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OPINION: Red Bull Have the Perfect Driver Combination Despite Perez Speculation

Written by Jess Robinson, Edited by Meghana Sree

There is no doubt that Sergio Perez’s performance in the last five races of the 2023 Formula 1 season has been well below the exceptionally high-held Red Bull standard. He has failed to reach Q3 in qualifying since Miami and has had a disappointing run of errors that cannot come down to purely bad luck. And so there has been justified speculation as to whether he will be able to hold on to that wildly sought after Red Bull seat into the next season. However, with the Austrian team currently leading the Constructors’ Championship with a 208 point lead over Mercedes after only ten races, is it possible that Red Bull have still hit the nail on the head in their driver combination, despite Perez’s questionable performance?

Formula 1 has a long history of driver rivalries within teams, especially in those with championship or victory worthy cars. Max Verstappen’s first F1 win was thanks to Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg taking each other out at the Spanish Grand Prix in 2016 in the dominant Mercedes W07 Hybrid. Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost came together in the McLaren MP4 in a championship deciding collision back in Suzuka 1989, one that set off a political battle within the FIA and almost resulted in Senna being banned from the sport for a 6 month period. Only a few years ago in 2018, within Red Bull, Verstappen was rear-ended by teammate Daniel Ricciardo in Baku, a moment that proved a major catalyst in Ricciardo’s decision to leave the Red Bull team at the end of that same year.

Prost and Senna collide at the 1989 Japanese Grand Prix. Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Getty Images

These types of collisions not only have a significant impact on the Drivers’ Championship, but they also greatly affect the teams in the Constructors’ Championship fight as well, on a budget and spending level. A minor collision between rival teammates, perhaps resulting in a damaged front wing, will cost USD$150,000, not including the race impact and points loss due to an unintended pit stop and front wing replacement. A major collision causing an impaired suspension can put a team back USD$200,000. A new gearbox can cost upwards of USD$350,000. With the new cost cap restricting teams to the USD$135 million spend limit, an internal collision between teammates can have a huge impact on the amount of money a team is able to put towards the further development of their car.

While both Verstappen and Perez are professional and experienced and for the most part will battle cleanly, it is only a matter of time before consistent, close fighting will produce a negative outcome. In the 2021 championship fight, Verstappen and Hamilton fought closely all season and as a result crashed heavily in Silverstone and in Monza. Silverstone saw Verstappen hitting the wall at 51Gs while Monza produced the championship defining photograph of Verstappen’s Red Bull flying over the top of the Mercedes of Hamilton with both drivers out of the race. The 2021 fight was between drivers of different teams and so the threat of a double race-ending collision was far lower. In 2023, with the Red Bull car currently miles ahead of the rest of the field, that threat is much higher. The Red Bulls are only really fighting themselves and as a result, a double, or even single, DNF for Red Bull from a teammate collision would cost them far more points than a few lower place finishes for Perez.

The moment at Monza between Verstappen and Hamilton, 2021. Credit: Andrej Isakovic/AFP via Getty Images

Even though Perez makes mistakes and can often be well off his two-time world champion teammate, he still performs well enough on par to contribute to the Constructors’ Championship without posing a threat to Red Bull’s golden boy, Verstappen. Red Bull are notorious for the pressure they put on their drivers, especially those in that supposedly “cursed” second seat. They want a driver who is quick and produces consistent results but who is not quite fast enough to challenge Verstappen. After an array of failed driver placements, with the likes of Alex Albon and Pierre Gasly, Perez finally seems to be the perfect fit. He is a loyal teammate, responding without much hesitation to team orders and not constituting a major challenge to Verstappen but can also generally pick up the pieces and take wins if Verstappen has problems.

Whilst Perez needs to get back to producing more representative results if he wants to hold on to his seat, he can still sit comfortably for now, especially given Verstappen's dominance and consistency. In the current championship, following his sweeping win in Austria and subsequent victory in Silverstone, Verstappen could carry the Constructors’ Championship for Red Bull single handedly with his current 255 point haul, holding a 52 point lead over the entire Mercedes team in P2. The exceptional RB19 is not only ridiculously fast, it is reliable and with Verstappen in the best form of his life, Red Bull can afford a few substandard races from Perez. It is likely they would prefer a bit of space between their two drivers rather than the threat of collisions and double DNFs every race weekend that would cost them far more in points, cash, and cars.

Red Bull Teammates: Verstappen (left) and Perez (right). Credit: Peter Fox/Getty Images

1 comment

1 Comment

Jul 26, 2023

The #2 seat at Red Bull is always a slightly toxic one, in essence its Max's team in the way it was Seb's before. Internally there will be many subtle things happening that cement that and bolster Max's position whilst undermining Sergio's and causing the current lack of confidence and errors. Ultimately it is for Sergio now to do what Webber and Ricciardo did previously and take it, really take it to his team mate even with the risk of an incident. You could call it the Rosberg effect if you like, he spent all the off season before he won the title building himself up for one huge push at the title, willing to take big risks against Lewis…

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