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Verstappen sets tone in year of truth for Perez

Verstappen sets tone in year of truth for Perez

20 March - 13:04

One thing is clear: the drivers' title fight in 2023 will be between Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez. The Saudi Arabia Grand Prix already showed what that can do to relations within a team, something Mercedes can talk about after Nico Rosberg and Lewis Hamilton.

Red Bull's dominance

When a team is as dominant as Red Bull is demonstrating right now, you know who you can fill in at P1 and P2 every race. If the car stays in one piece, Perez and Verstappen are so much faster than the competition that they can drive back to first and second from any spot. It makes a championship less exciting than between two teams, but within the team, it can create controversy.

Rosberg and Hamilton are the most recent example of this phenomenon. Mercedes had such a strong car between 2014 and 2016 that they even drove with a scaled-back engine. Of the two, Hamilton was the stronger driver, as would prove to be the case in 2014 and 2015. The Brit won those two titles by winning 11 and 10 races respectively. Still, things remained exciting in the championship for a long time, as Rosberg rarely finished next to the podium.

Because the car was so much stronger than the rest, no one really came close to the duo. Things did come to a climax in 2016, when Rosberg started winning more and more, and Hamilton suffered multiple breakdowns. Rosberg won from Hamilton that season and then immediately retired. He could no longer cope with such an intense life.

Verstappen versus Perez

That rivalry shows that in such a duel, the best driver will not always win, but you also need a bit of luck. One failure can be fatal. After all, you then know that your teammate is leading by 25, and you have to try to get those points back. Verstappen experienced this first-hand with his problems in qualifying for the Saudi Arabia GP.

Of course, Verstappen is a better driver than Perez, and on most circuits, Verstappen will also qualify and race better than his teammate. The fact that there are no other competitors does mean that Perez will almost always start from P2 and connect directly with Max in the race. This is different from a duel with a driver from another team because then you still have the support of your teammate, who can qualify himself in between.

What is also different in this case is the atmosphere within your own team. In 2021 and 2022, the whole team was behind Verstappen, and the title was celebrated grandly. In 2023, however, there will be two camps, as the men working on Perez's car naturally hope he manages to win races.

Vettel and Webber as lessons

For Red Bull Racing, this is also another test. After years of a clear number one, it now has to manage a situation where both drivers want to fight for the world title. How much freedom do you give those drivers, how do you make sure they both feel they can win, and how do you make sure the team's interest remains paramount?

These are all questions Red Bull has had to answer before when it dominated the sport between 2010 and 2013. Mark Webber still looks back on that period with some irritation because, in his eyes, Sebastian Vettel was put ahead of the pack. Vettel was the young Red Bull talent, Webber the experienced rot. Sounds recognisable...

Red Bull does love that battle and controversy. The team does not shy away from negative attention, because negative attention is also attention. Still, with the budget cap in mind, it will have to be strict with its drivers. Crashes are very costly. Whereas the Austrian team could continue to pay for the crashes between Vettel and Webber, any crash will now mean Red Bull has less money to spend on other things, including the 2024 car. So team interest is more paramount than ever.

Perez believes he can become a world champion, and with the RB19, this year may be his biggest ever chance of winning a title. However, with Verstappen, he has a teammate next to him who is not only better, but who will not give away a single point, as the final round proved. If he really wants to become champion, perhaps a lesson from Rosberg won't hurt.

Verstappen has set the tone. The Dutchman knows what time it is. He will have to beat Perez in the same car this year, something he has managed fairly easily in the past two years. Grabbing that fastest lap shows Verstappen's intent. He will want to grab every possible point and count on him to hit back in Australia. After all, the Melbourne circuit is right up the Dutchman's alley with the current RB19.