Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez.
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images

  • Red Bull is currently the most dominant team in F1 and could remain so for years to come.
  • However, a simmering friction between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez seems to be getting worse.
  • We take a look back at the story of Max and Checo’s hilarity, and where it might be headed next.

The only thing that can seem to stop Red Bull these days is coming from their own garage – and it feels like that’s exactly what’s happening.

Max Verstappen is the two-time defending Formula 1 champion and Red Bull Racing finally ended Mercedes team dominance last year and took home the Constructors’ Cup. This year Verstappen is a huge favorite to repeat and the only driver who could stand in his way is his own teammate Sergio Perez.

This season, Red Bull have taken their dominance to a new level. In five races, Red Bull have won all five – three for Verstappen and two for Perez – and finished 1-2 four times.

While the debate over whether Verstappen could win every race this season is already out the window, the more plausible scenario – Red Bull winning every race – is still very much alive.

And yet, while things at Red Bull appear to be better than ever, there’s a simmering tension between their two drivers that won’t go away and feels like it’s getting worse by the week. Now people are wondering if Perez’s days at Red Bull are numbered.

In 2022 it became clear that Perez served Verstappen

While most teams don’t like to talk about a “number 1” or a “number 2”, the situation at Red Bull has made it clear: Verstappen is the preferred son and Perez is the support driver.

In the 2021 season, Perez’s first at Red Bull, he struggled to get used to a new car but played his role perfectly, especially in the final race of the season.

At the start of the season finale, the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, Perez successfully slowed down championship leader Lewis Hamilton, allowing Verstappen to get back in the race. The Dutchman would go on to win, thereby securing his first overall title.

After the season, team boss Christian Horner praised the moment with an insidious compliment.

“I think that certainly last year, [Perez] has been an incredible servant to the team, assisting his teammate on numerous occasions,” Horner said during a lecture at Cambridge Union [Hamilton] high. Without that, Max wouldn’t have won the championship.”

Horner also called the term “teammate” a “fallacy,” saying the dynamic creates more rivalry than friendship.

“They’re definitely not buddies because the guy in the other car is the only person you’re judged against,” Horner said. “He’s the only person with the same equipment. So he will either make or break your career.”

Sergio Perez and Christian Horner.
Tim Goode/PA Images via Getty Images

Things took an ugly turn in the 2022 season

According to Horner, Perez made a big step up in 2022 with the team and the car.

“Sergio feels a lot more at home in the car,” Horner said in 2022. “That’s why he now believes in himself that he can become world champion, and that brings another dynamic.”

However, that also meant Perez was now a threat to Verstappen’s place at the top of the podium at every lap. This came to a head at the Spanish Grand Prix, where Red Bull took a 2-1 lead in both the Drivers’ and Teams’ Championships.

At one point, Perez asked his race crew, who manage all team strategy from the pit lane, to let him pass Verstappen, who was in third place and was battling George Russell for second place. Perez, who was in the faster car at the time, believed he could easily get past Russell but Verstappen didn’t budge.

Later in the race, with Perez ahead of Verstappen, Red Bull Checo’s race officials ordered his teammate through. At the time, he called the change “very unfair” on team radio, and after the race he was heard saying, “I’m happy for the team, but we’ll have to talk later.”

This was just the beginning of a growing friction.

Sergio Perez and Max Verstappen.
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images

Verstappen refused to help Perez when he needed any

Then came the final two races of the 2022 season. When Verstappen had a chance to repay the favor he received from Perez in 2021, Max turned it down.

Verstappen had already secured the Drivers’ title at the Brazilian and Abu Dhabi Grands Prix and Red Bull already had their first Constructors’ Championship since 2013. P2 in the Drivers’ Championship, however, was still up for grabs between Perez and Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.

On the last lap in Brazil, Verstappen and Perez were far from the podium with P6 and P7 respectively. Changing places would have helped Perez in his pursuit of second overall. However, when the team asked Verstappen to let Perez through, he ignored them and after the race he had a stern message.

“I told you guys last summer, don’t ask me that again, okay?” Verstappen was heard saying on the team radio. “Are we clear about that? I gave my reasons and I stand by them.”

Checo wasn’t happy, saying at the time, “It shows who he really is,” adding later, “After everything I’ve done for him, it’s honestly a bit disappointing. I’m really surprised.”

There were reports that Verstappen was still upset about qualifying at the Monaco Grand Prix, where Perez spun in the final moments as Verstappen pushed for a front row seat. Instead, qualifying ended early and Verstappen was stuck in P4, just behind Perez and with both Ferraris on the front row.

Then Perez could still have finished second overall in Abu Dhabi if he had finished ahead of Leclerc. However, with Verstappen leading the race and Perez in third behind Leclerc, Max never slowed down to hold the Ferrari like Perez had done with Hamilton the previous year.

Verstappen said there were no team orders to help but also indicated he would not have agreed.

“You may be able to block, but is that a fair race?” said Verstappen after the race. “I don’t think it’s the nicest way to end the season like this.”

Perez is now a real threat to Max

The 2023 season is off to a great start for Perez, who seems more comfortable and determined than ever.

He would be the championship leader for the first time were it not for Verstappen’s apparent disregard for orders and pressure on the final lap of the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, stealing the point for fastest lap from Perez.

After the race, this led to an embarrassing exchange of words between the drivers when Checo asked Max to refuse to obey orders.

While Perez later downplayed this issue as “miscommunication,” it’s clear that Max is watching out for Max, and they’re still not friends. There also appear to be ongoing tensions between the two camps, as illustrated by Jos Verstappen, Max’s father, who looked uncomfortable as Perez celebrated his win nearby.

Perez still believes he can win a championship

Despite all the internal drama, Perez still has his sights set on winning a championship with Red Bull.

“Yeah, sure,” Perez adamantly told Insider ahead of the 2022 United States Grand Prix. “I think I can fight for the championship next year… That’s what I want to do.”

Sergio Perez celebrating after winning the 2022 Monaco Grand Prix.
Joe Portlock – Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images

He repeated these thoughts after his last win.

“I can say now that I really feel part of the team, I really feel like I have my place, I’m respected and I think that’s a good thing to have as a driver,” Perez said . “I really believe that like Max, I have the full support of the team and that like Max, I will have every single opportunity to win the championship.”

Daniel Ricciardo now adds another layer of pressure

And as if the Verstappen-Perez excitement alone wasn’t enough, Daniel Ricciardo is following in his footsteps.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Daniel Ricciardo.
Mike Coppola/Getty Images for Oracle Red Bull Racing

After Ricciardo’s departure from McLaren, he rejoined Red Bull as a reserve driver. At first it seemed that Danny Ricc’s popularity would be used more for marketing purposes. And while that may still be true during his time on the sidelines, he adds a layer of complication.

In Ricciardo, Red Bull have a talented driver who might be willing to play the role of support driver just to get back racing for a competitive team.

And rumors are already circulating that Perez could be replaced by Ricciardo. When asked if he could replace Perez, the Australian gave a diplomatic reply.

“I think for me my attitude is to really try to help the team… That’s really my goal,” Ricciardo told Sky Sports. “I also think because personally I really want the time off, I’m not waiting like ‘give me this chance.’ I’m very happy to be where I am now.”

Interestingly, Horner said Ricciardo’s presence actually helped ease some of the tension between Verstappen and Perez.

“I think when he has his energy around the two drivers, they feel more comfortable,” Horner said on Red Bull’s Talking Bull podcast they both really like him because he’s just such a guy. You can’t hate Daniel Ricciardo.”

Meanwhile, Perez said driving means more pressure for Red Bull than keeping Ricciardo waiting in the wings.

“When you’re with Red Bull Racing, you’d better do your best,” Perez said ahead of the season. “It doesn’t matter if Daniel is here or not, Red Bull can pick pretty much any driver they want from the grid.”

At the very least, Ricciardo is a solid back-up plan should things ever get inconsistent between Perez and the team.

And as long as Perez keeps challenging Verstappen, that could be sooner rather than later.


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