In a surprising turn of events, Helmut Marko, motorsport consultant for Red Bull, has for the first time indicated that a driver change during the current Formula 1 season is no longer out of the question after the Canadian Grand Prix.
Sergio Perez had a strong start to the 2023 season, nearly matching Max Verstappen’s points in the championship after four races (87:93 points). However, a shift in momentum occurred in Miami, where Perez, despite starting on pole, had to concede victory to Verstappen, who started from 9th place.
Since then, Perez has faced challenges, crashing in qualifying in Monaco and failing to make it to the third qualifying session in Spain and Canada.
Schumacher: Is Marko making a mistake?
Marko has become increasingly critical of Perez publically, but Ralf Schumacher believes that it is crucial “that the team also has to pick up Perez at times. Also Dr. Marko, who is rightly, but who is an absolute Max Verstappen fan,” says the Formula 1 expert in an interview with “Formel1.de”.
Marko’s repeatedly harsh words towards his own drivers are counterproductive for their self-confidence, says Schumacher. He loves Marko “for his honesty, no question about that. And he has also reached a stage in his life where you can and should certainly say anything.”
But: “Maybe you have to change that a bit. Christian Horner does it a bit differently, he knows that.” Marko is “the one in the Red Bull team management who demands a lot. But you can’t do that with everyone. […] You have to be a bit careful, especially on the outside, because Perez is a driver who needs the warmth of a nest, he has to feel comfortable.”
“He’s not someone you can make faster by putting pressure on him, on the contrary, he’ll make even more mistakes. We saw it at the beginning of the year. Everything was good then, he really put Verstappen under pressure at times. He has to find his way back to that. And then, with the package, it shouldn’t be a problem for him to become vice world champion.”
Gasly, Albon – and now Perez
Marko’s reputation as a tough decision-maker within Red Bull is well-known. In the past, there were speculations about Ricciardo replacing Nyck de Vries at AlphaTauri after a disappointing start to the season. Marko denied those rumours, stating that Ricciardo aimed to return to a top team, which would certainly be the case with Red Bull’s main team.
While Marko appears critical of Perez, team boss Christian Horner displays more patience and support. Horner believes that Perez needs a strong weekend to regain confidence after three difficult Saturdays. Horner expressed his faith in Perez, highlighting his second-place position in the championship and two race wins, and emphasized the importance of supporting him to help him regain his form.
Ricciardo being ‘evaluated’
In an interview with ‘ORF,’ Marko mentioned that Daniel Ricciardo would have three days of testing with Red Bull after the Silverstone race for a tire test organized by Pirelli. Marko stated, “Then we can evaluate: Where does Ricciardo really stand?”
After the Canadian qualifying session, Marko had already hinted at the team’s focus on Verstappen, saying, “We only have one Max.” Now, when speaking about Perez, Marko’s comments seem to hint at a potential departure:
“His initial goal was two or three years. That would be more than he planned anyway. You just have to keep options open for the successor.”
Perez just two races to improve
The Pirelli test at Silverstone is scheduled after the mid-July British Grand Prix. Perez has two races, Spielberg and Silverstone, to improve his performance before then.
Perez’s uncertain future at Red Bull follows a pattern where previous drivers, Pierre Gasly in 2019 and Alexander Albon in 2020, struggled to match Verstappen’s driving prowess.
Ricciardo ‘full circle’ with Red Bull?
For Ricciardo, a return to the regular cockpit would close a circle. He drove for Red Bull from 2014 to 2018 and was the last teammate to seriously challenge Verstappen. However, observers believe that he may have left Red Bull at the end of 2018 because he found it increasingly difficult to keep up with Verstappen over time.