Despite Christian Horner’s best efforts at declaring ‘the season is far from over’, Max Verstappen has let the cat out of the bag when he admitted Formula One in 2023 is probably a fight between just himself and Sergio Perez.
“When you’re fighting for a championship and especially when it looks like it’s just between two cars, we have to make sure that also the two cars are reliable,” said a disgruntled Verstappen after trailing home in P2 behind his team mate.
Verstappen dominant before qualifying failure
Of course Verstappen had led Checo in each of the first four sessions on track in Jeddah by an average of around half a second. In all likelihood without the drive shaft failure in Q2, the Dutch world champion would have in all probability gone on to claim pole position and the race win.
Yet Verstappen was clearly unhappy following the chequered flag, presumably because the team had attempted to ensure he held station behind Perez during the final 10 laps of the Saudi Arabian GP.
Between lap 39 and the chequered flag, Verstaoppen was told 8 times to modify his pace in just 11 laps. On each occasion the Dutch world champion was silent when asked to conform “target 33.0”.
Red Bull attempt to call off the fight
Red Bull were clearly calling off the fight between their drivers for P1/P2 given Checo was being ordered to deliver the same lap time. Both drivers continued lapping faster than the instructions issued over the pit radio.
With around four laps remaining Verstappen still around 5 seconds behind decided not to chase Perez any further and prepared his car for one all out assault on the fastest lap held at that time by the Mexican driver.
Max allowed his tyres to cool down and recharged his battery to 100% before attacking his team mates fastest lap time at the very end of the race.
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Alonso almost stole the fastest lap
The team had instructed their drivers that the point for the fastest lap was “unimportant” to them. But as Christian Horner revealed to F1 Nation podcast, both drivers attempted a super fast lap just before the chequered flag.
Unknown to Red Bull, Fernando Alonso was planning a similar fight for the extra point. The Aston Martin driver in fact came within just 0.15s of Perez fastest lap as he completed his run to the chequered flag.
Verstappen did in fact beat Chico’s time by 0.18s, something Sergio complained about later when interviewed.
Perez complains about “different information”
“I asked two laps from the end, when they told me to keep a certain pace, they told me I had the fastest lap and to keep a certain pace,” Perez said.
“So I thought the communication was the same to Max, so something we need to review, because I got certainly different information and I just couldn’t push there in the end.”
The impression Sergio gave was that he was hi-jacked for the fastest lap while he obeyed team orders.
Yet two facts out there debunk the ‘Perez the victim’ narrative.
Sergio knew all the facts
Firstly, the team radio reveals Perez requesting the team call off the race between him and Perez and tell them to just bring the cars home.
Lap 41: Perez – “We are pushing without a reason guys, not smart to do.”
Lap 42: Perez – “Guys we don’t need this”
Lap 43: Perez – “So are we pushing now?”
HB – “You are free to push”
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Checo kept Verstappen at bay
From hereon, Sergio knew Verstappen was allowed to try and close down his 5 second lead. Checo responded keeping Max at bay and the world champion decided around lap 46/47 to call of the charge and concentrate on fastest lap.
Sergio would see this in the delta time displayed on his dash board showing the gap to Verstappen was increasing. He dropped his pace and began to prepare for one last push to keep the fastest lap point.
The second piece of information that reveals Checo was not a victim of the team failing to communicate to him all the facts comes from Christian Horner in his F1 Nation interview.
Horner debunks Checo accusation
“Both drivers had the info… Checo had the fastest lap at that point, he asked what it was,” Horner now reveals.
“So it was obvious why he was asking. He knew that Max was going to have a crack at it but Checo gave it up after the first couple of turns, he was already a tenth and a half down, and then you saw him back out of it.
“I think that you pass the message on to the driver, of course, the team’s interest is to maximise the points and at whatever point you feel that you may have a reliability issue then you obviously manage that.
“I think inevitably Max said on the radio the point for the fastest lap meant a great deal to him and there was no reason for us not to let either he or Checo have a crack at it.”
Perez in fact attempted fastest lap says Horner
Sergio tried but on the day was just not good enough to claim the fastest lap in Jeddah.
Perez has experienced on a number of occasions the Red Bull team calling for their drivers to hold station, but that was when they were in a fight with other competitor teams and needed to maximise Red Bull’s points scored.
Yet this season is different. Red Bull’s only competition at present is from within.
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Red Bull not backing Verstappen a necessity
With Red Bull the dominant team in Formula One so far in 2023, Christian Horner has stated he will allow both his drivers fight each other.
The Red Bull boss knows full well backing Verstappen over Perez at this stage of proceedings and have his driver walk away with the world title by summer, would do his team’s popularity no favours.
Sergio needs to adjust to this new normal and will be required to fight to the chequered flag for any advantage he is to gain over his team mate.
READ MORE: Hamilton retracts Mercedes’ apology
Lovely move from @LewisHamilton on Sunday 👏pic.twitter.com/geiv11N61r
— Mercedes-AMG PETRONAS F1 Team (@MercedesAMGF1) March 23, 2023
What a load of trash this article is. It’s a hit piece on Perez, who just put in the best drive of his career, completing outpacing Verstappen. The bias here is awful. Poor, amateur level journalism.