wretched Australian Grand Prix weekend he has fallen 15 points behind his team-mate, he still believes he can win the title but admits beating Verstappen won’t be easy.
“Of course, if I want to win the championship, I have to beat Max weekend in and weekend out, and keep this level of consistency throughout the season,” he said.
“It’s all about this season’s consistency, you know.
“You can win 15 races, but if in the other races, you just crash and have DNFs and so on, it is not enough. It’s just reaching that level of consistency and taking it race by race.
“There is no doubt that there is no driver on such a form as Max. Together with the team as well with the car he is definitely the hardest driver to beat.
“It will require the maximum out of me to bring my A-game every single weekend.”