Tensions seemed to boil over for Red Bull at the end of the 2022 Formula One season, between drivers Max Verstappen and Sergio Perez Jr. With Verstappen having already clinched the Drivers’ Championship, he was instructed to give way to his teammate near the end of the Brazilian Grand Prix, as Perez was locked in a battle for second in the Championship with Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc.
Verstappen did not give way, leading to frustration from both drivers at the end of the race. While the team, according to Team Principal Christian Horner, buried the hatchet before the year’s final race, questions still remain about the relationship between Verstappen and Perez.
Questions that surfaced again when Verstappen talked recently about how some drivers should not live in a “fairytale world.”
However, Horner believes the team has done a good job at putting the incident behind them. In a recent interview with Speedcafe TV, Horner addressed the incident at Interlagos, and spoke about his two drivers.
“I think there’s certain things that your drivers have the right to discuss in private between themselves. Not every conversation has to be covered through digital media and so on. The drivers had a good conversation after the race in Brazil, the air was absolutely clear, you could see that by the time they’d arrived in Abu Dhabi, and I think this has been a phenomenal pairing for Red Bull.
“The success that they’ve achieved over the last couple of seasons, their joint performance achieving our first Constructors’ World Championship this year, the first in nine years, has been a remarkable performance by both of them and I’m sure moving forward, they’re going to be delivering as they have done the last couple of seasons.”
But the Red Bull boss also sang Perez’s praises. Asked about managing the relationship between his two drivers, Horner talked at length about what Perez brings to Red Bull:
“They’re both pretty grown-up individuals and they both have an open relationship with each other. So when if ever there is an issue, it gets discussed, it gets put on the table and you talk it through. I think communication is always the best way to deal with any issue and you know, Sergio is an experienced guy, he’s been around a long time. He’s a very rounded guy and Max [is] very much a straight shooter as well, and the two of them have always, you know, enjoyed a decent relationship and I just see that continuing.”
Beyond the incident in Brazil, Horner also talked about the challenges posed during the 2022 season, starting with how late in the 2021 year the title was decided. Horner reflected on how they “came late to the 2022 car,” and that Ferrari had the most competitive car early in the season. He gave credit to Verstappen for keeping the team in competitions at the start of the season, while the team worked to upgrade the car each week.
The Red Bull boss also discussed the return of Daniel Ricciardo to the team, as a reserve driver for the 2023 season. “For him to play a supporting role to our race drivers as our third driver, both back here in the factory, and at events with all of our commercial partners we have, as one of the most recognizable faces currently in and around Formula One, for us it made a lot of sense.”
But Horner also brushed aside notions that Ricciardo would be returning to the grid for Red Bull anytime soon, outlining how Ricciardo’s popularity in the United States is a huge part of his role with the team. “...with the commercial demands that we have, the myriad of sponsors and partners that we have, particularly with a much bigger presence in the US where Daniel is now predominantly based, with three Grands Prix there next year, he’s gonna have a busy agenda for the season ahead.”
Still, the relationship between the two drivers at the top of the team will remain a focus for Red Bull, and the sport, in the weeks and months ahead. Horner asserts that the incident at Interlagos is truly done and dusted, and the two drivers will be pulling together the upcoming season. And he has a lot of evidence to that point, as Perez has been a quality teammate for Verstappen over the past few seasons, and with Red Bull having won their first Constructors’ Championship since 2013, things did work last year.
Yet there are still potential fault lines, including recent comments from Red Bull advisor, and former F1 driver, Helmut Marko. Marko recently told Road & Track that part of his job is to tell Verstappen’s teammates that they cannot beat him. In another interview with Auto Motor und Sport Marko flatly stated “Perez is a very good Formula 1 driver, but he is no Verstappen.”
Regardless of where the relationship truly stands right now you can bet that the media — as well as the other teams — will be looking for any sign of a breakdown at Red Bull in the weeks and months ahead as well.