In the wake of two one-two finishes in the opening Grands Prix of 2023, with a point separating Max Verstappen and teammate Sergio Perez, Red Bull boss Christian Horner is adamant that their drivers will receive equal treatment in this Formula 1 campaign which they look set to dominate.
A big statement from Horner, the man who leads, what’s referred to in the paddock as ‘Team Verstappen’ and for good reason, the Dutch ace has bagged two world F1 world championship titles for the team, and with the superiority of the RB19 so massive, a third should be a cakewalk.
However, on Sunday in Jeddah F1 was treated to the unexpected, in a nutshell: Perez could match Verstappen, lap-for-lap and punch-for-punch during the latter half of an intriguing duel in Jeddah; in other words, for the first time Max had no answer to beat Checo.
With the pair out front by easily one second per lap, the title fight will be between the Red Bulls, which will make for interesting times in the bull-pen. Already Verstappen is grumbling about having to play second fiddle to his hitherto subservient and beatable teammate. On Sunday night, Perez was neither. Verstappen let the world know he was not happy.
Tensions between Verstappen and Perez are not new and not much visible love between the Red Bull teammates
Speaking to Sky F1, Horner revealed how his team is tackling this Catch-22 situation: “For us as a team, the responsibility is to give both drivers the same chance, the same opportunity, the same car – it’s then down to what they do on the circuit.
“We’ve got two great drivers in Max and Sergio, there’s a healthy respect between the two of them, I expect that to continue,” added Horner, with a healthy dose of wishful thinking.
His drivers have feuded before, even when they were not in the same ‘title’ race, team orders sit uncomfortably with both drivers and as the pace gap between them diminishes, because Adrian Newey has built a car both drivers are comfortable racing on the limit, expect fireworks.
As it stands, 33-year-old Perez is under contract until the end of 2024, while Verstappen’s deal will see him in a Red Bull until the end of 2028.
In a nutshell, to be 2023 F1 World Champion, there are not 19 drivers to beat, not even half a dozen, Max has to beat Checo, or Checo has to beat Max; the Mexican could perhaps extract inspiration by the manner in which underdog Nico Rosberg beat main-man Lewis Hamilton in 2016 when the Mercedes pair had their time in far superior cars to their rivals.
Horner was then asked the silly question by Sky News’ Ian King: Would Red Bull hire Lewis Hamilton?!
Horner must have struggled to keep a straight face when he replied: “What Lewis has achieved in F1 is second to none but we’re very happy with the drivers that we have. They’re committed as a pair not only this season but the next season as well. So, I can’t see where we would be able to accommodate Lewis.”
With another 2022-style demolition job in store for Red Bull’s F1 rivals – with Ferrari totally lost with a new Team Principal, and Mercedes still lost with a failed aero-concept – Horner is nevertheless wary of what might still be ins store for his squad this season,
“I’m sure they’re going to sort their issues out – we’re certainly not writing him off yet. We’re hearing about big Mercedes upgrades, I’m sure Ferrari aren’t happy with their current position as well. So, we’re fully expecting things to converge quickly,” concluded Horner.
Heading to Melbourne for the 2023 Australian Grand Prix, Verstappen leads Perez in the F1 drivers’ championship by a single point after two rounds, thanks to a last-ditch fastest lap snatch that earned him it, while Red Bull top the F1 constructors’ table with 87 points, double what their closest rivals have racked upso far.
And notably, the best of the rest is neither of their traditional foes Ferrari or Mercedes, but rather a resurgent Aston Martin team with Fernando Alonso finishing third to the Bulls, in Bahrain and Jeddah.