Red Bull advisor, Helmut Marko, has suggested that a combination of Sergio Perez and Haas’ Nico Hulkenberg would be the “perfect” teammate for Max Verstappen. As rumours swirl about Verstappen’s potential partner for the upcoming seasons, Marko weighed in with his surprising verdict.
Currently, Perez is Verstappen’s teammate, but his recent struggles in qualifying have raised questions about his form, even though he performs well on race days. On the other hand, Hulkenberg’s impressive qualifying performances caught Marko’s attention, leading him to propose the idea of combining the abilities of both Perez and Hulkenberg for the ideal team.
No urgency as yet
However, Marko clarified that Red Bull is not considering replacing Perez for the 2024 season, as the team has a contract with him until the end of 2024. With Perez currently second in the World Championship, Marko believes there is no need for immediate action.
“We have a contract with Perez until the end of 2024,” he affirmed. “He’s second in the World Championship. Why would there be a need for action?”
Drama at the start 😮
— Formula 1 (@F1) July 30, 2023
Perez ‘dream over’
Marko emphasised that Perez needs to focus on securing second place in the championship and return to delivering strong performances. He noted that Perez no longer harbours dreams of winning the title, which could help him concentrate on performing at his best.
“He has now woken up from his World Championship dream,” Marko explained. “Maybe that will help him to concentrate on getting the best possible performance again.”
Comparing Perez’s performance to Verstappen’s, Marko mentioned that being within three-tenths of Verstappen is considered acceptable by the team, despite sometimes needing more.
“Verstappen is a completely different benchmark. The fact that Perez has to be within three-tenths of Max is interpreted benevolently by us. Sometimes it was more…”
Perez replacement spotted at Red Bull
These are the official lines spoken by Marko and Red Bull themselves. Obviously, if Perez was to be given his marching orders, the performance from the Mexican would drop to zero, or worse still the driver could purposely hamstring the team. Regardless, reading between the lines is necessary in situations like this.
Indeed, speculation arose when F1 reporter Natalie Pinkham spotted Nico Hulkenberg visiting Red Bull’s hospitality area at Spa-Francorchamps. This visit followed the aforementioned comments made by Red Bull advisor Helmut Marko.
“It interests me that Nico Hulkenberg just walked past us to go into Red Bull,” said Pinkham on the F1 Nation podcast. “What’s going on there?”
Return of the ‘Hulk’ to F1
Hulkenberg’s return to F1 with Haas in 2023 has been noteworthy, showcasing impressive qualifying performances and accumulating nine points compared to his teammate Kevin Magnussen’s two.
Marko’s comments fueled rumours of a possible collaboration between Hulkenberg and Verstappen.
Dutch reporter debunks observation
However, well-respected reporter Erik van Haren provided a different perspective, suggesting that Hulkenberg’s visit might be related to his connection with the Verstappen camp.
He pointed out that Hulkenberg had flown in for the Belgian GP with Verstappen on the latter’s private jet, which could explain the visit to Red Bull’s hospitality area.
“I think he has a very good connection with the Verstappen camp, and I think Max is here with his private jet and Nico lives in Monaco, maybe that’s the reason he is here,” Van Haren suggested.
“Because he has his bag already with him and he has changed his clothes, so I think that’s the reason but we can check that…”
Despite the speculations, it remains to be seen whether Hulkenberg’s connection with Verstappen could lead to future collaborations, either in F1 or possibly at events like the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
“But Nico and Max they get well along together, I think if they will not be team-mates in Formula 1, you don’t have to be surprised if maybe in a few years’ time they are going to 24 hours of Le Mans together.”
For now, Verstappen continues his dominance in the World Championship, holding a substantial lead over his teammate Perez.