For the first time in his Red Bull days, Sergio Perez hoped to win a race in which teammate Max Verstappen also saw the black and white checks. The Mexican obviously won in Baku last year, but what happened a few minutes earlier is etched in my memory. The man with starting number 33 flew straight into the wall through a blowout. Lewis Hamilton’s famous ‘magic button’ ensured Perez pulled the chestnuts out of the fire on a very eventful day.
In a way, it’s no coincidence that Perez only won one race in Red Bull colors where Verstappen had to retire. This is primarily due to the previous regulations and the fact that Verstappen was able to handle the RB16B much better than Perez. The second factor is that Verstappen – although he prefers not to use those words himself – is the undisputed leader at Red Bull. It was not for nothing that Helmut Marko was looking for someone who could sit close to Verstappen, score points in the constructors’ championship and – last year – offer tactical added value in the fight against Mercedes.
Perez has fulfilled all these points so far and proved to be worth his weight in gold in Turkey and especially (!) Abu Dhabi. The Mexican showed himself to be a pure team player and indicated that he had few problems with that. However, it was closely related to the situation in the championship and the fact that Perez himself could not claim the world title. The saying “All balls at Verstappen” didn’t hurt.
Perez complains for a while but Verstappen is a logical leader
This year, he says, he’s coping better with the new regulations and thinks he might have a shot at the world title. How realistic that is is another matter, but it means that Perez would have gladly gambled away his own chance on Sunday and expressed his displeasure. That dissatisfaction wasn’t there in the early stages, when Verstappen had to be let past after his slider at Turn 4 to attack George Russell. Perez had a little more trouble with what happened next, as he explained during the press conference: “When I let Max pass in the first stint, I was told I was going to take that place back. We had different strategies anyway. I felt like me.” could get over it and improve my strategy.”
Perez was reinforced in this thought because overtaking without DRS in Barcelona was also proving difficult for Verstappen and he could have tried with DRS. Red Bull said afterwards that they had heard of rising temperatures and alarming sensors from competitors, which is why it was important to prevent their own drivers from fighting each other. That was also the reason why Perez had to give way to Verstappen on lap 49, who already had a three-stop stop. “It’s unfair, but good…” Perez said over the radio. To add after the flag dropped: “I’m happy for the team but we’ll have to talk about that later.”
Perez has a point saying he might have had a better chance of overtaking Russell with DRS than Verstappen without DRS, although that team order likely would have made little difference in the closing stages. Verstappen relied on the faster strategy, which made him faster than his teammates even without DRS. It seamlessly leads back to Red Bull’s first point, which holds: without DRS, a successful attack from Verstappen could have taken longer, causing both teammates to fight each other and raising temperatures on both cars.
Red Bull didn’t want to risk that in hot Barcelona. That being said – and looking at the slightly larger picture than Spain – Perez can hardly be surprised by Red Bull’s reasoning. Of course: It’s still early in the season, but Verstappen is the most forward pawn in Christian Horner’s team for various reasons. Firstly, Verstappen is already in better shape than his team-mate in the World Cup and Red Bull knows from last year how valuable a point or two can be at the end of the stage, let alone seven (the difference between P1 and P2).
In addition, Verstappen has become the figurehead of the team in recent years. Already in the final phase with Daniel Ricciardo he surpassed his teammates on a sporting level and in the following years the same happened to him with Pierre Gasly and Alexander Albon. It made Verstappen a stable factor in the team and the man on whom Red Bull could significantly set the course. The fact that last year Verstappen gave the team its first world title since 2013 reinforces this image even more. It’s more of a natural process than a conscious choice, but it makes Verstappen the market leader when it really counts.
Red Bull only chance for Perez in F1 top team today
Perez knows that too, so he didn’t want to emphasize it publicly after the race. In the press conference, the tone was much milder. “I thought I could have grabbed Max and George and made my strategy work, but it probably wouldn’t have been enough. The three-stop strategy turned out to be the best strategy and it worked well for Max. As a team, we did that .” We got a good result. Even though the season is young, we’ve picked up momentum.” Even when a Spanish journalist asked if Perez was worried about his position in the team – “Red Bull give you a lot of chances for podiums, but winning doesn’t seem easy” – he remained calm and can say that the momentum and the atmosphere in the team are great. You won’t find that in any other team, I’m happy about that.”
It’s nice that Perez doesn’t make his reservations public and consistent at the same time. All you have to do is think back to the end of 2020. Perez then overheard in a hotel room next to him talk about Sebastian Vettel’s Aston Martin contract and knew his F1 career was hanging by a thread. It was either Red Bull replacing Albon, or taking refuge in another racing class. Perez clung to the opportunity at Red Bull, even more so as the move gave him a second and long-awaited chance at a top team after the ill-fated McLaren stint.
Because Ferrari has been fixing its own drivers for a number of years, Mercedes has a top talent in Russell and Hamilton still has a contract until 2023, Perez knows that Red Bull is his only option to be at the top next year. Talks are ongoing over a new contract, although Red Bull say there is no rush. Perez is obviously keen to set his scribble and that also means he can’t blow too high off the tower. Part of Red Bull’s appreciation is that Perez has shown and continues to be such a good team player that he won’t risk it all. In this respect, the outcome of comparable situations in the future can also be guessed: Perez will (have to) give in despite some resistance. Maybe not the best thing for pure racing enthusiasts, but just logical for Red Bull. And although everyone wishes Checo every success in the world, the considerations are still quite understandable.